Record Store Road Show #1: Record Store Day 2017 – SRC Vinyl Niagara Falls, Ontario

IMG_20170423_193537989With my son’s friends and their families having planned a birthday party four months ahead, and my lack of memory for dates, I found myself in unfamiliar territory on RSD 2017. Instead of the usual 3- 4 stores I would hit in Toronto; I was down to one shop in Niagara Falls, Ontario and possibly another in Buffalo, New York if too many of my wish list titles were missed.

Having unpacked, and having absolutely no desire to fly down a mixture of plastic and H2O to scream “weeeeeeeeeeeeee,” as my aging back begs stop, I take note vote of a need for a different activity.  Just because I’m a geek in need of a walk, I use Google Maps to get me over to SRC Vinyl the night before Record Store Day so I can make sure I don’t get lost the following morning. Sunrises and I don’t have a good track record with established coherent thought, so having prior knowledge of where I’m going is helpful. Besides that, it gets me away from the water park and into a record store. The phone app takes me through an alley and a couple of residential streets before I arrive at a place that should have been a straight line with a single left. Any more directions and the damn phone would have taken me over the falls in a barrel.

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Every independent record store has a vibe of its own. A feel that can’t really be reproduced. There was a Milwaukee store that had a lot of open brick and a large shelving system suspended by chains from the ceiling. At the time, I saw it in the late 90’s, it was the best damn store I had ever seen. Just last year in St. Augustine, there is a place I visited that isn’t much bigger than postage stamp, but a cooler selection of new records than every store I had been to in Orlando.

The curious thing, every store seems to be measured by how closely the staff resembles the misfits of High Fidelity.  The Nick Hornby classic book, turned John Cusack/Jack Black movie, has become a music geek touch stone by which record stores seem to be judged. Honestly, people in RSD lines over the years keep bringing it up. Regardless of gender, race etc…, it seems that staff need the correct balance of knowledge and attitude to be taken seriously. In this case, it’s exactly what you expect. The staff are awesome. You ask questions and you’ll get real answers. Which is good, because half the fun of the record store is talking with like minded music geeks about any subject that crosses your mind… just because you speak the same language.

It’s probably about a thousand square feet, but the selection is much better than any similar sized store I’ve been at in mid size city. So, my expectations are pretty high for the following morning. Then again, as a teen I tried to convince my doctor I had an allergy to the rise of the sun as it puts me in a foul mood. Didn’t work, but I’m sure you see the point.

The thing is, standing in line for 75 minutes’, half asleep and cold with a cell phone in my hands playing a Settlers of Catan app in place of company, it can lead to odd observations that match that wee hours’ crabby attitude.

SRC is directly across the street from a funeral home that claims to be Canada’s first. (I’m picturing an advertisement along the lines of “Serving The Dead Since 1826,” but, ya know, I’m no ad exec.) In front of the entrance of that home is a large ornamental clock with their business name. Metaphors begin to swirl in my mind. Just what the hell does a funeral home with a clock in front of it say about life and death.

Time is limited?

Your time is coming?

Your time is due?

There is just so many useless thoughts that pop up as you stare at a clock in front of a funeral home. I mention this to the guy beside me, and he points out the ‘Gentleman’s Club’ beside the hotel for the newly deceased. “What do you make of that?” he says. All I can tell him is, “a comedian could make a thousand jokes. However, I’m just not that funny.” At that he laughs.

As with every RSD, there is always the passer by that approaches the random strangers with the second-hand smoke dancing around them and asks just why people are waiting outside a record store. The one non-smoker answers.

“Oh, is it a sale?”

“Not exactly. There selling new and limited release records.”

“Records. I have a bunch from when I was younger. I wonder what they’re worth? People still listen to records?”

“Yes.”

“I saw a news story about people buying records again, but I also heard people get music for free off the internet, so I couldn’t figure out why people still buy records.”

