Friday, April 29, 2016

Stone Roses – "Made of Stone" (1989)

Are you all alone?
Are you made of stone?

(The photos above were taken at the Wildcat Park chert glades in Joplin, Missouri, and Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island in Maine's Acadia National Park.)

* * * * *

The Stone Roses were perhaps the greatest of all the “Madchester” bands.  

“Made of Stone” was released in 1989 on the group’s eponymous debut album, which critic Andrew Unterberger described as "an exercise in rock classicism," featuring accessible melodies like those of the Beatles and resonant guitars similar to the Byrds, along with "the cheeky (and quintessentially British) humor of the Smiths" and "the self-fulfilling arrogance of the Sex Pistols."

Stones Roses was voted best British album of all time in a 2004 poll of 100 British musicians and critics, and was consistently ranked as a top-five album in polls of British fans.

Guitarist John Squire's cover art
was inspired by Jackson Pollock
Not surprisingly, the group’s second album couldn’t top the first one.  The band broke up in 1996, but got back together in 2012.  They performed at the Isle of Wight and Coachella music festivals in 2013, and a documentary about their reunion – The Stone Roses: Made of Stone – hit theaters in 2013. 

Click here to view the trailer for that documentary.

Here’s “Made of Stone":

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

C. A. Quintet – "Smooth As Silk" (1968)

Don’t know what to say
Feelin’ smooth as silk

*     *     *     *     *

The C. A. Quintet, a psychedelic band from Minneapolis, released its one and only album, Trip Thru Hell, in 1968.  The original pressing sold fewer than 500 copies.

Word about the album got around over the next twenty years, and it was released on CD in 1994. 

"Trip Thru Hell" album cover
I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest psychedelic album ever recorded, but I wouldn’t say it’s not the greatest psychedelic album ever recorded.

Here’s a Youtube video of “Smooth As Silk."  Since it was posted in January 2015, it has attracted exactly 21 views.  I'm counting on my readers to get that number up to at least a million:

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Ones – "Lady Greengrass" (1967)

Puff  . . . the trees turn tangerine
Puff  . . . the sky is suddenly green

* * * * *

Edgar Froese, who was born in Germany on D-Day, was 21 when he founded The Ones.  “Lady Greengrass” was the A-side of the group’s only recording.

The Ones once played at Salvador Dali’s villa in Spain.  His meeting with Dali inspired Froese to disband The Ones and put together Tangerine Dream, a much more experimental group.

Tangerine Dream, one of the first krautrock bands, has released over one hundred albums.  

Froese died suddenly in January 2015.  Tangerine Dream’s first public performance without him will take place in Berlin in September.

Here’s “Lady Greengrass”:

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Free Design – "Proper Ornaments" (1967)

What's behind that countenance?
What's behind the lace?
What is in your mind and heart?

(Too many questions!)

The Free Design – a vocal group whose members were siblings – released seven albums between 1967 and 1972.  

The Free Design
Until a few days ago, I had never heard any of their music, and I’m guessing you hadn’t either.  That’s too bad for the Free Design, and it’s too bad for us.

“Proper Ornaments” was released on the group’s first album, Kites Are Fun.  A lot has changed since 1967, as the photos in this post demonstrate.

I’m almost 50 years later to the “Proper Ornaments” party – better late than never, I suppose – and it’s a small miracle I tripped over this astonishing song when I did.  

How did I overlook the Free Design and “Proper Ornaments” for so long?  

Beats me.  

I’ve stumbled upon a lot of great music since I started writing 2 or 3 lines some six and a half years ago.  But I take very little comfort from that because I know that for every great record or group I’ve discovered, then are ten . . . or twenty . . . or maybe even a hundred that of which I remain unblissfully ignorant.

That bothers me, boys and girls.  What would life be without the Association’s “Along Comes Mary,” or “She’s My Girl” by the Turtles, or the Arbors’ cover of “The Letter,” or “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, or songs like “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys?

