Monday, April 27, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1969 - The Velvet Underground "The Velvet Underground"


by Steve Pick

Part the twelfth of Steve's 51-part weekly series examining one album from each year of his life; he's almost but not quite to the years when he started buying record albums.

I was a proclamatin' mofo back in the 80s. You could have stopped me on the street at any time, and asked me any question in the world which required an opinion, and despite the fact that I was only in my 20s and hadn't had ten percent of the knowledge or experience that I do now, I would have proclaimed an opinion that nobody, no matter how intelligent or possessed of expertise, could have argued me out of.

One of my proclamations heard frequently in those days was that the Velvet Underground's third album was the greatest record in the history of mankind.

I no longer believe this to be true. In fact, I'm not sure it's still in my top 100, if I was to sit down and proclaim a list of that sort. But, of all the great albums released in 1969 - Abbey Road by the Beatles, In a Silent Way by Miles Davis, Let it Bleed by the Stones, the first two Led Zeppelin albums, Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, The Band by the Band, Arthur by the Kinks, Stand by Sly & the Family Stone, Dusty in Memphis by Dusty Springfield, Liege & Lief by Fairport Convention, the Stooges first album, on and on and on - the Couch Album was and is the most important to me personally. Even though I've barely played it in years, I've still heard it more than any other record I just named.

While busy proclamatin' the album's greatness overall, I particularly declared "Pale Blue Eyes" to be the greatest song ever written. Something about the romantic ache of this gorgeous, simple little tune with that liquid, cascading guitar line wrapped around it, and lyrics like "It was good what we did yesterday / And I'd do it once again / The fact that you are married / Only proves you're my best friend / But it's truly, truly a sin" got inside me at an impressionable age. See, it's all about forbidden desires and guilt and passion that can't quite be properly felt. It still washes over me, making me want what I can't have, or making me think I could do what I shouldn't do, and I don't even have anything forbidden to seek. Imagine how powerful it was when I was young and hoping some girl would look at me the way I looked at her.

The first two Velvet Underground records were dramatically different from this one. The first one was all decadence and sexuality and heroin; the second one was all noise. Both featured John Cale's classical music and art aspirations, and both were brilliant. The Couch Album - if, by the way, you don't know why it's called that, look at the cover again - was quiet, yearning, searching for connection in a world that never quite gave it. "I'm set free to find a new illusion." That's the best you can hope for. "If you close the door / I never have to see the day again." That's the answer to loneliness in a crowded room.

Doug Yule had joined the band in Cale's place, and I've never really learned (or if I have, I've forgotten) whether he's playing the gorgeous lead guitar or if it's Sterling Morrison. Whichever one plays bass is also brilliant - Lou Reed's rhythm guitar is magnetic, too, and some of his songs have chord changes to die for, "What Goes On" in particular. They obviously had so much fun playing them - and Reed kept finding new ways to keep the groove going while varying his rhythmic approach - that there's an instrumental coda of nearly 90 seconds.

I haven't even mentioned "The Murder Mystery," a brilliantly experimental track in which Reed and Yule intone two separate but equal poems at the same time on different channels, while the band kicks up a stirring drone on organ and guitar and what sounds like a kettle drum but which is probably Mo Tucker's bass drum on its side. It's trippy and mysterious and totally immersive; don't try to make sense of it, just experience the ride.

The Velvet Underground had one more real album in them, an perfectly successful attempt at making a mainstream rock'n'roll record, Loaded. All four of their records wound up influencing half the rock bands of the next twenty years. I can't imagine 80s American rock without this album, for instance - R.E.M., for example, pulled a lot of its songwriting approach from the way Reed leapt into simple melodies and propulsively hypnotic grooves.

So, I'm not gonna proclaim this will change anybody's life, or that you're crazy if you don't think it's the greatest thing ever. But, if you trust me at all, and you haven't heard it yet, well, The Velvet Underground will give you a lot of pleasure and perhaps an emotional ache or ten.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pictures For Your Exhibition - Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers 1957

by Joe Schwab

Here are more photos from the Euclid jazz archives. Photos taken by Bernie Thrasher.
We take you back to 1957 and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers made there way to St. Louis' Peacock Alley.

