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Category Archives: Vinyl

Buggles For Sale

Wanting something cheap that wouldn’t blow my paltry allowance of eMusic downloads in one fell swoop, I ended up picking the 1980 LP The Age Of Plastic by The Buggles. You know, the “Video Killed The Radio Star” group? “Video” achieved infamy by being the first song played on MTV, of course, and it’s stayed in circulation on seemingly every ’80s music compilation ever released (most recently on the Take Me Home Tonight soundtrack). A goofy, nostalgic song whose stellar lyrics and production elevate it from novelty status:

If there was ever an album that is overshadowed by its one hit, The Plastic Age is it. The album feels like a meditation on humankind’s relationship with technology, done with a bit of theatrical flair. Since the songs use mostly analog instruments and has a decided lack of nervous edge, I would hesitate to call The Age Of Plastic a “New Wave” album — mostly it reminds me of what ABBA was doing around the same time. “Elstree” is probably the most ABBA-esque tune they did, a wistful tale told from the perspective of a former employee at the U.K.’s famed Estree Studios:

The Buggles’ story has a typical ending. Following The Age Of Plastic, members Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn were recruited into supergroup Yes for one album, 1980’s Drama. The two then worked on a follow-up, 1981’s Adventures In Modern Recording, with Downes leaving midway through production on the ultimately hitless project. The album is an interesting experiment, more prog-rockish and with the kind of grandiose production that would echo in Horn’s later work with Seal, Pet Shop Boys, Rod Stewart and others. The Buggles’ sound still resonates throughout the years, most affectionately with Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” from their Discovery (2001) album:

Anybody Remember Del Amitri?

A clip of David Letterman introducing Scottish rockers Del Amitri performing their 1992 hit “Always the Last to Know” is notable for two things: how youthful Letterman looked back then, and the fact that he’s holding a CD long box (remember those?). I’ve gotten reacquainted with Del Amitri’s music recently when our local used music emporium had several of their albums on sale. They seem like the perfect candidate for the cutout bins; their likable, country-influenced pop was exceedingly professional with occasional moments of brilliance. Despite that, their currency over the years has faded to the extent that the band’s three charting hits from 1990-95 rarely get heard (even the ’80/’90s playlist at the local Safeway, a good barometer of the lesser lights of yesteryear, seems to have eluded them).

The three albums I got were Waking Hours (1989), Change Everything (1992) and Twisted (1995), supplemented with an iTunes download of their non-LP 1990 single “Spit In The Rain.” Generally speaking, it’s good stuff. Not particularly innovative, but warm and reassuring. The hook-filled Waking Hours contained lots of deja-vu moments (I must’ve owned it when it was new), Change Everything (with “Last to Know”) is the most solid and surprising thing they’ve done, and the grunge-influenced Twisted seems overbaked and painfully short on good melodies, perky hit “Roll To Me” notwithstanding. For less than ten bucks, I got a nice little crash course on a band that deserved another look.

The Passing Parade

So sad to hear about the death of Gladys Horton of The Marvelettes at the age of 66 … Gladys’ irrepressible rasp can be heard on earlier Marvelettes hits such as “Please Mr. Postman” and “Beechwood 4-5789.” Although she was phased out as the group’s front woman in favor of the more honeyed sounding Wanda Young, she continued to record frequent leads right up until her departure in 1967. The energetic “Keep Off, No Trespassing” from 1966’s The Marvelettes LP is one of my favorite tunes of theirs, thanks in part of Gladys’ appealing voice. She will be missed!

The Queen of Everything

One of the Christmas gifts from my spouse was a code for 50 free song downloads at the iTunes store. What to get? Instead of downloading full albums, I ended up using many credits on miscellaneous songs needed to fill out albums — including Aretha Franklin’s Soul ’69. This was an unusually bluesy/jazzy collaboration between Aretha and her usual Atlantic producers Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd. The fact that the album didn’t spawn much in the way of hit singles (only her exquisite take on Smokey & The Miracles’ “The Tracks Of My Tears” charted) actually works in its favor. Listening to it is like sitting in on a casual late night session with ‘Ree and band playing around, undoubtely puffing lots of Kool cigarettes to boot. Aretha’s voice is in top form as usual, but I also dug her piano playing in this hot, early Atlantic era (I always wondered why she abandoned playing piano on her records, starting in the mid-’70s). Here’s a nice little video summary of Soul ’69 from another appreciative Aretha fan:

On a similar note, here’s another video from the same YouTube user/Aretha fan. On their recent reunion album History Of Modern, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark did a cool remix using vocals from Aretha’s ’67 track “Save Me.” This self-penned tune was a perennial fave of mine, if only for the stanza “Call in the Caped Crusader/Green Hornet, Kato too.” OMD’s treatment adds electro-funk synths to the original’s gritty vocal and guitar — it cooks!

The Girl from Ipanema from the CD from Goodwill

The 1996 CD Nova Bossa: Red Hot On Verve originally came out as a companion piece to the “current artists covering Brazilian music” benefit project Red Hot + Rio. Although I bought the latter (which is okay, if lacking in truly memorable covers) when it first came out, Nova Bossa never entered my mind until I spied it in the stacks at the local Goodwill. It’s actually a cool little compilation. Even though it contains frequently anthologized stuff like “The Girl from Ipanema,” the tracks are nicely sequenced with atmospheric interludes suggesting a walk through the streets of Rio de Janero with random songs piping out of apartments and shops. There are even a few tracks that take a delightful turn away from the usual Bossa Nova sound, such as the kitschy “Bicho Do Mato” by organist Walter Wanderley, or Caetano Veloso’s garage rock/bubblegum freakout “Superbacana.” In the great scheme of ’60s-’70s Brazilian music it merely scratches the surface — but one can never have too many comps of this type, eh?