“Some people care about the quality of music and musicians getting payed I suppose.”

“Maybe. But why would I pay when I can get it for free. I’m off to get my Starbucks. Nice chatting.”

“Have a good day.”

The line moves forward just after that. SRC is extremely organized and ready. Going in we receive ballots for a Third Man Records package, and bang you are off to the races.

Now, lining up and being within the first dozen people is great, but it is an advantage that only lasts seconds. Right behind the few are the many, and they all have their lists too. Glimpsing at my own, I start to quickly scan the displays.

David Bowie – Cracked Actor… “THANK YOU!”

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Ramones – Singles Box… “That’s mine!”

The Cure – Acoustic Hits (picture disc)…  “Yep”

Big Star – Complete Third Box… “Oh yeah!”

Bruce Springsteen … “holy shit. That’s over a …. No thank you!”

The Smiths… Damn! Someone snags it as my hand is reaching out. By now the store is crowded and people are flipping through everything. With that I start to go into shelves.

S for Spoon…. “All right!”

N for Nilsson… “Oooooh, only one copy… and I got it… Awesome!”

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F for Flaming Lips… “Oh come on! It was a guaranteed Merry Christmas gift! A sure ‘you’re the best brother ever!’ DAMN!”

In line, ahead of me some ‘dillhole’ is trying to buy multiple copies of an RSD title, which of course, is strictly against the rules.

“Look, I could go through the line again, and then it wouldn’t be the same purchase!”

“I can’t sell you multiples!”

“Look, it’s just one extra.”

“I’m not allowed to do that.”

Let’s stop for one second here folks. She can’t sell him multiples. Really! RSD enforces this policy with banishment. Meaning they wouldn’t get to sell RSD titles again. You are asking a small business to give up thousands in sales so you can buy something for your buddy or flip it on e-bay. It isn’t going to happen, so don’t ask.

“It’s just…”

“Can’t do it. But I will put it back on the shelf for you.”

With that, the battle with the ‘me, myself and I customer’ ends and I get to make my purchase.

“You handled that well.” I remark.

Without a hint of cynicism, she replies “It’s my favourite day of the year… and that wasn’t bad at all.” As I pay in cash she apologizes for having to break open a roll of loonies. I remark, “Oh my god, how dare you cost me a couple seconds opening a roll of change. This is the worst day of my life and I blame you.” She chuckles politely at my horrible attempt at humour.

I get out of the store, and look at the clock. I feel the passport in my jacket pocket. There are several items I really want that, like with every RSD, the local store didn’t receive. It is just part of the experience. So, the question that hangs in the air. Do I cross a border? The stupid clock across the street taunts me.

Do you really have the time?

“Stupid f@#king clock and stupid f@#king metaphors” I say to the stupid f@#king pigeon at the side of the stupid f@#king road. The pigeon keeps pecking at the Tim Horton’s cup discarded ten feet from the garbage can. As I pick up the trash the pigeon takes flight landing on the timepiece to take a crap.

Back at the hotel, I call Record Theatre in Buffalo.

The additional titles I was looking for arrived but due to very busy nature of RSD they can’t say how many they have left, and certainly have no guarantees the titles will not be sold before my arrival. I’ve seen the pictures of RSD at Record Theatre. The lines are looooooooooong. If I could be near the front, it would be great, but arriving an hour after, or worse if the Peace Bridge has a big line, is not a positive prospect. Regardless, I text my former roommate to tell him I’ll be heading to Buffalo to look for some of the titles we missed out on. My wife looks at me with that “you’re seriously crossing the border!” look. The phone rings a few seconds later.

“I’m looking at Evan Dando’s Baby I’m Bored. It’s pricey but they have it.”

“What about Vic Chesnutt?”

He must have known it was my next question.

West of Rome?”

“Yeah.”

“In my hands if you need it.”

I take off the coat and place it on the bed. No border crossing this time. Then I realize, I have new records that have to sit 24 hours to be heard. Sitting in my ‘completely made for records backpack’ given to me for Christmas are records that have to wait.

In my mind, I scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” because, you know, one is not supposed to leave Robert Smith’s face contained in shrink wrap waiting for a turntable to spin on.

Despite my distance from home, it’s been another successful RSD.

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Big Star + Rock Hall = An Inductee That Would Really Matter… or… Big Star – Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri

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A friend asked me “Why, of all the albums being released on Record Store Day 2016, are you waiting in line for a 90’s live album from a 70’s band?” The tone and nature of the question was meant to be mocking, as he loves to have lively music debates, particularly ones that push my buttons. However, instead of just reacting, I took a deep breath and thought about it. Then, just to be annoying I told him I would ‘write the answer.’ (hehehe…)

The reasons are three-fold.

Like many people, the album I first attach to a band tends to have the greatest impact. While I heard songs by Big Star from time to time, it wasn’t until the release of Columbia that I had a complete work in front of me which represented the band as a whole. A world opened up. Here was a collection of songs that didn’t need to be ‘epic’ stories of human struggle (ie. Bruce Springsteen) or carry images of Mordor (ie. Led Zeppelin) to have powerful depth. They also didn’t include anthem-like clichés to get people fist pumping in the air (pick your own example, as there are so many). “In The Street”, “Back Of A Car” and “September Gurls” leapt out of my speakers and made my own angst seem to matter. These songs were simple coming-of-age tales detailing everyday experiences without the ‘syrup’ provided by many of the ‘so-called’ classic rock bands of the day. Instead, Big Star gave us the kind of tunes that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Furthermore, you found yourself singing, not in some vain attempt to impress or attract anyone, but as an outlet to express yourself. Which is perhaps why I had been hearing covers of their songs by other artists as time went on; The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and later Beck were all doing renditions of the songs of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell. The Replacements even wrote a song entitled “Alex Chilton”, dropping the line “never go far, without a little Big Star.” All of it was packed into this one album.

Next, this wasn’t an example of a band cashing in on fame. Big Star never had the kind of fame you could cash in on. Columbia was quite literally a concert put together by fans for fans and later released in a similar fashion. Two campus radio staffers at the University of Missouri quite literally asked Big Star alumni Jody Stephens if he would be willing to do a reunion show, and got a yes if Alex Chilton was up for it. Surprisingly, Chilton agreed and, with the addition of the Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to cover for Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (left the music business), the band played an amazing set to (merely) an estimated 200 people. Yet even with a small venue, they managed to attract much of the music world. That show got glowing write-ups in all the major music magazines of the day. It was pretty unanimous amongst the press that those not lucky enough to be in attendance had missed something special. Fortunately, this record gives us a glimpse of a show that has attained somewhat legendary status.

Finally, Columbia solidifies my absolute belief that Big Star should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. All three of their initial studio releases (#1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers/Third) land consistently on various magazines’ Top Albums of all-time lists; all three are referenced by multiple generations of artists as being influential in their music; and all three are revered by fans lucky enough to have heard them as being close to their hearts. More importantly, their music has endured through the most insanely bad luck of any band in rock history. Their 1971 debut #1 Record was hailed as triumphant by music critics, but due to poor distribution and marketing by Stax, no one could find a copy to purchase, even when songs were played on the radio. Follow up Radio City suffered a similar fate, with Columbia records refusing to distribute the record because of a disagreement with their newly acquired Stax label. By the time Big Star released the gorgeous yet challenging Sister Lovers/Third, the band had completely disintegrated with only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining. They went their separate ways and that should have ended the story… but it didn’t.

Fans exchanged cassettes with Big Star tunes. Those in the know kept talking and searching until a market was created for re-releases. More than two decades removed from their first record and people were seeking them out based on little more than conversations and scratchy recordings emanating from a tape deck. By the early 90’s, Ryko had reissued Sister Lovers/Third and a put out a compilation of Chris Bell’s solo material, I Am The Cosmos. Then Columbia was released in 1993.  A tribute album was recorded by a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt-rock artists (ironically, it also suffered from bad luck and wasn’t released until years afterward). When Columbia was released, it may still have been hard to find the first two Big Star records in stores, but here were the songs; live, rough and glorious in their presentations. All members were taking on vocal duties, with Jon Auer doing an incredible job on the solo Chris Bell single “I Am The Cosmos.” As the 90’s continued, That 70’s Show used “In The Street” as their theme song and a new generation started to discover the band. Finally, their albums could be found in record stores.

Somehow, without radio backing or touring, people were seeking out this music.

Which brings me to the Rock Hall…

If, as I believe, rock ‘n’ roll is about more than money or popularity, then Big Star should be inducted and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here is a band whose art transcended obscurity by nothing more than word of mouth and shared recordings. Without the help of corporate money and radio exposure, their music found a way to not only be heard, but in fact influence generations of future musicians. Hell, the entire sub-genre of “power-pop” can’t even be considered without Big Star being mentioned as its greatest practitioners. It is hard to picture the sounds of the 90’s alternative music scene without the influence of songs that Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided. Then, you add the Big Star reunion to the mix.

Complete Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri 4/25/93 exemplifies the very idea that great music will find fans and that record sales are not as important as the art itself. On-stage that day in ’93 were two musicians who had created some music playing with two other musicians that had been directly inspired by it. Twenty years separating their careers, yet you could hear just how much Big Star had meant to the future of rock music. They weren’t just another band that you hummed along to distractedly on a transistor radio; they were the band you sought out and told anyone and everyone willing to listen that Big Star were “FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

So my friend… you ask me why I’m arriving early on RSD 2016 to line up for a copy of Columbia… or even, why they should be in the Rock Hall… well, it’s because Big Star created music that really matters… what other reason is there?

Soooooooo much to pick from… Record Store Day 2016 Preview

What a difference a few weeks makes. When the early Record Store Day (RSD) leaks started trickling in, there looked to be a bit of a “nothing to write about” syndrome. WELL – HOLY EMPTY THE FREAKIN’ WALLETS FOLKS… it’s gonna be a big one, particularly for those of you who enjoy classic, alternative or indie rock. Even pop music and jazz fans have a bit to cheer about here. That said, there are some discrepancies between the overall RSD preview list and the official RSD Canada list, so make sure you check both.

Ironically, the first difference between the official list and the Canadian version is the absence of this year’s RSD Ambassadors’ Metallica. For the annual physical medium celebration, the band are releasing a CD of their 2003 Bataclan performance entitled Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, Metallica, with proceeds going to the Give To France Charity for victims of the Paris attacks. Unfortunately, the CD set doesn’t make the list of Canadian releases. Other notable misses come in the form of Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91) LP and a great looking Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention 7” for “My Guitar” and “Dog Breath.”

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However, absence from the list doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Like all RSD outings, the trick is to enjoy the experience of hanging out with a bunch of music geeks and going over the days’ spoils with like-minded friends. Sometimes things vary country to country and store to store; so as long as you don’t take any list as gospel, everything should be OK.

Here are a few of the days’ highlights.

For classic rock fans, there are releases coming to you from Bowie, Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, The Monkees, CCR, and The Kinks.

As has usually been the case, several David Bowie collector items are being released for RSD as exclusives, including one 7” and two 12” records. The 7” continues Bowie’s 40th anniversary picture disc single series with “TVC15.” In addition, two of Bowie’s earlier works are getting special treatment. I Dig Everything – 1966: The Pye Singles is coming out as a 12” LP (limited to 7500 copies) and The Man Who Sold The World (limited to 5000 copies) is being released as a 12” picture disc featuring the rare German artwork.

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Smash Hits is getting a new lease on life from a rare cover. The original “cowboy cover” is being restored for this LP, which is numbered and limited to 5000 copies.

