Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday Timewarp: The Lost Lester Bangs Interview

Lester Bangs, perhaps the greatest rock scribe to ever put pen to paper, died in 1982 and didn't leave much in the way of taped conversations when he passed. That's why this recently uncovered 1980 interview is so important. Here is an hour and a half of Lester expounding on New Wave music, Rolling Stone magazine, modern sound equipment, the music industry, touring oldies acts and much more. Insightful, visionary, never boring-- this is the Professor giving you a Masters-level thesis. So sit back, grab a beer, and click HERE to check out The Lost Lester Bangs Interview. (hosted at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

California Music Part One: Requiem for Vitality

Compilation (various artist)

Hey! I know what you're probably saying to yourself-- This guy doesn't update his blog for three months, and now he's hammering us over the head with more new crap than we have time to listen to. C'mon, I totally know you just said that right now.

Well enjoy it now, people! The good times won't last forever, and you know why that is? Because I'm OLD. Hella old. Thirty-six to be precise. I'm at the point in my life where even such rote past-times as maintaining a music blog are considered childish wastes of my valuable time, which according to too many people I know should be spent "doing something productive". PRO-DUC-TIVE (adj.). Yes gang, here are some of the exciting, productive things on my agenda, in no particular order:

Get garage door fixed (and pray it doesn't take the local schmoes more than an hour to do so at their rates!)

Go to traffic court to resolve ticket. (Seriously, what the hell is the deal with these cameras at intersections? I miss the old days when you actually had to, you know, get busted by a cop or something in order to get a ticket.)

Get a haircut. (Overt resemblance to ca. 1971 Brian Wilson getting to be a bit much.)

Send assertive e-mail to lackadaisical eBay merchant who refuses to ship me my NM- Papa Doo Ron Ron LP, which probably isn't anywhere close to a NM-, but fuck it I gotta have it anyway. (Yep.)

Yes, good times on the old homestead. Hey I'm just livin' the Cali lifestyle, yo. Now pass me the granola and WATCH OUT FOR THAT BEACH BALL!

(Sigh.) The previous diatribe is what we call in the writing game an "introduction", wherein I use a gripping personal saga to sucker you into whatever it is I'm really trying to sell you on. Are you with me still? Holy shit, you actually are, aren't you? Pfft! For real? I mean, like, seriously? Okaaayyy...

So. You now know this much about me: I'm old and I live in California. As such, while I try to keep up with the latest in all things pop culture, it's become soberingly apparent to me over the last two years or so that I just totally do not give a shit about your Ke$has and your T-Pains and whatever other eight track rock 'n' roll records the youngsters are boppin' to these days. What can I say? I'm not proud of it or anything. But it's just like a great man once said: "I'm old I tell ya! Why my social security card is a rock with a fraction on it!"

Yep, transitioning into your mid-thirties can be a stone drag, even here in the Golden State. And if you don't believe me, why not ask these guys?

I mean if you look up the word ennui in the dictionary, this photo would probably accompany it, amirite? (Wait do dictionaries have pictures? Do they even make dictionaries anymore?) But yeah, here's five seriously burned-out looking cats, with an average age of, iunno, thirty-five? And their music of the time reflected this fatigue! I mean with the exception of that scary looking dude on the right, it's possible none of them even knew what a Sex Pistol was, let alone what one would do with such an item. Maybe you've heard of a book by Dave Rimmer called Like Punk Never Happened? Well here's your answer, folks.

But here's the rub. The Beach Boys continued to put out some killer music during this, their wilderness era. We've focused on Dennis and Brian's output in this blog already, but what about the rest of these dudes, and their buddy Mr. Bruce Johnston? They didn't exactly crawl up under a rock and die, did they? Nosirreevinniebarbarino, they kept on making music. Good music. California Music.

Huh? No, I did not make that last bit up. There really is a genre called California Music, as in-- not music from California, but California Music. And yes the italics are absolutely necessary! (Okay no they're not.)

Yes, you the reader may be amazed to know that this genre was first coined in an article that appeared in Phonograph Record Magazine titled “A California Saga: The Revival of Coastal Consciousness,” by Gene Sculatti, Ken Barnes, and Greg Shaw. (Vol. 3, No. 10, May 1973). I will not quote you anything directly from this article, seeing as I am too cheap to cough up some money for the fine folks over at Rock's Backpages, but from what I remember of it, the jist of the article was that, by 1973, the California music scene was beginning to morph yet again. Out was country rock, singer songwriters, metal and glam. In was Holland, American Spring and Jan & Dean. I shit you not, I am not making this up. My ears do have the tendency to perk up whenever I hear about individuals digging on the same obscuro shit I listen to during my humdrum daily existence. And yes, the writers actually make the point that numerous young swarthy-types were heard driving around SoCal "bumpin'" (in the vernacular of today's yutes) the 45 mix of "California Saga".