This edition of The Messengers included Bill Hardman on trumpet and Jackie McLean on alto. I believe the rest of the band included Sam Dockery on piano and Spanky DeBest on bass. This was an interesting time for Blakey, as he was recording for a number of different labels including Pacific Jazz, RCA and his collaboration with Thelonious Monk on Atlantic. All this while taking a hiatus from Blue Note.

The first picture is a nice head on shot of Blakey with his Gretch set up.

The next shows Blakey along with Hardman, McLean and DeBest.

The bottom shot is Blakey telling the audience (as was his custom) to buy 2 Jazz records every week at your local record store. This of course is
something that we whole-heartedly endorse!









Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Record Store Day More Fun Than Anybody Has Ever Had



Photos by Jim Varvaris, except Troubadour Dali by Cat Pick

We knew this would be a good day. We had expectations of people coming in to see the bands, eat the food, take advantage of the sale, and grab some of the Record Store Day exclusive releases. But, we were overwhelmed with delight when we realized very quickly that Saturday, April 18, 2009 would go down in history as the best and biggest day Euclid Records has ever had.

We're here every day, and we know record stores are significant cultural resources. It was so very nice to see how many people are willing to celebrate what we bring to the St. Louis area. Thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts.

And a big thank you to all the musicians who came in to support Euclid Records by performing throughout the day. Many of them are pictured below, and all of them did a great job adding to the energy and excitement of Record Store Day.


Bob Reuter's new band, Alley Ghost



The Trip Daddys


The Trip Daddys


Bent


enraptured crowd watching Bent


Troubadour Dali


Jason Ringenberg


The Bottle Rockets


The Bottle Rockets


Future Record Store Day customer watches through the back window

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1968 - The Band "Music From Big Pink"



by Steve Pick

I'm not a guy who naturally pays attention to song lyrics. In recent years, I've trained myself to concentrate more often to what is being said, but my first inclination is to simply absorb the vocals as another musical sound in the mix.

For me, there are few records more perfect for the way I listen to music than the debut album by the Band, Music From Big Pink. Oh, the words are amazing, don't get me wrong. They are simply completely unnecessary to any immersion into the music.

The Band had come up in Canada playing rockabilly, r'n'b, and other assorted dance styles backing up Ronnie Hawkins, and then touring on their own. Backing up Bob Dylan, they brought the perfect rock'n'roll punch to his sound (though to this day, I insist the Albert Hall performance of Dylan and the Band is marred by the thoroughly disappointing drummer who replaced Levon Helm for a while). Then, the whole Basement Tapes mythos happened with Dylan and the Band holing up in Woodstock, NY learning a whole new way to write songs.

It's true that Music From Big Pink sounds like nothing that had come before. The Band became a unit wherein each musician slid back and forth into lead and backing roles. This is obvious from the vocals - everybody knows the slippery harmonies of "The Weight," for example - but it's in all the instruments, too. Garth Hudson's organ will start a melodic line, then Robbie Robertson's guitar will pick it up and Richard Manuel's piano will finish it. Or Levon Helm's drum will center a rhythm that Rick Danko's bass will bounce around, as the other three players glide in and out of the spaces of the other parts.

I think Hudson was (and is) the certified genius in the group. Whether pulling some Bach moves in the intro to "Chest Fever" or manipulating some early synthesizer sounds on "This Wheel's on Fire," Hudson had an uncanny ability to play extraordinary melodic and harmonic parts which rarely call attention to themselves yet which are absolutely essential to the songs. The other guys are great musicians, but they don't have the range Hudson does; Manuel plays rock and blues licks; Danko has an idiosyncratic rhythmic attack on the bass which limits him to certain styles; Helm is remarkably inventive but not exactly Ginger Baker or Mitch Mitchell in terms of range; and Robertson plays the least obtrusive lead and rhythm guitar in all of rock, especially on this record.

Records released in 1968 almost invariably sound better on headphones (something I would never have imagined I would say about anything). All that stereo stuff blows your mind when listening to the Band - the parts are all so brief and overlapping that your brain is constantly bouncing from ear to ear. The other leading contenders for 1968 - Hendrix's Are You Experienced and the Beatles White Album - are chock full of stereo effects, too.

