Yoko Ono – Fly, 1971 (reissue 2017)

There was a pile of recently reissued Yoko Ono albums released on Secretly Canadian this year, which were received with a mix of  joy and apprehension.    I had been searching in vain for a copy of Fly for about 15 years, after I reluctantly passed up on a copy at a little used record store.   I only had so much money that sad day and I thought I needed to buy some underground hip-hop records that would go out of print – whether in hindsight this was a blessing or a mistake remained unresolved until a reissue of Fly appeared in the new bins at my local shop three weeks ago.

First scanning the back to make sure it wasn’t a dodgy “4 Men with Beards” product – I snapped it up without a consideration to the price.   It features a nice gatefold sleeve, poster and white vinyl pressing with a defiantly grapefruit label design.  Great package.

I’ve been slowly playing one side of this record per day for about three weeks now.  So much so my partner told me this morning that she could put up with 6 months of only listening to the Fall, but will not put up with 6 months of Yoko:  Then she said: “I like her as a visual artist, but her…”

(Interrupted mid-disclaimer)


(a strange yodel shriek leapt from the speaker)

“Oh, Come on! See what I mean?”

And while I agree somewhat with her statement/review, there is actually a lot to enjoy on this record.  Each side presents a different side of “Yoko the musician” – from her John Lennon associated rock and roll on side A (interestingly much of the record was recorded simultaneously to Imagine and features Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, etc.),* to the avant garde tracks composed on custom Fluxus instruments (bringing to mind Harry Partch)then almost proto electronic ambient music (the aptly named track “Fly” is just that, a buzzing fly vocally interpolated by Yoko for about 22 minutes).  As a whole, it is a strange but occasionally very listenable record, one that lands somewhere between Can‘s Tago Mago and the No-Neck Blues Band‘s Intonomancy.  

And while those comparisons are two bands I adore, I am not sure it is anywhere near as good as either.   This record is certainly better than her later efforts like feeling the space or Double Fantasy… so when my partner is not home I am going to keep  listening to this record because I feel like there is still something wonderful waiting to be found.

end note:

*I still like to insist that Yoko broke up the Beatles, if only for the irony that Love might have destroyed them, especially in an age where baby boomers have proven time and time again that all you need is greed.



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Fela Kuti – the Knitting Factory reissues

In 2015, a series of Fela Kuti reissues began to appear from Knitting Factory records, and I picked up a bunch hoping to discover some strange anomalies within his vast catalogue of beasts unto their own; his LPs follow a stubborn template of side long tracks (or a single sprawling pieces divided across two album sides), a format employed by free jazz artists (from John Coltrane to Alan Silva), or psych-improv records Sunburned hand of the Man or NNCK;  but in the case of mid 70s Fela it is often more like 12″ EPs with only 12-15 minutes per side, so with some editing and the addition of a couple short songs, he could have transformed these sort of “one take” records into a something more, say like the earlier preferred the four song format of the Fela Kuti/Ginger Baker – Live! (1971) LP, but I get it… the subsequent template was mostly Fela’s smart marketing plan to sell more units.

Roforofo Fight (1972) – this oft praised release begins with rambling scat and builds to a quick groove, horn stabs, and a nice call and response section, but then more unwelcome scat and a crude organ that sounds exactly like a Mark E Smith one note drunken keyboard solo.    The best thing about this record is Felas’ amazing jumpsuit on the cover.   Side B’s  “Go Slow” starts out with a great, but too brief, overlay of minimalist horn patterns simulating a traffic jam, with organ and shaker sections added before the whole band jumps in for the next 17 minutes of uncharacteristically fun funk.  **** 4 stars (mostly for side B).