Take a moment and let that sink in. I mean, talk about the time and the place. (Ooh! Moby Grape!) The article goes on to list some impossible-to-find singles by The Legendary Masked Surfers and Jan Berry that were, believe it or not, getting heavy play from folks who were "dialed in" that lived on the best coast at the time. (See what I did there?)

How could such a thing happen? Because PEOPLE WERE GETTING OLD, MAN!! (Say that last bit just like Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, and you'll get where I'm coming from.) I mean, Spirit and Vanilla Fudge were groovy back in the day and everything, but lately that shit just gives me a headache. But this pussy-ass James Taylor crap, I can't abide by that either. And don't get me started on all these queers from the U.K., with their "androgony" and their "originality". Who needs that shit? Not me! Hey you know who was cool though? JAN AND FUCKIN' DEAN.

Or at least that's how I visualize what this guy would have had to say about it!

Sooo... Somewhere around 1974, Bruce Johnston decides, having left the Beach Boys, that he and his pal Terry Somebody-Or-Other are going to start a record label called Equinox. I picture the conversation going a little like this:

BRUCE: Hey Terry, have you noticed that there really seems to be no outlets these days for musicians like me who want to specialize in generic, middle-of-the-road schlock?

TERRY: (Ignoring Bruce.) Oh man, it says here that Manson may actually be eligible for parole next year! (Twiddles thumbs with a look of consternation on his face.)

The upshot being, the Equinox label is sprung into action and Bruce quickly assembles a group of session pros known as The Roadhouse Band, led by guitarist Bill House and featuring vocalists Gloria Grinel and Kenny Hinkle, as well as other musicians with names that sound made up but really aren't. Before quickly going into debt over Terry Melcher's two solo albums (average cost, just slightly less than the Spruce Goose) they unfurl this minor masterpiece from the pen of some unknown songwriter:

Good thing they changed those stupid lyrics about a car or whatever, right?!

No, seriously, this song is the shit. It's the shit, and if you don't agree with me then TURN AWAY NOW! It's only going to get smoother, and soon you're going to be faced with even more sax solos.

Now if I may inject a bit of levity into this otherwise serious essay, I would like to point out that Bruce and company actually did a rather nice job of modernizing this Beach Boys classic for, ahem, modern listeners. It's not a patch on the original, but the vocals are strong, the new lyrics stay out of the way, and more to the fact, the song latches onto a vibe of some sort that's hard to describe, but let's see if we can do so anyway. Let's see: It's smooth and definitely laid-back -- almost to the point of somnombulance-- but yet it's so fucking pitch perfect and well produced that you'd have to be some kind of monster not to admire its modest charms. It's as though Johnston's production screams at you, "I AM MADE BY A TOP PRODUCER IN A TOP STUDIO USING THE BEST AVAILABLE SESSION MUSICIANS, HOW DARE YOU NOT SUCCUMB MY MODEST CHARMS THANK YOU DRIVE THROUGH." Almost. Except Bruce Johnston would never scream at you. He's far too polite and well heeled to do such a thing.

As stated, Equinox, in partnership with RCA, actually went on to produce other albums-- several with covers such as this:

And, yes, I do actually own this record. I am not proud.

Moving on, Equinox predictably fell apart after selling approximately 734 copies of its combined catalog. Terry Melcher later went on to achieve super-stardom flipping houses in the San Fernando Valley. Bruce Johnston gave up his dreams and went back to work for his dad's insurance company, by which I mean The Beach Boys. Bill House was last seen heading into Da Nang while manning an M-60 in the back of a Bell UH-1 Huey and is currently M.I.A.; his last words reportedly being "eat shit and die, motherfuckers!"

No doubt broken hearted by this tragic turn of events, Johnston handed over the "California Music" moniker to the one man on Earth inspired enough to make even gayer music than Bruce was capable of. (Y'all know where I'm going with this, right?)

When we last saw Curt Boettcher, he was signed to three-album deal with Elektra that he had delivered approximately 1.12548 album's worth of material on before they dropped his ass. The story gets a little harder to follow from there. He was apparently supposed to be part of the big "Sail on Sailor" circle jerk with Brian Wilson, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer and Van Dyke Parks, but missed the boat on that one. (Get it? GET IT!) Then, Curt being Curt, he retreated back to the simple, honest existance of bartender/ club deejay at Barney's Beanery in Hollywood.