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Perhaps the coolest release of RSD will be Cheap Trick’s At Budokan: The Complete Concert. The original 1979 album contained 10 songs including the classic “I Want You to Want Me”, which sold over 3 million copies and peaked at number 4 on Billboard’s Top 200. The Complete Concert will contain those ten originals plus an additional nine songs played from the legendary show. It will be pressed onto two 150 gram LPs and limited to 5000 copies.

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If you want something unique, look no further than the Monkees. In addition to their complete Classic Album Collection box set, containing all 9 studio LPs plus a bonus B-sides grouping, they are releasing a 7”picture disc of “Saturday’s Child” shaped like a guitar.

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For ‘Spirit of Radio Fans’ there is much to look at. Early alt-rock pioneers The Sonics are checking in with Live On Easy Street, a live LP from their recent reunion tour.

Simple Minds, who also toured last year, are releasing a 2XLP red vinyl set entitled Big Music Tour 2015. Sex Pistols will have Never Mind The Bollocks… released on a 12” picture disc featuring artwork reversing the colours from the original North American release.

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90’s alt-rock kids are also getting quite a selection. Leading the charge is Matthew Sweet, with his alternate take on the classic Girlfriend LP – Goodfriend. This collection of home demos, live performances and session recordings will be split onto two 12” inch records and limited to 4000 copies.

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Soul Asylum’s Grave Dancers Union is also getting the double LP treatment for RSD that includes one red translucent and one green translucent wax that is being numbered and again, limited to 4000 copies.

In addition, there will be releases from Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), a vinyl box from Lush, a 7” split single between Faith No More and the Bee Gees, and a 12” single from Manic Street Preachers.

For modern alt-rock and indie fans there is a great selection to enjoy. Ezra Furman is releasing a 12” EP – Songs By Other with covers of songs by Beck, Arcade Fire, The Replacements and more.

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Frank Turner has an acoustic version of his album Positive Songs For Negative People on 12”black wax limited to 3000 copies.

Florence & the Machine are putting out a 12” single of “Delilah” on 180 gram coloured vinyl. In addition, the B-side is a cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”

There will also be 7” and 12” singles from Chvrches, Best Coast, Hozier, 21 Pilots, and Wolf Alice to round things out.

For those of you with more ‘pop’ sensibilities, Ed Sheeran has several EP’s coming out, Justin Beiber is releasing 7000 picture disc copies of Purpose, and The Weeknd has a 12” remix of “The Hills.”

Even aging pop fans can look forward to Madonna’s Like A Virgin & other hits on 180 gram pink vinyl and Alanis Morissette’s Demo’s 1994 -1998 on 180 gram translucent splatter wax.

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Check out the official lists and see if there is something worth lining up for.  Trust me, I’m saving my nickels and hoping to get Big Star’s Complete Columbia: Live at the University Of Missouri 4/25/93. You know… just sayin’, because we can all find something to look forward too.

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Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

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Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

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Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

10 Awesome Christmas Records … available on vinyl

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The holiday season brings out the nostalgia in most of us, and nothing seems quite as cool as breaking out the Christmas wax with a few friends and sharing some good tunes. Since the tactile nature of vinyl makes it a great sentimental gift, here are some great records to acquire for (yourself or) others as you celebrate the holidays.