Na Poi (1971?) Listeners got something slightly different here, but sadly not interesting, unless you like smooth sexy sax.   This it the sort of record that a World Music enthusiast like Ian or Ray or whatever-the-hell-he-calls-himself from High Fidelity will put on to show his above average white dude savage side and tries to seduce you while he plies you with those take-out samosas he bought, pretending he made them from scratch.    *** 3 stars

Confusion (1974) – side one opens with a spacey organ synth solo then quickly drums, crash and rumble in  – a nice Sun Ra -esque dark beginning – then after 4 cosmic minutes an appropriately confused bass line attempts to locate a groove, eventually pulling in the organ and drums – soon the full afrobeat orchestra arrives – this is clearly one of his more interesting LPs.  The weirdness continues on Side 2, taking up the beat abruptly, and then adds a strange delay effect response to Fela’s chant, this echo is so delightful it makes him chortle despite the serious political subject matter – this is the sort of epic record I was looking to discover.   ********* 9.5 stars

Everything Scatter (1975) – is a point in his discography where the style and groove were all established, so now get a little cleaner production, adding some more keyboards and a sort of disco beat.  Side B’s “Who Know No Goes Know” continues the sound but at a mellower, hypnotic pace;  Fela’s deliberate use  of Nigerian pidgin English in his vocals and song titles is fascinating both for politically incorrectness and in it’s exotic-ness, so while nothing new, it solid.  ******* 7.5 stars

Alagbon Close (1975) – another nice keyboard intro, another great rhythm track… often times the drum beats are fairly monotonous and not unlike those ubiquitous 1970 Roland drum machines on the “Rhumba” setting with the tempo set too high.  The vocals succeed with a great urgency, whereas other records might otherwise tend to ramble.  B Side’s “I No get Eye for Back” is almost an instrumental piece with the standout feature of Tony Allen’s exquisitely chugging drumbeat.  ******** 8 stars

Beasts of No Nation (1989)  Fela of the 1980s is fairly dull musically but understandably given his prison stints, so the Knitting Factory reissues skip over a decade of titles until we get to an anomaly like Beasts of No Nation.    BONN’s crude drawings of a satanic Ronald McReagan and Margret Thatcher remind me of SNFU or TSOL cover art.  The slower than typical Fela sound (credited to the upgraded Egypt 80) is marred by a cheesy flamenco-ish guitar solo on Side A, but on the stronger Side 2, the mellower music contrasts with an increased political anger; the results are not bad, but clearly it is a “past the expiration date” release.  ***** 5.5 stars


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R D Burman – Sholay (1975)

Continuing on the list where you choose a favorite record for every year you are alive, my one year old selection might at first have been Parliament‘s Mothership Connection (1975), not because I am into funk, but because this record always puts me in a good mood; but if if you made me choose, I would end up picking RD Burman‘s  soundtrack to Sholay (1975).  For those not familiar with ths great and fascinating India film composer Rahul Dev Burman, he is Bollywood’s vague equivalent to Ennio Morricone, mostly not because they wear the same glasses.  RD Burman is a second generation composer, created soundtracks for over 330 films, and he combined conventional Indian music with emerging elements of rock and pop and then more importantly added the kitchen sink.   He is credited with pioneering Bollywood soundtrack elements of psych rock, free jazz, funk, noise, and disco.   He is masterful with love ballads, duets, re-interpreted folk songs, cabaret songs, and his highly sought after instrumentals.

Burman is most famous in the west for that ubiquitous Bollywood pop-psych hit “Dum Maro Dum” from Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).    But music nerds would be shortsighted to stop there as the the quality and the quantity of his work over his career is astounding. Like Morricone was predictably inconsistent, his high points throughout the 1970’s were stellar.  As a quick primer to his work I would recommend: the earworms of Caravan (1971) or to ever so slightly lesser  Darling darling (1976), then possibly his best overall soundtrack Hum Kisise Kum Naheen(1977), or the Anglicized funk caper music of Shalimar (1978) (finish this list with the Kraftwerk inspired title track single from the Burning Train (1979) and I dare you not to be amazed).*  Once the 1980’s come along Burman lost his passion and direction, then dabbles with Disco to various degrees of success, and still manages a few gems here and there (like the James Bond flavored Shaan (1980) or Manzil Manzil (1984)).