Poor Curt. I know Brian Wilson said that he "wasn't made for these times", but if anyone deserved to wear that sable fur, it was this poor lad. I mean, imagine for just one minute being a raging homosexual back in the 1960s, when even loose talk of such an abomination was a mortal sin against the creator. Hell, times were so straight back then even Paul Lynde pretended to dig chicks-- and we're talking about a guy so swingin' that he died with amyl nitrate poppers dislodged in his pooper! (Too soon?) No, when I dwell on what Curt's life must have been during his Goldebriars days, I can only think of one thing. Mad Men.

Kurt: I’m homosexual.
Ken: I don’t think that means what you think it means.
Smitty Smith: Kurt.
Kurt: No. I make love with the man, not the woman.

So yeah, Curt. He did what only he could do. Grabbed the California Music axe and turned that motherfucker up to eleven. "Aiko Aiko"? Yes please! A disco version of the "Banana Boat Song"? Motherfucker, I'm ON that shit!

I kid of course. Curt was the man, will always be the man, never was not the man. If there was a gold standard for record production, it would bear an insignia with him and his lovely little Seventies' white afro. He was the one who took California Music from being something some dudes wrote about in an old magazine article and gave it the breath of life. Because unlike Bruce Johnston, Curt was funky. And gay. Incredibly gay. But it's the gay-ness (DISCLAIMER: "Not that there's anything wrong with that!") that this Jan & Dean-inspired hetero bro-fest was so sorely lacking that was the missing ingredient. All of a sudden, here was a dude who sang like a chick-- better than a chick in fact-- fucking KILLING IT. Don't believe me? Ask Eric Carmen. Curt toured Japan with him in 1980, on Carmen's personal invite. Elton John? Curt is all over Blue Moves. The Beach Boys? Well you know the answer to that shit:

Could things get any more decadent? More than anything, this one track symbolizes the entire California Music movement to a tee. The Beach Boys meet Curt Becher (his spelling, not mine) re-meet Bruce Johnston in a triple collision of post-Sunshine Pop excellence. These guys wanted NO PART of punk. This is music for adults! Sunburned, sexually free, drug addled, thrice-divorced adults, but adults just the same. What cost more? The studio time or the coke? Who knows? WHO CARES?! All bets are off when you're dialed into the sweet, sweet sounds of California Music. There's a party somewhere and Neil Bogart is picking up the bill, so MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC BITCHES!!

Except it all had to come crushing down. You remember that old saying about when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well Curt Becher, you beautiful, unstoppable flaming force of the hedonistic, discofied Californication lifestyle-- you, sir, have just met your match:

Okay, time to take a poll here: How many of you know that Curt Becher actually produced this little number? Cuz I sure as fuck didn't. At least til I learned who Curt was anyways. Now let me tell you why it's important:

Flat out, it's just this simple. This record doesn't suck. Not remotely. Oh, they'll try to tell you it does. Hell, the cover is enough to turn you off before you even slice the shrink wrap. But have you actually heard it? I mean, as in heard it without scoffing over the songs instead of paying attention to them? Don't believe the hype. Instead, check out the track we sampled for inclusion with this comp, "Runnin' Around the World". There's a fascinating story that goes along with that song concerning Curt and Mike, but I won't get into it now.

It's just that many, many people, particularly those who wrote music reviews for large corporate rock rags in the early Eighties, could not get over their adverse hatred of Mike Love. Which to some point is justified. The guy could be a huge douche, there's no getting around that, and no amount of revisionism can spin it otherwise. But I'm not gonna go there. We all make our mistakes, and it's how we learn from them that determine the real measure of our man- (or woman-) hood. Anyone who really knows about the Beach Boys knows there's no such thing as a Hero or a Villain. Remember what I said about the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object? Shades of grey. Shades of grey.

Anyway, I'm about out of steam. Here's the comp. If you've stuck with me this long then you deserve to hear it. All I ask is that you withhold judgement, and as you listen, try to consider the fact that we all grow older. Let those familiar voices you hear singing resonate, and think about where their heads were at then, and all the life experiences that brought them to where they were by that point. Why did these master musicians decide to abandon the brass ring and settle into the seedier, less noble environs of Hollywood discos and St. Tropez beach resorts? Would you have done the same?