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John Denver & The Muppets – A Christmas Together

Say what you want about Denver and his antiseptic brand of environmental folk-rock… his work with the Muppets was truly outstanding. Back in 1979, he performed a one-off Christmas Special with the Muppets entitled A Christmas Together, which has never been released onto home video or DVD. Regardless, the soundtrack has become quite the holiday classic.  I mean come on; the admission price is worth it just to hear Fozzy forgetting words and Miss Piggy over-articulating “gold” in “The Twelve Days Of Christmas.” In terms of vinyl, you have some great options if you look hard enough. There is the standard black edition, however; if you are looking for the ‘wow factor’ there is either the more coveted green vinyl or picture disc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt3wPl7bdFQ

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Dr Seuss – How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Nothing quite like Frankenstein’s monster (Boris Karloff) narrating a beloved holiday classic… and, of course, you have the singing of Tony the (Frosted Flakes) Tiger (Thurl Ravenscroft) with the most outrageous holiday lines ever… turning this into a ‘must have’. Two separate editions of this classic are available on vinyl for fans. The first has the familiar animated special cover while the other has the Dr Seuss original Grinch version. Both editions have special ‘Grinch Green’ coloured versions available.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgP0aUKlmNw

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Imagene Peise – Atlas Eets Christmas

Back in 2007, the Flaming Lips were still at their peak as they were touring 2006’s At War With The Mystics. So, with a massive backstory written on the CD jacket, they put out a Christmas record in very limited quantity under the pseudonym Imagene Peise. The only clue to it being the Lips was a sticker on the plastic wrap that read “Merry Christmas from the Flaming Lips.”

Fast forward a few years and the Lips have re-released Atlas Eets World, a record that mixes joy with quiet reflections and darker hues of green and red that doesn’t so much shine a warm fire glow as threaten to burn in post apocalyptic flames. Last year’s Black Friday / Record Store Day version was released in translucent red vinyl and is still widely available at your favourite record retailers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RW7IZBUMc8

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Soundtrack – The Nightmare Before Christmas

For those of us who like our stop motion animation specials a little darker in tone than the various Rankin/Bass giggles, The Nightmare Before Christmas provided the annual holidays with a refreshing blast of gothic insanity. After all, nothing says Christmas like skeletons and zombies learning lessons about the spirit of the season. Interestingly, the vinyl versions of this record have only been released as two 180 gram picture discs; making it a very collectible gift for that Tim Burton fan in your life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPblZa10_Pk

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Big Star – Jesus Christ (10 inch)

This Black Friday – Record Store Day has seen the re-release of Big Star’s epic “Jesus Christ” on coloured vinyl. Originally found on Third/Sister Lovers, “Jesus Christ” has been covered by artists ranging from REM to Blue Rodeo and many points in between.  The 10” also contains six other classic tunes by the power-pop pioneers, making it both a great gift and an introduction to one of the 20th century’s most overlooked and influential bands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIO3KvvgCqA

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She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas

A few years back, music hipster M. Ward and New Girl star Zooey Deschanel teamed up as She & Him, putting out a string of albums with a sound reminiscent of well crafted pop songs from the 60’s and 70’s. With that same motif intact, they also released the wonderful A Very She & Him Christmas covering classic hits “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, “Blue Christmas”, “Sleigh Ride” and a slew of others. Last year saw the album rereleased on clear vinyl or, if you don’t mind shipping, Newbury Comics in the US has a special 180 gram vinyl version in translucent green. Limited to 1200 copies, it is sure to be a coveted collectible in the near future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz4oG4eh5J0

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Various Artists – Soul Christmas

The 60’s really was the golden era for Christmas music, producing a virtual ton of soul infused classics. Coming out of the southern Stax and Atco record companies was a compilation of some of the era’s biggest soul acts. Led by artists as inspired as Otis Redding and Booker T. & the MG’s, Soul Christmas has appeared on many best Christmas albums of all-time lists. If this album appeals to you, you’re in luck, as it has just been reissued on vinyl this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_k5skKLwb8&index=3&list=PLgaJr2id8YsLN8Kn0IzH9seI0rUeltgq3

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James Brown – A Soulful Christmas

As long as there have been great Christmas records, there has also been outstanding contrarian holiday music. Rather than cover the standards or spin the same old cheer with familiar themes, Brown took Christmas in a more observational direction. Starting off with “Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto”, he would follow it with “Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)”, “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud”, “Let’s Unite The World For Christmas” and “Santa Claus Gave Me A Brand New Start”. It may not be the usual Christmas tunes, but they are all outstanding. A Soulful Christmas was re-released on vinyl last year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2j9zRrJUPs

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Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas

For many of us, our introduction to jazz was through Vince Guaraldi and his work with the Peanuts. The music itself takes us on Charlie Brown’s search for meaning amongst all the tinsel and can bring you to tears without any need of the cartoon itself. The playful nature of “Linus and Lucy” and the sadness of “Christmas Time Is Here” are only eclipsed by that incredible performance of “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.”