Sholay is basically the Indian equivalent of Star Wars; not to say it is sci-fi, but it is THE definitive blockbuster 1970s adventure film.   RD Burman was infamous for saving his strongest material for what he figured were the best films and he did an  appropriately amazing work composing tracks for Sholay.  Like many Bollywood records that often the same songs are played in Happy or Sad mode on the same record it is remarkable how the opening track “Yeh Dosti (happy)” can move through upbeat guitar strumming and vivid vocals and quickly shift gears into in moog breaks, and then later ending with audio verite of train whistles that never seem totally out of place.   It is one of the most consistent Bollywood soundtracks I have ever heard -there are spaghetti western elements, fuzz guitar solos, beautiful duets, and an arabic rock number not unlike Erkin Koray. Magic happened here.


end note:

*Whenever I find myself indifferent with modern music and record collecting, I have only to turn to Bollywood records to re-ignite my passion for music again.  Bollywood records hold a special place in my heart and seem to provide endless fascination – thankfully there are thousands of soundtracks of such scarcity and exotic-ness that I will always feel I have only scratched the surface.   I don’t watch Bollywood movies, nor do I understand the language(s) – but I find myself permanently attracted to the music.

As a collector of Bollywood records, LPs usually fit into a few categories.

  1.  The Classics: there are a few classic records that are solid through and through.  Often called evergreen music, it is essentially the equivalent of classic rock albums: Bobby or Sholay.
  2. Standard fare: your typical Bollywood material, ballads with strings, traditional beats.   There are more of these than I could ever begin to imagine: Geet, Amar Prem.
  3. Anomalies: Late 1960’s and 1970s composers often tried to pull in rock and funk elements into their standard Bollywood formulas and sometimes the results were amazing.    The 1980’s had disco and electro elements, also amazing at times, but I would argue less often.  I would include something like definitive funk LP Muqaddar Ka Sik, or Shalimar.
  4. Some combination of the above:  There are very few records that are exclusively amazing, more often there are only one or two great tracks hidden within less interesting LPs.  It might be an experimental instrumental, or a fabulous moog intro, or a few seconds of a funk break that makes up for an entire LPs of standard material.  examples: Bond 303, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, or The Burning Train.



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Various – Bombay Disco 2 (2014)

Bollywood music became sub-fashionable in the west during the late nineties, prompted by Dan the Automator‘s post-Dr. Octagon project Bombay the Hard Way(1998), as soon thereafter dozens of mediocre compilations followed.   As questionable as that compilation was, kudos to Motel records for introducing naive kids like myself to this pure joyful genre of music with it’s amazing bright melodies and fantastic beats, sadly only until then sampled into negative and violent rap tracks by medical imposters like Dre ; and so by 2002 Hip Hop crate digger culture propelled somewhat lame soundtracks like Bappi Lahiri‘s Jyoti to mega collectible status, and then mainstream pop music appropriated Bollywood songs into Top 40 hits like Toxic (2003) (wherein Ms. Spears makes cultural mis-inappropriation statements likening love to over-consumption of drugs), then finally culminating with a bunch of stale smelling Black Eyed Pee Pee hits that made us all hate music by 2005.   Adding to the pot, reissues of Ananda Shankar and kitchy records like Gabor Szabo’s Jazz Raga (1966) appeared, and later still Madlib came on board later to loop bass and drum samples with his Beat Conducta in India series (2007).

After harvesting psychedelic rock guitars and strip-mining funk breaks, Disco might be the latest and last chapter of Bollywood exploitation.  Interestingly Disco was never really rejected by India culture, amid the late 70’s political turmoil and social reforms there was little time for self righteous dudes in India to rent out Football stadiums for the sole purpose of blowing up a pile of Abba records, and so the genre continued to evolve through the 1980’s and find unique forms in pop and film music.  Even when I traveled to India in 2008, remnants of seventies disco fashion were staying alive.