Listen and absorb:

(Dedicated to Ken Barnes, Gene Sculatti and Greg Shaw.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Ballroom - The Complete Recordings

Compliation (single artist)

Even for those familiar with the vast recording universe of pop production deity Curt Boettcher, his sixties band The Ballroom is a corner of his career that remains something of an enigma. Compared to Curt's relatively renowned Sagittarius and Millennium projects, the Ballroom is still shrouded in mystery. As such, we must return to the beginning if we are to uncover the facts and chart the brief development of this short-lived but monumentally important recording group.

In November 1966, Curt Boettcher was on his way to becoming a highly sought-after producer in Hollywood, with a production vitae that already included such hits as "Sweet Pea", "Hooray for Hazel", "Along Comes Mary" and "Cherish" (though he would unfortunately not receive credit for the first two) and, shortly, "It's Now Winter's Day". Boettcher had also recently cut a record for his friend Lee Mallory titled "That's the Way It's Gonna Be" that, while not as commercially successful as the other songs I just mentioned, nevertheless had been heard and felt by a couple of his notable peers: Brian Wilson and Gary Usher.

It should be duly noted as well that Curt at this point was tied into a production contract with one Steve Clark, head of Our Productions. Though Clark was apparently little more than the money man in the equation, he and Boettcher had also recently elevated one of their house session musicians-- a young oboist named Jim Bell-- to co-producer status. However, if the label on the Ballroom's sole 45 is any indication, neither Clark nor Bell would have received a production credit on any Ballroom album. This was to be Curt Boettcher's baby and prize project from the start.

The group itself was hand-picked by Curt, and would a quartet. However, unlike the two-guy/ two-girl lineup of his previous band The Goldebriars (or the Mamas and Papas who were currently riding high atop the charts) this vocal group would be comprised of two male leads in Curt and Sandy Salisbury, a female lead in Michele O'Malley and an oboist in Bell. Working behind the scenes would be a team of players, singers and writers including the aforementioned Lee Mallory, ex-New Christy Minstrel Mike Whalen, former Goldebriar vocalists Dotti and Sheri Holmberg, and the team of musicians who comprised the Our Productions House Band.

It is known that their first album was in the can by December of 1966 and would have actually beaten Smile to the marketplace, had the group been signed to a deal at the time. (SOURCE: Dawn Eden.) A mono master reel dated 9/66 exists, its label shown within the booklet to Sundazed's Magic Time box set, with a ten track line-up. The tracks listed are as follows: "5 A.M."; "Magic Time"; "I'll Grow Stronger"; "Lead Me to Love"; "Would You Like to Go"; "You Turn Me Around"; "Baby Please Don't Go"; "It's a Sad World"; "Crazy Dreams" and "Why Don't You (Forever)". These were notated on the box as basic tracks, meaning they were most likely devoid of any vocals or instrumental overdubs.

Furthermore, a second mono master reel was also ultimately discovered, containing the previous ten songs as well as "Love's Fatal Way" and "Musty Dusty". This reel was dated 12/01/66 and was indeed the final master of the first Ballroom LP, tracks listed in the appropriate running order. We have faithfully replicated this line-up as the first portion of this CD compilation-- The Lost Ballroom Album.

As stated previously, the group did not have a record deal in place during the recording of their first LP. They were, however, ultimately signed to Warner Brothers by the beginning of 1967. The story has never been explained, but one likely scenario was that Our Productions initially did a deal for The Ballroom with Valiant Records (already home of affiliated artists like The Association, Lee Mallory and The Looking Glass), only to see the band brought under the Warner's umbrella when the larger label usurped the smaller indie, ca. March '67. Seemingly nonplussed, the group continued recording, actually committing even more material to tape. This is a fact that has mostly gone unknown or unheralded, even amongst Boettcher devotees: the band had at least another ten tracks in the can by mid-March, 1967-- enough for a second album!

The Ballroom also performed one live show at this time; a well-received gig at UCLA's spring Mardi Gras Festival. However, in a screw-up of monumental proportions, Warner's actually sat on the first Ballroom album, choosing not to release it. Instead, they coupled "Baby Please Don't Go" alongside a Ruthanne Friedmann song that was finished during the second album sessions titled "Spinning, Spinning, Spinning." Sadly and predictably, the single never made it past the promotional stage, their first album was never released and The Ballroom, perhaps *the* most commercially viable unsigned band in America, were dropped from the label and forced to disband.

What happened afterwards wasn't all bad for Curt Boettcher. He went on to produce one more album for Our Productions (Bobby Jameson's brilliant Color Him In), and then was bought out of his contract with Steve Clark by Columbia Records at the behest of Gary Usher. Some of The Ballroom's tracks, taken by Curt over to CBS as the result of the buy-out, would receive extensive overdubs and wind up on either Sagittarius's Present Tense or the Millennium's Begin LPs.

But what of the lost second Ballroom LP? Nobody's ever heard it, right? Well get ready...

Yes folks, here it is in all it's glory: Our best approximation of what the second Ballroom LP would have sounded like had it seen release. It contains all ten known tracks recorded by the group after the sessions for their first album, augmented with two other amazing Curt Boettcher productions from the Ballroom era. In terms of listenability, this record is every bit the equal of the first, ranging from the almost twee sunshine pop of "Spinning Spinning Spinning" to the haunting, mystical psych of the original "Karmic Dream Sequence #1". The Ballroom Returns fits nicely on this single CD right after The Ballroom, and we even bookended the set with the original 45 mixes of "Spinning" and "Baby Please Don't Go". Hard to find!

Everybody, please enjoy The Ballroom - The Complete Recordings on one CD, and saturate yourselves with the sounds of what surely must be the greatest lost band of the Sunshine Pop era!

Peel - Blindside

Unreleased Album (single artist)

Back by popular demand, here's the great lost modern power-pop classic, Blindside by Peel. The brainchild of Kevin Ridel (AM Radio, Ridel High), this may stand as the ultimate melodic statement by a guy who has already written more than his share of classics. Alongside Phantom Planet, Weezer and Kara's Flowers (all bands we've featured here to some extent) Peel stands as the fourth column of L.A.'s late-nineties pop rock renaissance. (Honorable mention goes out to the late, lamented That Dog who may feature here shortly as well.)

While there's no videos for Peel to be found on YouTube, check out this one by Radel's later band A.M. Radio which will give you a taste of his compositional godliness:

It's tempting to grasp for influences upon first hearing this gem, but while you'll surely hear a little Oasis here, a little Ben Folds there, in the end it's Ridel's own songwriting that comes to the fore. While every song is a highlight, stand-outs include the poignant "Birthday Present", the epic sturm und drang of "Day to Day", and the melodically perfect single-that-never-was "Gel". If you've been downloading all our previous comps, you'll be well familiar with these and chomping at the bit to hear the rest of the album. If you haven't, well... why are you here?

Kara's Flowers - The Fourth World

Out-Of-Print (OOP) Re-issue

Hey! Here's a 4 1/2 star review for the 1997 album The Fourth World by Kara's Flowers that I wrote probably six years ago for the website And they say music criticism doesn't stand the test of time??

I'd heard the name Kara's Flowers mentioned in the same breath as a few of my other favorite bands; Weezer, Phantom Planet and AM Radio. But I never gave The Fourth World a chance, primarily because of the fact that the group later morphed into the bland commercial entity known as Maroon 5. But on a whim I decided to track this cd down for a close friend of mine who's a huge Maroon 5 fan. I burned a copy for myself just before I gave her the original, and finally I decided to play it just for the hell of it. My God, was I ever surprised when I heard it.

This is an incredible power pop album, made even more amazing by the fact that this band was still in high school when they recorded this. By all means please DO NOT pre-judge this album on the fact that these guys later went on to become Maroon 5. The only similarity between The Fourth World and the tepid Songs About Jane is the nasal croon of singer Adam Levine. Where the latter record is not much more than run-of-the-mill top 40 grist, The Fourth World is classic pop rock with psychedelic flourishes in the mold of the Beatles, Fountains of Wayne or Jellyfish.

The album's lead single "Soap Disco" made a minor splash on "alternative" radio when it originally was released, but the strength of this record really lies in its more ambitious moments like the gorgeous "Future Kid" or the epic "Captain Splendid". It's fruitless to try to summarize what makes these songs so special... It's not as though they are overwhelmingly unique or something. They are just catchy, well-played and exquisitely produced, with pristine vocals and layers upon layers of sound. There is a depth to the songwriting here that Maroon 5 sadly abandoned in their quest to sell a gazillion records.

Song for song, this is some of the most well-crafted and infectious pop rock I've heard in the last ten years. Forget for a moment what these guys later turned into, and take a chance on this cd. Chances are if you are a fan of great pop music, then you will be pleasantly surprised by what Kara's Flowers achieved.

Yeah, so anyways, not much has changed regarding my opinions on this record since I knocked that mini-review off back in 2005. It's still the same very catchy album of melodic alt-rock with twinges of Beatles and 80s ELO. And similarly, you'll probably still be amazed at how un-Maroon 5 everything sounds here. (Jellyfish fans, please note the presence of Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. on most of these cuts.) What else can I say except dig up some Kara's Flowers!