Speaking of “Girl from Ipanema,” how about a clip of Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz performing their hit in a wintry lodge (?) in the teen flick Get Yourself A College Girl? That Astrud really knows how to stay perfectly still.

And here is Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim doing their ’74 classic “Aguas De Marco” on some unknown variety show. It seems like every song I’ve heard with Ms. Regina finds her laughing and having a good time, and this is no exception:

Weekly Mishmash I: December 12-18

dvd_earthiiEarth II (1971). Our first sampling of the made-to-order DVDs from Warner Archive (we bought a bundle in the site’s 5-for-$50 Black Friday sale). This quasi-2001 TV movie was Christopher’s choice, since he fondly remembered viewing it as a kid. In the film, Earthlings have set up a utopian space colony in which wars/conflicts don’t exist and every issue is voted on amongst its citizens via interactive televised discussions. When a Chinese satellite containing a nuclear bomb drifts into their orbit, the people of Earth II risk everything – including the onset of World War III – to diffuse it. This film was interesting, if poky paced and talky. I enjoyed watching it if only to see how the filmmakers adapted the style of 2001: A Space Odyssey (its obvious influence) within a made-for-TV milieu. For criminy’s sake, the cast is even headed by 2001 star Gary Lockwood! Other players include Mariette Hartley in her pre-Kodak commercial phase, Lew Ayres, Gary Merrill (sporting a bad comb-over) and even Benson‘s lovable housekeeper, Inga Swensen. Too plodding to be a complete success, but the production design is nice and Lalo Schifrin’s grand scoring gives the film some needed gravity, so to speak. Warner’s DVD edition has a crisp, nicely presented picture.
Going My Way (1943). Another notch in my effort to watch all the Best Picture Oscar Winners, this Bing Crosby/Barry Fitzgerald feel-good opus pushed all the right buttons for a war-weary public in ’43, but does it hold up today? I’d say no. The picture meanders and contains a few too many subplots, but Crosby and Fitzgerald are both charming and they are matched by an attractive supporting cast which includes Warner Bros. fave Frank McHugh, pretty opera star Risë Stevens (who is apparently still with us, bless her heart) and Our Gang‘s Alfalfa, Carl Switzer. I know, hating on something like Going My Way is like spitting on your mother, but I’ll say it — this was far from being a worthy Best Picture Oscar winner. Overwhelming mawkishness aside, part of my resistance to this film lies in how Crosby’s very type (the earnest Man of the Cloth who can also hang with the homeboys) has become such a boring cliché. The casting is good and there are several sweet musical numbers, but overall I found it very blah and non-compelling (not to mention long, long, long). Double Indemnity so should have won that year!
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). Actress Sally Hawkins got good notices (even a Golden Globe nomination, for what it’s worth) for this Mike Leigh film a few years back. Good enough reasons for me to check it out, but the film was a disappointment. The slight plot concerns Hawkins’ guileless schoolteacher as her cheery disposition either enlightens or infuriates those around her. A British Pollyanna, or perhaps the female Forrest Gump? Hawkins is at first very engaging, with a casual manner that is very unusual to behold. As the film goes along and we witness her character giggling through driving lessons, a tango class, and otherwise serious repartee with her siblings, however, the woman becomes simply annoying. Having not watched many Mike Leigh films (I vaguely remember seeing 1991’s Life Is Sweet and being similarly underwhelmed), this trifle does absolutely nothing to arouse my curiosity.
The Medicine Man (1930). Shoddily made comedy-drama produced by the z-grade Tiffany studio is notable for being the first starring vehicle for Jack Benny. Previously known as the funnyman emcee of stuff like Hollywood Revue of 1929 (another Warner Archive offering!), Benny takes on a more subtle turn here as a medicine man with a small time traveling carnival. His character becomes the savior of poor Betty Bronson and Billy Butts, children of an abusive shopkeeper played by E. Alyn Warren. Benny and Bronson fall for each other, but can they marry before the show leaves town? Story is pure hokum befitting of a D.W. Griffith melodrama, and the comedy doesn’t work in this poorly paced story. Even worse, Warren’s nasty character is so cruel it throws everything else off. This is a cruddy movie all the way; even Bronson’s somewhat nuanced performance can’t save it.
Smoke Signals (1998). A brooding Native American (Adam Beach) needs to travel to another state to retrieve the body of his recently deceased father. In order to do so, he must take a long road trip with the nerdy young man (Evan Adams) who was saved from a burning building as a baby. Laid back indie is noted for its all Native cast. The acting is actually very good all around, even if the so-so story fails to accomplish much. I liked how the director presents an unvarnished view of Native life in which even the smaller characters have a depth and humor. The film’s latter half gets seriously derailed by Beach’s horrible wig, however. This was recommended by Leonard Maltin and my mom, both of whom have strikingly similar tastes in (rather facile) feel-good entertainment.
I’ve watched so many movies this week, I’m splitting them in two (again). More tomorrow, folks!