Strangely 2014 saw the release of  three compilations: 1) a Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco, 2) Bombay Disco, and then 3)  Bombay Disco 2 which was curated by radio DJ Brother Cleve (whose past musical credits include the del Fuegos and Combustible Edison).  Irony prevails as the western world begins to explore ans exploit Bollywood Disco,  a genre where popular hits were based on liberally stolen Michael Jackson and Boney M riffs by the 1980’s rising new superstar/composer Bappi Lahiri.   Lahiri became celebrated as the King of Copy, and though criticized for his derivative music, he was incredibly popular; his soundtracks were huge hits and all the once great film composer teams from the 1970s like Laxmikant-Pyarelal or Sonik Omi, either unsuccessfully tried to emulate him or gave up working entirely.

Bombay Disco 2 predictably features a lot of Lahiri’s work along with a couple from my favorite Bollywood composer RD Burman (his tracks are remarkably good especially given he was openly disinterested in disco and described it as a passing fad
) However the standout track is Raamlaxman‘s Sweety Seventeen, a pure disco deeelight with its Rah Rah Rasputin breaks, slide whistle and chirpy surf guitar:  https://youtu.be/CqUf1okGjaQ (so good I immediately tracked down the original 1981 soundtrack Tumhaare Bina).

Regrettably, the compilation starts with Saat Sumundar Paar a slick, cheesy, sequencer based piece from the early 1990’s which sounds more suited to the Night at the Roxbury soundtrack*.  Let it be known Night at the Roxbury is one of my favorite films of all time, so this is not really a put-down, but rather identifying how out of place this track is; part of the appeal of Bollywood music is the rough-around-the-edges quickie production, tapping into an immediacy and authenticity not unlike early soul or late 1900s indie rock.   Thankfully, the remaining tracks (mysteriously mostly from the year 1982) successfully tread that super fine line between rough and lush that characterized the early eighties, wherein cheap 70’s funk met the increased production values.

Aside from the out of place first track and the rather horrible artwork/packaging, this record succeeds to pull together a solid trip.  Often Bollywood soundtracks have a couple tracks of note amid conventional ballads and filler to satisfy the film’s narrative, and so the strength of these comps is to sustain a musical theme over an entire LP.   And while these comps only tell part of the story… I do appreciate them for highlighting some of the best material that is otherwise buried in mass of too many releases or just near-impossible to locate due to geography and the stinky mists of time.

end note:

*Supposedly Saat Sumundar Paar lifts a melody/riff from a Pet Shop Boys song, and I have no idea if there are any PSB fans out there reading this that can confirm this by checking out the track here: https://youtu.be/2vqiWgEZZwo


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Genesis – Trespass (1970)

eno-3652156103_466b03cddf_b.jpgRecently there was one of those obnoxious Facebook postings going around to challenge music nerds into identifying their favorite records for every year that they were alive, which is absolutely ridiculous when you include things from when you are only 1, 2 or 3 years old.  Strangely at age four my first musical interests developed with two records: Kiss Destroyer and a Mickey Mouse Club LP, both of which I played on my little brown foldout Califone record player at various speeds and directions, but now if I had to rewrite my personal history and pick a record from the year of my genesis, I would kinda predictably pick Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy), and not just because of the great cover art where Eno tries desperately to hold onto his toupee.    Personally this is surprising due to a general disinterest in both Roxy Music and Soft Machine, and so the guest musical contributions of Phil Manzenera, Robert Wyatt and others carry no starry eyed influence, and moreso it was not an easy decision given that Sparks’ Kimono my house was birthed that same year.

Sadly I never heard this Eno record during my formative years from age 0-18, and I am pretty sure it was not playing in small town grocery stores in the mid seventies; I first heard this record when Mark Charleston loaned to me a box of his old records in college s.  Among others in that box were the Feelies, the Residents, Snakefinger, and other proto-alternative alternative things.  Among those great records in that box, this Eno record was a standout even then.  I wondered what happened to Mark, and when I looked him up on Facebook  he doesn’t exist, so I might have imagined him.

Back to the list, it is one thing to list a bunch of socially acceptable records in chronological order, but how you justify your responses is far more difficult and more interesting.  So why do I like this record so much?   Obviously it must be the presence of the jacket-less one himself, Phil Collins, who’s vital contributions to music history via the second Miami Vice soundtrack were likely predicted by Eno in his eternal search for future cred.   All kidding aside, and irrelevant to my justification, I kind of like early 80s Phil Collins – I think he has a pretty great pop music voice, with a sort of self-loathing, smart-ass fragility which especially effective on his darker songs.