“Proper Ornaments” deserves a place on that list.  Like all those records, it is dense and complicated and over the top and utterly beautiful.

I’ll tell you more about the Free Design and their music someday soon.  But I’m very anxious for you to hear this song, so all that will have to wait.

Here’s “Proper Ornaments”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bob Dylan – "Watching the River Flow" (1971)

What’s the matter with me?
I don’t have much to say

(Unlike the singer of today's featured song, not having much to say has never been the matter with me.)

In the last 2 or 3 lines, we visited Blockhouse Point in Montgomery County, Maryland, which was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. 

Today it’s a county park with trails leading through the woods to beautiful overlooks of the Potomac River and C&O Canal:

Click here if you missed that post.

I spent an hour and a half hiking those trails on a mild day last month, and then drove a few miles west to the Seneca Aqueduct, a stone structure which was built between 1829 and 1832 to carry boats traveling along the C&O Canal over Seneca Creek.

Here's a photo of the aqueduct – which also served as a lift lock – as it appears today.  Two of its original arches are intact, but the third was washed away by a 1971 flood:

The National Park Service installed some steel beams to support the structure, but the aqueduct has never been fully restored – I don’t understand why that is.

There’s a small boat ramp a few hundred yards up Seneca Creek from the aqueduct and the Potomac River, and I saw a number of boaters going back and forth under the aqueduct the afternoon I visited:

Adjacent to the aqueduct is Riley’s Lock (which is the 24th of 74 lift locks on the C&O Canal) and its lockkeeper’s house:

It's only a few miles from Seneca Aqueduct and Riley's Lock to Rocklands Farm, a 34-acre working farm and winery.

Rocklands offers pasture-raised, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, as well as eggs laid by those pasture-raised chickens, and fresh produce.

But I had plenty olives, cheese, salami, and bread to satisfy me – I wasn’t in need of food.  What I was in need of was wine, and Rocklands had a half-dozen or so different wines for sale inside this old barn:

After tasting a couple of their whites and a couple of their reds, I settled on a 2014 semi-dry Vidal Blanc, a hybrid that does well in colder climates and is popular in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Michigan, Missouri, Maryland, and Virginia.

Among the thoughts I did not think while sitting at a picnic table and enjoying my repast and the warm afternoon sun: “Gee, I wonder what what’s going on at the office right now?”  

I ended up taking home a bottle of the 2014 Farmhouse, a red wine that’s 80% Chambourcin and 20% Zinfandel:

*     *     *     *     *

Dylan’s 1971 recording of “Watching the River Flow” was produced by Leon Russell. 

The genesis of the song was a studio jam session that featured Russell on piano and his fellow Oklahomans Jesse Ed Davis, Carl Radle, and Jim Keltner on guitar, bass, and drums, respectively.  After hearing the recording of the jam session, Dylan supposedly wrote the melody and lyrics in ten minutes.

Click below to buy "Watching the River Flow" from Amazon:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Talking Heads – "Take Me to the River" (1978)

I don't know why
You treat me so bad

In the fall of 1861, some 5000 Union troops were stationed where Muddy Branch flows into the Potomac River, about 20 miles northwest of our nation’s capital.  Their mission was to protect the C&O Canal – which was used to ship coal, grain, and other freight to Washington – from Confederate raiders.

Robert Gould Shaw
One of the soldiers stationed at what later became known as Blockhouse Point was Lieutenant Robert Gould Shaw, a 24-year-old, Harvard-educated Bostonian.  Shaw didn’t enjoy his time at Blockhouse Point, complaining to his mother about the unhealthy climate: 

We are in the worst camp we have ever had.  It is in a hollow, where the dampness collects . . . . Our Lieut. Col., Capt. Savage, Capt. Mudge and the adjutant are sick in bed . . . and two Lieutenants are also laid up – they seem to have a sort of intermittent fever and it prevails among the men, too.  Other regiments are in a much healthier state, probably because they are all a good way from the river, while we are near it. 

Shaw later took command of the first all-black regiment in the Union Army, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. 