As a gift, you have three outstanding options on vinyl. Most record stores carry a special green translucent version. If you are looking for something a little more… um … special; Newbury Comics is selling two different variant editions. The first is a red and white split vinyl while the other is a pink ribbon-coloured copy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6zypc_LhnM

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Various Artists – Phil Spector: A Christmas Gift For You

Music being subjective, we could all argue until we are blue in the face about what the greatest pop-focused Christmas record is; suffice it to say, this one is mine. When Darlene Love breaks into the opening of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” you get a song that conveys joy, sorrow, hope and yearning all at once. Phil Spector used his ‘wall of sound’ to create an atmosphere rich in texture and emotion.

Last year A Christmas Gift For You was released for Black Friday/Record Store Day on limited edition red translucent vinyl. However, this year has seen another edition made available in a much wider release in both standard black or translucent red. It is well worth the cost.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EvZOXEoJ84&index=11&list=PLzvFf9lFuV-fdtni_6bi4bq5hSDvSNiMU

 

So this year, instead of giving another ornament to hang on the tree, give the gift of spinning coloured wax. It’s sentimental, sounds great and is the perfect gift for that special someone whose turntable is amongst their prized possessions.

You can also read this at edge.ca

Test Pressing Heaven! or Big Star – Third / Sister Lovers

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If you have the idea of starting your listening day by discovering Big Star for the first time, don’t start with Sister Lovers / Third. Both #1 Record and Radio City are power-pop masterpieces that also serve as great introductions to the “Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard.”

On the other hand, Third is the opposite side of the coin. While definitely a masterpiece in its own right, it is bi-polar in its dramatic swings between happiness and absolute despair. It drops all pretensions and attempts of being a great rock ‘n’ roll album and instead mines the depths of failed relationships in their darkest moments, and then snaps back to honest sentiment and joy. In its own way Third is like Big Star’s version of the White Album requiring a bit of context to appreciate the artistry. It isn’t just the album themes either, Alex Chilton was literally in a mood for self-sabotage.

Ardent Studio creator John Fry who had been very influential in Big Star saw his relationship with Alex Chilton breaking down and things between them had become increasingly antagonistic. It has been reported as so bad that when Fry complimented “Downs” as having “pop potential,” Chilton all but ruined it; using a basketball as a snare drum, some ill timed steel drums and turning it into a “Revolution #9” moment. Whatever Fry heard is completely submerged beneath a sonic ramble and talking as replacement for singing.

Don’t let that idea confuse you, Third may not be a collection of songs filled with anger turned into sonic hooks, like say Fleetwood Mac; instead it becomes either unwavering in its depictions of loneliness and despair or a drunken arm around your shoulder full of sloppy proclamations. It has brutal honesty as its companion which means that things can get a little dicey. One moment can be heartbreakingly beautiful and poppy (“Thank You Friends”) and another can be devastatingly cruel (“Holocaust”). Even the Christmas track “Jesus Christ” has an echoing feel that keeps Chilton separated from his sentiment.

Third isn’t an easy listen. Watching things fall apart never is. Yet, it makes for amazing artistic expression; songs that relate to you on a more personal level, and take you to places of personal tragedy. Hope and comfort are found in the idea that others have also hurt as badly as you have.