Supposedly Phil and his drums appeared on Taking Tiger Mountain as payback for Eno “adding elements” to Genesis’ 1974 album the Lamb lies down on Broadway, but I highly doubt that was the full story – both records were released in November of the same year – I am guessing these dudes were all just hanging out, doing drugs in fancy studios and hoping if by pooling their talents the by-product might be a decent enough record.  While I haven’t heard the Lamb Lies Down…,  despite it having been credited as a great prog (is that an oxymoron?) record, the reason being their previous records, like Trespass and Nursery Crime, were so terrible.

In 1970 Phil Collins was not yet in Genesis, and as a result Trespass really sucks.  I bought Trespass from the used bin on  a particularly boring record buying trip, and after previewing it for 30 seconds it on  the store’s record player I was satisfied enough that it didn’t sound like the 1980s hitmaker Genesis of Invisible Touch. Admittedly, I know more about Colecovision then Sega or any other Genesis.    After taking the LP home and listening to it further I realized there is no atmosphere, no melodies, and no life.   Back when I was obsessed by 1970s Italian Prog rock, I was looking into “prog history” and part of my initial attraction to early 70’s Genesis was the backlash they often received as being “private school kids” – this petty, elitist psuedo-controversy is probably the most interesting thing about them.    The only redemption on this LP was how a rambling Peter Gabriel was credited not only with overbearing vocals, but also as playing “BASS BRUM”.   This album is stifled by prog form, and broken apart by an impulse to impress with ugly chord changes and filled (but not Phil-ed) with unnecessary time signatures.   Essentially it is math rock, but with horrendously whimsical accordions and harpsichords.


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Dean Ween Group – the Deaner Album (2016)

IMG_5033.JPGIf creativity were a measure of an album’s success then look no further within the uninspired album title meets predictable band name of this post-Ween solo album.  But suspend your disbelief briefly since creativity is only one part of judging an album’s full merit, other parts like songwriting play big part… but when you’d rather listen to an abysmal Beastie Boys’ track like “Heart Attack Man” over this album’s derivative hate-on “Exercise Man” we might be wasting our time here.   This record fails on almost all accounts except: a) if you like endless guitar solos and/or b) amazingly clear production.   In many ways this record is exactly how I imagined those cheesy sub-Joe Satriani or  Steve Vai “guitar genius” records that were advertised in Guitar Player Magazine back in the late eighties would have sounded like.

When your teenage self originally falls in love with a band like Ween for the 4 track wonder that was the Pod (1991), subsequent amazing production is rendered pointless.  Over the years I quietly supported Ween on the strength of that brownest of all albums, even enduring their chocolate and cheese betrayals, believing there was more than just a joke band under the surface.  Wackiness is entertaining only for so long, and I heard none of that amazing creativity in their subsequent work except perhaps the nearly great Mollusk.

The genre of Joke bands have a long, but uncelebrated tradition in music history, from mainstream entertainers like Steve Allen, to the Smother Brothers, to crappy Zappa and losers like Beck: whether it is ironically rocking out, or making people chortle, or making them contemplative with nonsense, joke bands were especially big business in the nineties, when there were one hit wonders like Bloodhound gang, a couple funny songs about Sweaters (not just Weezer but moreso the trans gendered  Meryn Cadell), and even when Radiohead first appeared on the scene in what appeared to be a teenage angst joke song with Creep.