Shaw leading the attack on Fort Wagner
He was killed in July 1863 as he led his regiment in a frontal assault on Fort Wagner, a Confederate fortification near Charleston, South Carolina.  

Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts are depicted in a large bronze relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gardens, which is located on Boston Common:

He and his troops are the subject of the 1989 movie, Glory, which was nominated for several Academy Awards:

The area around Blockhouse Point is now a park.  It’s only about ten miles outside the Washington Beltway, and no more than half an hour’s drive from my house.  But I wasn’t aware of the park's existence until one day last month, when I was looking for a good place for a hike.

I walked south on the blue-blazed Blockhouse Trail:

Bordering the park to the west is a horse farm:

After walking a mile or so, I came to a bluff that overlooked the C&O Canal and the Potomac River:

Here's a short video I took from that spot:

Look closely and you'll see a couple of bikers on the towpath between the Potomac and the C&O:

About the only wildflower I saw on my walk was the good ol' cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata):

After hiking back to my car, I drove to the 185-year-old Seneca Aqueduct on the C&O Canal, which is only a few minutes away from Blockhouse Point.  In the next 2 or 3 lines, we’ll visit Seneca Aqueduct and Rocklands Farm, a nearby farm and winery where I took some refreshment and rested my weary bones.

* * * * *

I originally planned to feature Al Green’s original 1974 recording of “Take Me to the River” in today’s post.  As great as is, I don’t think Green’s version is as good as the Talking Heads’ 1978 cover of the song:

Others who have covered the song include Foghat (it’s better than you might think), Bryan Ferry (worse than you might think), and many others – Levon Helm, Annie Lennox, Delbert McClinton, and the Commitments among them.

And don’t forget the Billy Big Mouth Bass version of the song:

Click below to buy today’s featured song from Amazon:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fun Lovin' Criminals – "Scooby Snacks" (1995)

I walked up to the teller
I gave her the letter
She gives me the loot 
With puckered-up lips and a wink
That I found cute

Think about what’s going on in this song.

The singer is sticking up a bank.  You know that his thoughts are racing in a hundred different directions at once, and his heart is pounding louder than a big bass drum.  (That bit of hyperbole is courtesy of Mick and Keith, of course.)

But he is a guy, after all.  So at the same time he’s getting the loot, he’s checking out the teller . . . flirting with her a little . . . delivering a pickup line:

Baby, baby, baby
Is this some karmic-chi love thing happening here, baby . . . or what?

When the singer gets caught and is put on trial for armed robbery, I’m sure he’ll be winking at the court reporter as he walks into the courtroom . . . asking the bailiff, “What’s your sign?” . . . blowing a kiss at the jury forewoman.  

Because that’s the way a guy’s mind works, ladies.  He can be 16 or 60 – rich or poor – tall or short – Protestant, Catholic, or Jew . . . it don’t make no nevermind.  

I can’t believe this song was released in 1995.  That makes it about the same age as my youngest child, who’s a junior in college.

I also can’t believe that just hours after I heard it on my rental car radio while driving to the Kansas City airport, I caught a few minutes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! – perhaps the worst cartoon of all time – on the airport TV.

"Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" at MCI gate 43
Scooby-Doo, the ‘fraidy-cat Great Dane who is the star of that cartoon, loves to eat “Scooby snacks.”  It’s not clear exactly what a Scooby snack was, but both Scooby-Doo and his teenage-boy pal Shaggy were ga-ga over them.  (The producer of the cartoon licensed the “Scooby Snacks” name for use on both dog treats and cookies.)

Some sources say that “Scooby snack” is a slang term for Valium (a drug used to treat anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal) or Vicodin (an opioid pain reliever).

Other sources say that the term refers to brownies or other snack foods made with marijuana.  (That meaning makes a little more sense.)

The spoken-word samples you hear throughout the song are taken from a couple of Quentin Tarantino movies: Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction:

Here’s “Scooby Snacks”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: