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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My candidate for a valid holy book is Baum's THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. First: it's American. Right there, I like it. I like America. Depite Americans, with their Wal-Mart stores and reality TV shows and big stupid cars and and 50 Cent cds, it's good. Every pismire on earth (here included) blames us for inventing savagery, imperialism and bigotry. We've simply used these time-honored human ideals to our own presumed benefit as did, does and will every other nation hitherto and henceforth. Now that we are declining fast, let's see what wonders will replace our decadent dynasty. Good fucking luck. Point is, the best of what we are/were is/was pretty wonderful. Most of that was cultural, not political, and that culture is DEAD. R.I.P. Incidentally, the book of Mormon and the works of L Ron Hubbard and Elijah Muhammed are also American in origin. So maybe America does suck.

Anyway, the Baum book is also "modern" (by which I mean 20th century, not "current"). What do I care for the tall tales of two-thousand-year old nomadic herdsmen and their disgusting ways? What use can I make of the provisional philosophies of ancient nobles and mystics other than adapting the few valid points and prescriptions hidden within the sillyass bulk of their yammer? I know from con men, tornadoes, scarecrows, little doggies and hot air balloons; can't relate to trading wives for cattle any more than I can grok noble space negroes battling evil mutant crackers created by a renegade mad doctor. This is what the great Malcolm X believed in.

It's funny, the Wizard of Oz is... and the story FLOWS. No jumping around from David's sweet psalms to the ludicrous book of Job to Solomon's gay porn to the flat out psychosis of Revelations. No composite hippy Jesus Christ character about whose mere existence I must convince myself through daily repetition of stilted doggerel on my poor aching knees; I damn sure KNOW there never was no literal tin woodsman actually moaning for an historically verifiable oil can. This somehow does not impede my understanding of the message he and his pals personify.
Which is:
"IT'S ALL BULLSHIT, and so what if it is?" A Great American Truth.

The Wizard is a shuck, and his grandeur is somehow enhanced by this revelation. It's all a truly humanist parable for self-realization and continual self-creation, like that of Dylan or Bobby Darin or Madonna, depending on your age and your level of musical taste. Gimme the Wizard's showbiz hoaxing over the capricious sadism of Y*w*h, who tells Abraham to kill his son and then says "Wait... just testing you!" What is the fixation with killing sons, btw? Man oh man, Baum's central protagonist is A LITTLE GIRL. Again, right there, I see divinity far more easily and truly. I'll take my wee Lily over all your Mohammeds and Zoroasters and Shivas and whoozhamacallems.

If I read it correctly, you must journey through all kinds of trials and threats to ultimately discover that all you ever need, you've had all along. This is what we pay therapists fortunes to tell us. It's real.

What could you possibly need in this world but a brain, a heart, a home and the noive? Somebody somewhere on the web must have posted a more elaborate version of this thesis, so I won't belabor it. But if you think I'm wrong, just try playing "Dark Side of the Moon" alongside some religious picture -- that Mel Gibson thing will do -- and see if it's any fun. Nah. I mean, right there. Whoo. Hey, I wonder if Zardoz would be cool to watch while listening to "Brain Salad Surgery?"

As much as I love the music of Dylan, Nick Cave, Johhny Cash and Leonard Cohen, they load all this biblical lard into their songs and it really is a damn shame. I am digging those who risk looking goofy by working with more whimsical sources. Syd fuckin Barrett, for one. Sure, he got into the I Ching and such, but that's like a Ouija board, really. Good clean fun. Now, Bill Fay's on to something more profound with his own bible-dipping, but thats another story. Lately all I listen to is Sunshine Pop and Psychedelia of the Barrett (not Jerry Garcia) brand.

From here, the great unacknowledged master of Sunshine Pop seems to be Roger Nichols. Not real big on Curt Boettcher, myself. In the realm of late 60s post-Pet Sounds popcraft, Paul Williams' partner is as supreme as was Bob Gaudio in the slightly earlier world of NY/Italian/Jewish post-doowop popcraft. This latter subcategory finds its fullest flowering, oddly enough, in the early work of Steely Dan, which is magnificent still, but will never ever be cool. They are actually as widely hated as Frank Zappa, and in both cases I can understand the prejudice to some extent, even though I reject it absolutely. Sure, these are irksome wiseasses who made too many records of boring chops-centric, self-amused crap, but they also both produced enormous amounts of great, great stuff. Incidentally, the Roger Nichols who engineered Steely Dan’s albums is not the same guy as the Sunshine Pop auteur.

Sunshine Pop seems to have morphed into a few things... the superb MOR of early Manilow (Mandy is awesome… blow me), the bubblegum of the great Tony Macauley and the dippier strands of Power Pop, for example. There is a "third stream" of more ponderous amalgems of Sunshine Pop and post-doowop: your Bacharach / Webb music. We must also acknowledge the dumbass/delicious sounds of Brooklyn Bridge, Jay and the Americans et al. It all figures in.

Now, Barrett's brand of psychedelia mainly inflated into prog rock and art pop. The former has only recently begun to be permitted into the kanons of kool by the kouncil of kocksucker kritics, but the latter -- think Brian Eno when he sang tunes, or Kevin Ayers -- has always been OK to like. I say it's all swell and always was, except that which sucked then and sucks still. Van Der Graaf Generator did not suck, and neither did the Moody Blues, damn it, even with all those "cold hearted orbs which rule the night." Mellotrons were just plain great. I just cannot get with the smelly hippy jam shit. I try and try. I can't.

So here is a set of lists. I make these cdr "K-Tel" albums of unknown or lesser-known tunes in order to simulate a classic rock station of the mind, where nothing is played out beyond redemption and shit like Rod Stewart is forever banned (this douche has now apparently issued a box set of his “Great American Songbook series” of releases; him singing Porter and Arlen is a hundred times more awful than Tony Bennett singing Eleanor Rigby or anything by Shatner, but it will never be funny or good or useful in any way whatsoever).


Anyhow, my lists.
Let's group these current faves into handy six-tunes-a-side imaginary albums, but note that there’s no order of preference here… plus, there are many others I could have selected. Both genres are packed with lost gems. So:

Sunburst! All the original artists!

1) Don't Take Your Time (Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends) ...this is a corker. Great opening bull-fiddle plucking and then a frantic jazzy number in the vein of the old Grantray/Lawrence Spider Man cartoon theme or "Silicones: The Answer." Hooks build from hooks into even better hooks. Really nerdy and fantastic.

2) Ever On My Mind (Lee Raymond) ...can't find jack shit about this guy; apparently this was his only single. "Kaleidoscoping smiles of yesterday" lyrics aside, it's a relatively straight and serious midtempo tune with nice horns and mild trippiness. Pleasant and sweet and awfully catchy.

3) Happy (the Sunshine Company) ...these guys had a Mamas and Papas, Seekers, Cowsills thing going. They covered a few of Roger Nichols' great tunes, but this irresistible number has a touch of Four Seasons as well, which you know I endorse. Not especially original, obviously, but sheer pleasure.

4) Frightened Little Girl (The July Four) ...the thing with this is the groove. It has this beautiful light, swaying swing tempo against the usual minor chords, with great staccato horn accents and effective stop-time moments before each chorus. I can't help doing this inane little dance when I listen to it. I hope nobody ever catches me at it, but that’s what great pop does to you: makes you feel those wonderful, embarrassing teenage things again. Gorgeous. Ideal.

5) To Put Up With You (Paul Williams) ...yet another Nichols number performed by his famous co-writer. It's one of any number of eligible tunes from Paul's outstanding "Someday Man" album, and I picked it not only for the instant-grabber melody, but because of the great chorus conceit: "I just haven't got what it takes to put up with you!" That's telling her! It seems an idea better suited to the Stones or someone tougher, but the sweet setting makes the impact harder.

6) High Coin (Harper’s Bizarre) …this is one of those Sunshine Pop / Psych Pop cusp numbers, written by the great Van Dyke Parks. I put it here because the band was closer to the Association than to Syd. The tune is magnificent and uplifting, but what gets me is how much like Parks himself it sounds: all the dislocated strings, daft piano and that inimitable (or not so) voice singing about ambitions and hopes.

7) The End (Linda Ball) …Nichols here arranging a song by tin-pan alley scholar and novelty hitmaker Ian Whitcomb. It’s got a wacky polka tempo and heavily echoed trombone with Linda pissing and moaning about the hopelessness of her relationship. As with so much Sunshine Pop, the sun only shines in the sonics; the lyrical theme is pretty darn bleak.

8) Paper Cup (the Fifth Dimension) …nothing obscure about them, but this tune is not too well-known, though it did make top 40. It’s from their all-Jimmy Webb album, “The Magic Garden.” The song is full of that sensational wall of voices “bop-bopping” along through lyrics about insanity. The effect is like Lee Hazelwood’s hit for Nancy Sinatra “Sugar Town,” where a bouncy and carefree sound masks a sinister message of despair and druggy retreat. Yeah!!

9) Night of the Lions (Mark Eric) …this hapless kid made but one album, which the label evidently intended as a tax loss, letting it die without any support whatsoever. Drag, because it’s a great Pet Sounds homage at a time when everybody had long since abandoned Brian Wilson for the bonehead heavy rock shit that still plays interminably on classic rock radio. This tune begins with a lick like Barrett Strong's “Money” and then, with the whoop of a french horn, commences to gallop like a champ for the remainder of its exhilarating duration. Mark sings of the hollowness inside youth culture bravado, and it is out-motherfucking-standing.

10 Run Run Run (Third Rail) …a hectic evocation of the day’s pressures. I dunno… it’s good. (note: I forgot to expound on this in sequence, and by the time I get to the en d of the night's typing I was too shot to go into it. Alas)

11 October Country (October Country) …from the album “October Country” I think, but maybe I’m just melting down like HAL. It’s a little like The Cyrkle trying to do “Forever Changes.” Lotsa strings and urgency, and a certain sense of stoopidness in the singing, which is praise. It breaks into a dumb shuffle in the middle, but soon the frenetic piano arpeggiation begins again, and then a sudden Eleanor Rigby interlude and then rock, baby, and it’s over before you catch your breath enough to go, “eh… it’s OK.”

12 No One Was There (Gates of Eden) …another one that’s probably more psych than sunshine, as is their other great song “Too Much On my Mind” but it connects with me more in the sunshine spot than the sullen amygdalic vortex ruled by Lord Syd. It’s a spacy, sitarish and laden with real boss Gregorian harmonies. “Masks of cellophane” and that sort of thing… a blacklight poster for your ears.

Psychedelic Gold! 12 Fluorescent Faves!

1) Madman Running Through the Fields (Dantalion's Chariot) ...this band featured Zoot Money, a brit-rock stalwart for ages. The song is an intense, melodic, beautifully structured piece of paranoia, about as Barrett-ish as one could possibly get without being as brilliant/nuts or merely imitative. Fave lyric: "Things went OK, and then one day: Pow!" It sounds cooler than it reads, because of Zoot's rough voice and the stops-out trippiness of the production.

2) Gone is the Sad Man (Timebox) ...Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall, names which should mean something to you. Patto's subsequent group did a great, daffy thing pairing boogie woogie and boys' choir entitled "Turn Turtle" and Halsall worked a lot with Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall (So did Zoot Money, in Grimms, Hmmm). This rips off the rhythm sound from Beatles psych-era stuff like "Baby You're a Rich Man" and "I Am the Walrus" but the tune is a great melodious meander that touches on unlikely, satisfying soul flavors amidst the paisley.

3) Diana In the Autumn Wind (The National Gallery) ...brothers Chuck and Gap Mangione (!?!) did this album based on the paintings of Paul Klee (??!!!), at least half of which is superb. The jazz impulse is certainly present, but reined in by baroque popadelia with traded male and female leads. Mournful, nicely pretentious and legitimately musical, if you get my drift. This stuff twitches on the border of Sunshine Pop and Psychedelia, and, like the Four Seasons' magnificent "Wall St Village Day," it does sound at times like proto-Fagey/Beck in all the best ways.

4) The Bitter Thoughts of Little Jane (Timon) ...dunno much about this act, but the thing starts like such a piece of pussy-pop, with shrill oboe and the singer's simpering voice, that I almost missed the violence of the message and the musical balls below the tinsel. So think Kinks. It's about a kid who smashes her dolls' heads. The National Gallery explored this same theme (what the fuck??) in the tune Boy With Toys. This must say something weird about the 1960s, as if there’s anything not weird to say.