Now, as for vinyl, you have some great choices. The first is obviously hitting the resale market where you can find original pressings in great shape. For whatever reason, Big Star fans seem to have taken great pains to care for their records. However, I wish you luck finding them at a decent cost. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any of the original 1975 test pressings on the market. There were only around 200 printed and given out as promotional material to record executives and radio stations. The 1978 official release by PVC Records sells well over a hundred dollars, with some resellers fetching over $200.

In 1985 PVC reissued Third with a new cover and title dubbing the album Big Star’s Third: Sister Lovers.

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This edition is much more reasonably priced in the $40 range at Discogs.

1988 saw yet another cover change and a new record company releasing Third on white vinyl. This German edition from Line Records shows up being priced around $30 dollars but add at least that same price in additional shipping, as it is primarily European resellers offering it.

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Ryko got into the Big Star game in 1992, releasing Third on CD with another cover and a few added bonus tracks. It can still be found used or new at regular prices.

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In 2007 Four Men With Beards released a 180 gram vinyl edition that restored the original cover. It can still be found at around $30 at the usual places.

Then there is the last Omnivore edition released first on Record Store Day in 2011 and then later direct order. This “Test Pressing Edition” was a perfect example of how a treasured record should be treated by a record company for fans. Rather than simply putting out a new printing, they used 180 gram audiophile vinyl, had it remastered by the same people who did the original, in the same studio (Ardent) and packaged it with all kinds of memorabilia. All classic records should be treated this way when possible. Quite simply, the vinyl kills my CD copy. The people at Ardent Studios treated Third like an ancient holy scripture and restored it to something worthy of the heavens. The RSD release was limited to 2000 copies but five lucky people out there got an unexpected gift – an actual 1975 test pressing enclosed in their package signed by Big Star’s Jody Stephens and Ardent Studios head John Fry. I didn’t see any of these for sale. However the RSD edition does sell for over a $100 on the resale market.

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That edition never made it to all fans, so Omnivore offered another 500 copies in 180 gram clear vinyl to those fortunate enough to see the news and order it direct. Prices for this edition are over a hundred dollars with some resellers asking well over $200.

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OK, all cliché and hyperbole aside, it sounds fantastic and is a prize possession within my record collection. The only thing that I would hold in higher esteem is an actual 1975 test pressing, and I’m not expecting to run into any of those.

A Kaleidoscope Of Sound or Zeus – Busting Visions

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A kaleidoscope pumps out from the stereo and a good day gets better. That is how I started the morning off. Reaching for some black vinyl, I clean it, spin it and my kids beg me to stop singing along as Zeus break into “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” from their 2012 LP Busting Visions. Mesmerizing textures built around sound craft shake the morning cobwebs from my cranium. Who needs caffeine when they have Zeus on the turntable?

In the last few years they have been one of my favourite bands. Like the short lived 90’s acts Jellyfish and The Grays, they play highly developed power-pop that takes the Beatles and Big Star models and filters it through a Jeff Lynne/ELO lens. The results is a gathering of tunes that catch you musically on an emotional level without stooping into that “baby baby” bag of tricks plaguing the airwaves with ‘Disney-fied’ hits.

You can feel free to ‘rock out’ without your brain going into a syrupy malaise. “Love/Pain” starts off in a “Glass Onion” conversational place before building into an all instruments in climax. “Anything You Want Dear” pours in the power-pop confection with the fast/slow drama of relationships in flux. The one liners drop: “If you’re under water / Send a message in the bubbles.” I could and probably should go on, but the important thing is the music. You really should give it a listen.

For now there are only four options open – vinyl, CD, digital download and streaming. The 180 gram vinyl comes in a gatefold sleeve and has a download card included. It sounds freakin’ fantastic.

The only problem I have with Busting Visions is how to follow the damn thing up. Do I jump back to the 60’s, maybe the 90’s or, just play one of their other records? So many options and only one set of ears.

You can pick up Busting Visions at your local record retailer or online from Arts & Crafts.