People love to talk about the Band as representing Americana, and for the second album, I can really go that way myself. But the debut sounds like nothing else in popular music - even the country music cover, "Long Black Veil" is turned into something completely out of time and space. Manuel and Danko are constantly flying into falsetto, and along with Helm, everybody sounds intensely sad, curious, empathetic, and bizarrely alone in a group context. The five members of the Band are one, and yet they are never quite in synch. It's a feeling of togetherness and alienation, and it's enthrallingly beautiful.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Record Store Day Update

Don't forget, Saturday, April 18 is Record Store Day, and Euclid Records wants you to come to the biggest party of the year. We've got live music, food, drink, a sidewalk sale, and a storewide sale.

Due to the forecast of rain, we had to make the decision to move all the music indoors, but this isn't going to stop the fun. Don't forget the musical line-up posted here.

Also, don't forget that Apr. 18 is the release date for the new Terry Adams 45, "Thedy" and "Eat That Pumpkin." in the Euclid Sessions series.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1967 - Aretha Franklin "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You"



by Steve Pick

This is the tenth installment of Euclid Records clerk / music critic / KDHX dj Steve Pick's trip down the years of his life, picking one record album to represent each year.

There's a game music fans seem to like to play whenever the topic of Aretha Franklin is broached. While nobody pretends she wasn't one of the greatest recording artists of all time for at least the seven years between this album and the soundtrack to Sparkle, plenty of people like to tell me that so and so is more truly deserving of the title Queen of Soul.

Now, this so and so is never the same singer. One record collector might champion Bettye LaVette, another Irma Thomas, still another might try to insist Erma Franklin outdid her sister. And invariably, the singer in question is always magnificent, and deserving of far more attention than she has received from the public at large.

But gosh dang it, Aretha is Aretha is Aretha. Once she discovered the formula to take her gospel passions and wed it to elastic rhythms and then up the ante further with sexual bravado, Aretha was as good as it got. Eventually, she lost her connection to all three of these ingredients, and, while still retaining technical skills above the norm, her records stopped being consistently exhilarating, and turned into perfectly ordinary radio fodder.

But, in 1967, she burst forth to capture the zeitgeist of a newly civil righted America. Taking Otis Redding's masculine demands for a woman to know her place, and turning it into a feminist anthem five full years before Ms magazine appeared on the newstands, Aretha demanded "Respect" for herself, her gender, her race, and her sexuality. This was the sound of a woman aware of life's experiences, and not willing to let herself be shaped by anything other than what she needed.

Which brings us to the oft-told story of how Aretha had floundered at Columbia Records in search of an adult pop audience (actually, she made some pretty great music there, with jazz and blues as prominent as the pop). Then signed to Atlantic Records, she was brought to Muscle Shoals to play with musicians Jerry Wexler had just found, and allowed for the first time to sing and play piano at the same time, unleashing all her inner talent as an expressive genius.

I gather it took a lot of work to sound this natural, though. At any rate, these country boys in Alabama were neither jazz/pop influenced a la Motown, nor as open and simple as the Stax crew. The Muscle Shoals sound was built on blues and, believe it or not, country music, and adding Aretha's gospel spice to it made for one intoxicating stew.

Listening to this record all these years, I've pretty much forgotten which songs were hit singles and which are just album cuts. While there are a couple of minor songs, at least eight of the eleven are soul masterpieces. "Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business" is practically an early form of Viagra. "Soul Serenade" is like the sound of wine swished in the glass, then the throat, and then sliding down the esophagus. "Save Me" is a whirlpool of a groove. And, then there's the unbelievable tribute to her friend Sam Cooke, her improvisational gospel take on his magnificent "A Change Is Gonna Come," sung at a time when the law had said the change had taken place, but with so many more changes still ahead.

I know that there are at least 28 other albums out of the top 32 listed at Rate Your Music for 1967 that could seriously compete with this one for representing the year, but I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You kept bubbling away in my head until it beat out all that stiff competition.

Record Store Day Schedule

You've already circled Saturday, April 18 on your calendar. You've already planned to come in and take advantage of the sidewalk sale and storewide bargains at Euclid Records. You're ready to celebrate Record Store Day with food and drink from Cyrano's and Highway 61 Roadhouse. But, you've been wondering, when are your favorite bands playing on the outdoor stage on Summit Avenue right alongside the store?