5) I Have Been Alone (Common People) ...a somewhat cult-prized album called "Of The People" features a few tunes roughly in the "Nights in a Whiter Shade of Satin" ballpark, mournful and string-laden, but there's something especially ominous and off-center about them. The orchestra is particularly well-arranged and recorded in a big, cavernous manner that suits the somewhat addled but authentic whining of the singer. It's truly arresting stuff.

6) Positively Negative (the Tingling Mother's Circus) nominee for most annoying side ever cut. This guy sends his faux-operatic castrato shriek through phasers and flangers to voice incomprehensible lyrics over a carefully-arranged clutter of chamber-trippy noises. It's fascinating to listen to, and almost a sort of pleasure. I listen to it often and usually wonder why I bothered, but I go back again and again.

7) Lollipop Train (Peppermint Trolley Company) …a song by P.F. Sloan also recorded by the Grass Roots, it seems. And this sounds like them in the chorus, a pissed off driver with ballsy horns. The verses are a little like Love, with flamenco-ish rhythm, and the chorus tag goes into a circus waltz. This is more like the American “Nuggets” garage stuff than the lysergic baroque of the other tracks, but you need a little of that as well. He’s pretty much carrying on about how she blew it when she blew him off. The usual.

8) Across Your Life (Oriental Sunshine) …a Norwegian hippy act, with sitar and organ swirling like patchouli fumes ‘round a charmingly-accented female voice invoking some bum trip. Like maybe if Nico had been more into hash than heroin or something like that. Their album, “Dedicated To The Bird We Love” is a consistently fetching collection of airy-fairy things like this, so the track choice is sort of random.

9) On A Saturday (Keith West) …the singer in the band Tomorrow (hit song: My White Bicycle, guitarist was Steve Howe, later of Yes) trills a surprisingly un-dippy song about the sweet chick, the nice afternoon and all that stuff. Really nice, strong acoustic guitar lick and more Spanish style rhythms with very interesting and effective tempo change-ups. Like many of these cuts, it sounds like a hit you remember rather than an obscurity newly heard. Maybe it was a hit over in the UK… dunno.

10) My Name Is Jack (Manfred Mann) …the group is very well-known, but the tune is largely forgotten. Not by me; I used to keep the radio tuned low in my backyard tent to turn up whenever it came on. It’s a kind of childhood surrealist name check of all Jack’s (imaginary?) pals, with whistling, congas and mock-martial choruses. The hook is way catchy, and there’s something archly perverse about the lyric that keeps it from cloying.

11) I Wish I Was Five (Scrugg) …put this here not only because it’s a cool record, but because the title sums up most of the pop-psych philosophy. The main gazane here was a guy named John Kongos, a pretty accomplished all-around music biz talent for decades. The opening is classic organ and guitar mysterioso. “Sometimes it’s not so good to be alive” he sings, summing up the deep gloom that informs many of the Peter Pan yearnings of the genre. Of course, most performers in those days did not seek to drag you down into their anhedonia; it took years before everyone discovered the Velvets and decided that bumming us all out was Art’s highest calling.

12) Wings of Love (Nirvana) …thanks to latterday suicide songster Cobain’s band, one must always qualify this band as “the 60s Nirvana” which is fucked, because they should have been well-enough remembered to force the Seattle band to pick a more appropriate name, like “Gehenna.” The leaders here were the abundantly gifted Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos, who made a slew of KILLER records, including the first “rock opera” before SF Sorrow or Tommy. This particular number has a stunner of an orchestral intro, arranged by Syd Dale, a noted library/production music composer. It’s one of those mini-suites with several brilliantly developed sections. It’s about yearning, and it connects big time from the first tymp roll to the fakeout ending rave-up. They made other outstanding songs: “Rainbow Chaser” which pits John Barry Bond-isms against the cosmos, “I Believe in Magic” which boasts a truly original melody and a deliberately elusive point, and “Melanie Blue” – a colossal, unforgettable big-chorus ballad. What a band.

So that’s a few. Maybe I’ll get into a list of great old singer-songwriter things, rock things, whatever. Tell you one thing, the stuff is exerting an influence. You’ll hear it on the next album for sure. It can only help.

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