Saturday, April 21, 2007

Great Debut LPs #1….

I’ve been into buying original mono copies of some classic records in recent months. I got a lovely “6 eye” late-50s Kind Of Blue last month, and the first Buffalo Springfield LP in mono and with “Baby Don’t Scold Me” which was dropped from all but the very first copies. It was replaced with their hit “For What It’s Worth” (“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…”).

I have an actual memory of sitting at the base of the Washington Monument with a girl named Patty something and she had a Martin D-18 guitar and sang that song, and Peter Yarrow’s “The Great Mandela” right there at the base of the monument after we’d taken a bus from Philadelphia to DC for one of the big anti-war marches.

She was the first person I knew with a Martin guitar. We went out a couple times but she lived way out in Bucks County in this house that seemed impossibly large to me at the time and I remember I just sort of let the whole thing fall away.

One time I was supposed to drive out and meet her for something or other and I was with my friend Michael Murphy. Michael had just started at a community college and made friends with some grad student lecturer in the English department and we stopped by to see him. I can’t quite remember the guy’s name but it was a really great one, something like “Huxley Praxton” or something equally memorable.

The guy was the first person we ever knew who grew his own pot. He grew these enormous plants that he would dry hanging from chains in the attic. He rolled joints in one of those tobacco rolling machines that rolled joints way fatter than the ones we’d roll by hand. His pot was also stronger than we were used to. We sat around and smoked 2 or 3 and then left for Bucks County.

I was driving my father’s blue Galaxie 500 and Michael was giving me directions. Every time we reached a intersection I’d ask “Which way?” and every time I asked Michael said “Make a left.” After a half hour or so of this as the terrain became less and less familiar I realized that, like myself, Michael was also higher than he'd ever been. So much so that his entire vocabulary had been wiped clean and the only words he remembered were “a” “left” and "make."

“Do you have any idea where we are?”

“Make a left.”

“Isn’t that the boulevard?”

“Make a left.”

“Man… I am really high. Have you ever been this stoned before?”

“Make a left.”

It was only by sheer luck that we managed to stay in Pennsylvania.

But I digress.

I bought a mono copy of The Rascals Once Upon a Dream a few days ago. This was their Sgt. Pepper (everybody had released their own Sgt. Pepper in the wake of The Beatles' LP), an elaborate package with inner book and loads of effects between songs. There’s even the requisite sitar track “Satva” which is actually rather beautiful. When I was putting it away I pulled out the other Rascals LPs I owned and stuck on a mono copy of their debut, Good Lovin’, released when they were The Young Rascals and forced to wear some pretty hideous matching Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits on front.

These guys were maybe the best blue-eyed soul garage band ever. The LP was released in March of 1966 and, other than an excusable and disposable version of “I Believe”, doesn’t have a weak track on it. Side two is a lesson in how to be a garage band in the US in the mid-60s with definitive versions of the title track, “Mustang Sally” and “In the Midnight Hour.”

The band is dominated by the two vocalists, organist Felix Cavaliere and percussionist Eddie Brigati. Drummer Dino Danelli is one of the best rock steady drummers of the era and the guitarist, Gene Cornish, is a solid player who brings some folk rock leanings to the band with his cover of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” The cover is a decent one, helped by Cavaliere's Hammond organ. He's a better organist than Al Kooper so he is able to quote from Kooper's signature playing on the original Dylan track, while embellishing it enough to balance the fact that Cornish, while earnest, isn't Dylan.

I get the impression that it was the guitar player who most likely took acid first, but probably after this record, which has an overall vibe of the garage band. American garage band music reaches right up to the beginnings of psychedelia. If I had a few wishes to spare I know one would be for a box of tapes of the countless bands that played on every block in my neighborhood in the Summer in the mid 1960s. The row houses had garages that opened onto the alleys out back and on Summer evenings all the local bands would set up on the back steps and small back yards and play (mostly the songs on this album).

Childhood is supposed to be infused with magic and tragedy is often defined by the degree to which this is absent. Those were magic times. And it reminds me of a rare moment of affection on Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, the title track: “Down in Joe’s garage / we didn’t need no dope or LSD / just a couple of quarts of beer / would fix it so the intonation / did not offend your ear.”

As good as side two is on this record, it’s the opening cut on the first side that makes you stand up and pay attention. The Beatles had done a cover of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” but the Rascals’ version derives its power from not owing anything to the Fabs. The song virtually explodes out of the speakers, an effect even more pronounced on the more direct mono version. For the first 10 seconds or so it sounds like it’s poised on a precipice between 1966 and 1968, one foot in the future, the way everything would sound in another 18-20 months. It’s the best track on a great LP and it’s right there, before the hit single, before the more recognizable garage band or soul covers. It’s what makes a really good record a great record.

The defining characteristic of a great debut album is that it present the band, fully formed and this record does that in spades. Connections, the follow-up, may actually be a better record overall, but this has earned a spot on the list of great debut albums.

I will explore this in the future, just as the actual idea of an “album” recedes into the past. Nice timing, no?

1 comment:

Stan Denski said...

Minot Tilson.... That was the name of the guy who grew that dope. it just came to me at 1:25 am on 10/27/07. Funny how stuff like that works.