Wonder no more, here's the schedule:

11:00 AM - - Farshid Etniko
12:00 PM - - Bob Reuter’s Alley Ghost
1:00 PM - - Trip Daddys
2:00 PM - - Grace Basement
3:00 PM - - Bent
4:00 PM - - Troubadour Dali
5:00 PM - - Jason Ringenberg
6:00 PM - - the Bottle Rockets

This will be the first performance by the St. Louis band Bent, which was very popular in the 1990s, in the 21st Century. In addition, after the Bottle Rockets set, we’ll be showing the brand new live DVD from Wilco, “Ashes of American Flags,” which is being released on Record Store Day. Euclid Records is located at 601 East Lockwood in Webster Groves.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Euclid Sessions - Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet with the Whole Wheat Horns

The third 45 from the Euclid Sessions Series will be released on Record Store Day, Saturday April 18.

This marks the first release ever by The Rock and Roll Quartet and features two songs from the November 30 in-store, "Thedy" and "Eat That Pumpkin." The release also features a limited edition silk screen print by famed artist Jim Flora, famous for his album cover artwork in the 40's and 50's for Columbia and RCA records. All Euclid Sessions 45's are limited to 300 copies with one dollar for each record pressed to be donated to the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. All three 45's are currently available on-line at www.euclidsessions.com or at the store. Subscriptions are also available and subscribers are guaranteed a limited edition colored vinyl copy of each release.

For a taste, here's Terry and the band performing "Hey Little Brother" from the in-store:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1966 - Bob Dylan, "Blonde on Blonde"



by Steve Pick

This is the ninth installment of our weekly series in which Steve Pick, your favorite Euclid Records clerk/music writer/KDHX dj, considers one album from each of the years he's walked (or crawled) the earth.

1966 poses as difficult a challenge as any year when it comes to limiting yourself to one album. A legitimate argument could be made that the Beatles' Revolver and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, along with Blonde on Blonde, are three of the very finest rock records ever made.

So, how did I decide on Dylan? Well, for one thing, it's impossible to imagine Revolver without the influence of Dylan, and it's impossible to imagine Pet Sounds without the influence of the Beatles. Dylan, I think, may just have come up with Blonde on Blonde without feeling he was challenged by his contemporaries.

For another thing, Dylan managed to sustain his genius over the course of two full LPs, well over an hour of music which holds together perfectly. I've always been a believer in quality over quantity, but you gotta give props when you get both.

Acknowledging, then, that Revolver has "And Your Bird Can Sing," my all-time favorite single song, and that Pet Sounds is just an evocative and gorgeous masterpiece, let's just consider Blonde on Blonde as if it didn't have the competition.

For a guy who has made records now for 48 years, Bob Dylan only really sounded like Bob Dylan for a little less than 2. The iconic version of Dylan, the one who rocked folk music, who came up with that up-swing at the end of his lines that's been imitated for decades, is pretty much contained on Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.

But, Blonde on Blonde itself is something of a break from the previous two albums. Here, Dylan abandons his anger (or focuses it to much more narrow concerns), and sings of love, and loneliness, and fears, and delights. He's talking to specific people most of the time, trying to figure out why they impress him ("I Want You," "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)") or why they aren't living up to his impressions ("Temporary Like Achilles," "Just Like a Woman").

Without abandoning the blues forms he's worked so well on the previous albums, Dylan actually comes up with some of his strongest original melodies here. Whatever feminist issues one may have with "Just Like a Woman," this is one of the most beautiful tunes he ever wrote, and he sings it real pretty in a way Dylan detractors rarely acknowledge he can do. And, heck, there are songs with bridges on this record, not a form Dylan returns to very often the rest of his career.

If this record didn't exist, I would be completely unable to articulate certain feelings I've had over the years. I can't tell you how many times the existentialist condition of "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" has resonated with me. And, of course, how could I not realize that "To live outside the law you must be honest"? Hey, "I would not feel so all alone, everybody must get stoned."

There is a softness, a vulnerability, a confessional quality to Blonde on Blonde which doesn't get enough credit. As the third part of a hard-edged trilogy, there is a tendency to overlook an album which contains the emotional comprehensiveness of "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" and "Visions of Johanna."

Bob Dylan would go on to make many more great records, and many lesser ones, but he never scaled the heights he did in 1965 and 1966 again. It's unbelievable how these songs continue to resonate, shift meaning, and simply delight year after year after year.