I patiently watched as Ween’s joke band contemporaries managed to grow and transcend their genre:  They Might be Giants‘ transformed from David Byrne thieving geek-rock and slid right in to fill the children’s education vacuum created by Jim Henson’s death, or Primus’ forays into cartoon TV but with credibility as Tom Waits’ backing band, or how Barenaked Ladies went from chubby fun, college rock to international soft rock chubbies;  and all this time Gene and Dean failed score with their expressed aspirations of a #1 hit song.  Sadly Ween’s music and their later incarnations only succeeded to morph them into a low rent version of Phish.  Maybe it was the guitar solos, or the promise of scoring good drugs at any of their concerts that cemented this career path.   Like most joke bands when their production got better, the songwriting became more erratic and drugs got harsher, which famously lead to Steven Paige spending his entire Million dollars not on Kraft Dinners and Emus, but on lots of Coke.    Breakups lead to solo albums, and then … useless things like the Deaner Album.

But later Ween was not limited to just joke band status, as they also fell into the also dreaded “stoner music” catagory, and by that I don’t mean stoner rock of the Kyuss/Fu Manchu type, but rather that inexplicable genre of music collectively endorsed by ganga loving dudes and providing the non-reggae backdrop to apartments of weed dealers across North America.   Also accepted in that mysterious bro-hood are: Ben Harper and Michael Franti; I suspect they all advertise in High Times or Maximum Yield magazine.   Or maybe there is a secret weed channel I just don’t know about where they play Sublime videos and teach you to hotbox your Xbox.

I am unsurprised that I hear a lot of Paul McCartney and Wings in this Deaner record, that is if Paul was really into sexist, dumbass humor instead of, uh… Running with his Band?   Tracks like “bundle of joy” or “Gum” are really is less classic Ween weirdness and more side-project Moistboyz level of spiteful humor.  Meanwhile Gene Ween’s work as Freeman, could easily be compared to John Lennon’s output, not like Imagine or anything, but more like something unlistenable like Rock N’ Roll (1975).   And so with the Deaner album, it is exactly how Wings’ records sound really great and are filled with super interesting details and melodies – but you never, ever want to actually listen to them in their entirety.  Four stars! (out of one hundred).

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Ennio Morricone – Revolver (1973)

Continuing down the twisted path of Morricone Soundtrack music has taken me through the boring desert of records like Sahara (a lame 1983 “Brooke Shields with a mustache” movie), or patiently sitting through the compelling but shockingly off putting Sacco & Vanzetti (1971’s three part showcase for Joan Baez‘s vocal range concluding on the electric chair).  Thankfully, it is in these not-so-great releases that a bleak space is created where a brilliant work like Revolver can shine.

Revolver was re-released in 2000 by Dagored records, a label dedicated to reissuing high quality records from various Italian soundtrack artists; back in 2000 Dagored caught my eye with a compilation entitled Morricone 2000 (2000) primarily because it had liner notes from Alan Bishop of my then-obsession the Sun City Girls.   Without those notes I might have not gotten past the initial pleasant, a waste of time, aka lounge compilation vibe, into the cache of his brilliance and wild inventiveness.  It has been a great guidebook into Morricone-world.

The big question about the Revolver soundtrack is: “could it be better than that other Revolver?”

If I had to choose between the Beatles’ or Ennio Moricone’s Revolver…. dare-i-say I would choose the soundtrack.  Not because I didn’t like the Fab Four’s early psych phase immensely (from the ominous intro to Taxman unto the last drum beat loop of Tomorrow Never Knows, Revolver really is their only great record), but rather that this Morricone soundtrack is just so amazing.  There is dark funk, beautiful ballads and strange interludes.   Of course there are tedious moments as the main “chase” theme gets played out in 3 or 4 versions, but it is within the little moments that the record is so good – there are small intro melodies, outro noises, a perfect the drum sound, a weird synth voice floating in the atmosphere, a bit of phasing here and there – subtle and yet direct.

The production from this era was so vibrant and full of life – when the compositions are good the records are astounding.   There is a magic formula where there is sparseness in which individual instruments are given prominence and a place to breath, but then these are supported by a distant lush complex backdrop of players behind them.

There is a part of me that is somewhat angry that I enjoy this so much.  It is the knowing that there are so many more Morricone soundtracks out there and I want to hear them all.  And so as I get older I will now have to decide, do I spend my remaining life catching all the Pokemon or do I spend my life listening to Morricone soundtracks?

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