Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's in the Bin? - November 17th, 2008

One of the sheer joys of being in an indie record store is browsing the bins. Just starting somewhere, flipping through things, pulling out items that catch your eye, giving a few of them a test spin. So in the fourth of a hypothetical series, I've browsed the "New Arrivals" bins here at Twist & Shout, picked out a few things, and gave them a listen. The nature of used record stores being what it is, I can't promise these items will still be in the bin by the time you get here. But hey, browse the bin anyway. You might find something else of worth.

CD - Gary Wright - Dream Weaver and Other Hits

If I was a stickler for truth in advertising, this CD probably should be called Dream Weaver, That Other Hit You Know That You Probably Didn't Know Was By The Same Guy Who Did Dream Weaver, His Only Other Charting Hit Which Is Actually Pretty Cool, And Seven Songs Which Never Were Hits At All. But try fitting that on the spine of a CD.

This brief ten-song disc is anchored by the one song Gary Wright will be forever tied to - "Dream Weaver." Five minutes or so of trippy vocals and spacey keyboards from a time when "Nobody played synthesizer" was something bands liked to boast about on the back of their LPs. The song tripped me out when it was on the radio back in 1976 (I was six), and while it doesn't quite have that effect anymore, it still manages to move me a bit. "Love Is Alive," also included, was Gary's other big hit, although one that has pretty much utterly vanished from the public's memory. Probably that's due to it being rather normal by comparison. The melody is simpler, the guitars louder, and the lyrics are rather 70s-lazily-cosmic: "It's all clear to me now/My heart is on fire/My soul's like a wheel that's turning." (Not a stationary wheel, mind you - a turning wheel.) But like most mid-70s chart smashes, I like it anyway, and would probably throw it on after "The Things We Do for Love" by 10cc fades out.

Then there's Gary's third (and final) chart hit "Really Wanna Know You." It doesn't have the cosmic lyrics of his other hits - instead, we get a love song more boring than anything in the Air Supply canon (who were close to ruling the world around the time this song made the charts). "I really wanna know you/I really wanna show you the way I feel/I really wanna know, know, know you/I really wanna show, show, show you." But these third-grade lyrics are propped up with oddball keyboard licks and washes that make the ones in "Dream Weaver" sound tame by comparison. Then there was the music video. Gary, decked out in his white shirt and pants, makes his way through a very red post-apocolyptic (or just really messy) cityscape. He chases after the elusive woman in the black hat holding a white letter Y. I'm sure it was artsy and fraught with meaning, but even when I saw it on MTV back in the early 80s, it looked more like a fever dream brought on from eating too many Skittles. Because of all this, "Really Wanna Know You" ends up being more memorable (and more fun) than most other pop hits from 1981.

And then there's those other seven songs. No, there's no hidden classic buried here, but actually, most of the other songs hold up quite well. Most have the same trippy lyrics and vaguely anthemic quality that are hallmarks of Gary's two big hits, and a few of the songs ("Water Sign", "Phantom Writer") sound great placed next to the big hits. I doubt you'll be skipping over the hits to get to them, but then again, I doubt you'll be skipping over them to get to the hits, either. At least, not if you give them a fair shake.

LP - Soup Dragons - Hang-Ten!

I worked at my college radio station back in the early 90s, and it seemed every LP in the bin looked a lot like this one. The cover art conveying equal measures of both "whimsical" and "art" - hell, they actually spell that second part out for you. But given that, the music inside is somewhat surprising. It's even more so if you happen to remember the band's two minor hits ("I'm Free" and "Divine Thing"). Both those songs were deliberate, measured, and "knowing." But this whole album sounds downright giddy. Like the band has these songs bubbling up out of them, and they just GOTTA let them out. The songs sound a bit rushed, and the production isn't very good (at least until Pat Collier takes over for the band halfway through side two). It's as if the band skimped on both the recording budget and setting up the mics, beacuse darnit, they wanted to get to the part where they play their songs for you! This feeling is rather infectuous, and makes overlooking the album's faults fairly easy to do. "Man About Town With Chairs" ("based on the original short story" - duly noted) isn't a very successful attempt at making A-R-T, but it's easy enough to like. And they do much better (helped by Pat Collier's clearer production) on the final track, "So Sad (I Feel)," a long slow number that picks up speed as it goes along. Not exactly a deathless album, but it's fun to hear people having fun making what they think is art.

7" - Three Belles - "(My Baby Don't Love Me) No More/Sincerely"

Most people who know something about the history of popular music are aware that whitebread cover versions of R&B hits were the order of the day in the mid 1950s. But did you know there was a market for whitebread cover versions of songs by white artists, including whitebread cover versions of whitebread cover versions of R&B hits? Apparently, that's the story behind the Bell music label from the 1950s. (No relation to the 60s/70s label of the same name.) The label featured mainly unknown acts recording versions of other songs that were popular at the time. Have you ever seen those clearly-not-Disney DVDs featuring "The Lion Monarch" and "The Small Mermaid" for $1 at the discount store? It's pretty much the same idea - redo the hit, and sell it cheaper. So perhaps it's not surprising that the Three Belles are no match for the Moonglows, or even the McGuire Sisters, on "Sincerely." And I don't know the original "No More" (by the DeJohn Sisters), but the Three Belles's performance there is only adequate. That said, the musical accompaniment (by Larry Clinton and Orchestra) is actually really good. I don't know if this is something I'd pull out and listen to on a daily basis, but it's a good listen, and an interesting footnote to musical history.

- mondo gecko

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