Wednesday, March 5, 2014

31 Days of Vinyl - Day #2 - REM - Chronic Town EP

The month of March marks a 31 day fasting.  The fasting on any purchases of new records.  I am shaking as I type this...for 31 days, I will refrain from buying any new/used records.  This fasting will act as a cost saver and as a mind-expander, hopefully getting my fingers onto some dusty grooves in the far reaches of my vinyl collection.  I hope to pull something from the crates on a daily basis that I have not listened to in a long time or at all for that matter.  Then upon listening, I plan to blather on about the hopeful musical awakenings.


Day #2 is a safe pick as it has only been about 6 months since it's last spin, but it sure is easy to write about.  I pulled my copy of REM's first EP release 'Chronic Town'. 






Original Source - Vinyl Destination, Burlington, VT - Summer 1994.
Price - given the time period, most likely $8.00 or under. 


After having been heavily armed with a love of REM for a couple of years I came across Chronic Town and it blew the doors off my tiny little world.  Up to this point I had been a fan of the radio songs from 'Out of Time' and was recently baptized to the wonder of their slice of perfection 'Automatic for the People'.  I had a copy of their MTV Unplugged session on a dubbed VHS that I would religiously watch.  Upon their massive popularity surge of these years, VH1 and MTV cobbled together a TV special about their career.  That TV special opened my eyes and ears to albums prior to Automatic for the People, Out of Time, Green, and Document.  The show made special mention of their first EP called Chronic Town.  It served as their jumping off point prior to their first official full length 'Murmur'.  I had to have it.  I memorized the name and within a few days I was riding my bike to downtown Burlington to find a copy.   

I found a very affordable copy (it had to be as I was on a very limited budget at the time) along with a copy of Elvis Costello's debut 'My Aim is True' and raced back to my room and threw it on.  I seem to recall riding my bike along the Burlington Bike Path stressing about the misting rain and the fact that my albums could get wet.  Time escapes this detail.  The opening jangle of "Wolves, Lower" started a million bands on its own and stripped the bong resin off my tiny brain.  Stipe's dramatic exhale sounded as if it sucked all the air out of the room as I first heard it and still does.  It was so earnest, so vital.  These notes were the first REM would commit to recording and it would define their every fiber from then on.  It held a total of 20 minutes of music would pave the way for their debut masterpiece 'Murmur' the following year.  I felt like I had arrived at something special.  Sure, the radio songs were great, so was the new stuff.  But that day, when I placed the needle on my newly acquired copy of their 1982 Chronic Town EP, I felt COOL. Hence why there was a huge backlash when REM went Top 40.  The one time band for COOL people to feel COOL listening to is now the people's band.   I had found the source, the original code, the stripped down no frills Athens, GA quartet of oddballs who would shape my musical obsessions for the next 20+ years. 

I purchased a second copy in the past couple of years.  The new fancy version on blue heavyweight vinyl for $20.  It may be heavier and more colorful than my original but I have listened to that copy all of once.  It doesn't have the history, the love, the pop right before 'Carnival of Sorts', or the importance of my original copy.  I swear, if my house were burning down and time allowed, I would save this album.  This one needs to go in the rotation a lot more often. 
I cannot recommend this one enough, it's a palette cleanser if you are sick of their pop songs.  It's a breath of fresh air if you are in a musical rut.  Put it on, listen for the jangle, find your youth. 


All the best,
Bandy

Saturday, March 1, 2014

31 Days of Vinyl - Day #1 - Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection

The month of March marks a 31 day fasting.  The fasting on any purchases of new records.  I am shaking as I type this...for 31 days, I will refrain from buying any new/used records.  This fasting will act as a cost saver and as a mind-expander, hopefully getting my fingers onto some dusty grooves in the far reaches of my vinyl collection.  I hope to pull something from the crates on a daily basis that I have not listened to in a long time or at all for that matter.  Then upon listening, I plan to blather on about the hopeful musical awakenings.

Today I pulled a safe pick, something I haven't listened to in a long time.  It is Day #1 after all, need to take it slow.  I nabbed my $1.00 copy of Elton John's 1970 masterpiece 'Tumbleweed Connection' from the piano bench record stash in our sunroom.  It was sandwiched between Elton's 'Rock of the Westies' and 'Honkey Chateau'.

Original Source - The now (sadly) defunct BTV Record Store Downtown Discs
Price - $1.00

Elton John's music has been omnipresent in my life.  I think it was due to my birth year having been during his peak of powers.  Mostly the pop songs, greatest hits, and of course - Yellow Brick Road.  But I hadn't heard 'Tumbleweed Connection' until I saw the Cameron Crowe film 'Elizabethtown'.  The film is about a really good soundtrack that follows Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst around a movie for 90 minutes or so.  The soundtracks (two volumes) alone turned me onto so much new music when it came out in 2005.  In the film, there is a really poignant scene where the song 'My Father's Gun' (Side B, last track) plays over Orlando's coping of his father's passing.  It was intoxicating.  The drama, the gospel, the rise and fall of the song.  At the time I didn't realize how much foreshadowing this scene would be to my own life three years later when I had to cope with my own father's passing.  Having felt the power of 'My Father's Gun' in the film, soundtrack, and my vinyl copy, it was only natural to head back to it to help cope with loss.  Of course it helped at the time, all music did, but this song did the most.  I identify 'My Father's Gun' and the album as a whole so much with this period of my life I have found myself buying extra used copies when I see them.  I am convinced that I can give that record a better home than the dusty used vinyl bins I see them in. Currently, I think we are up to three copies.  'Tumbleweed Connection' acts as a security blanket that somehow helped me through.  Of all things, it was a flipping dollar copy of an Elton record.

The album is a high water mark of his 70's output.  Sure, other albums sold more copies and vaulted him to super stardom and endless issues.  But 'Tumbleweed' was a bunch of young musicians doing what they loved with seemingly nothing to prove other than their deep love for American music.  Steeped in country western twang that Elton wouldn't revisit until 35-40 years later, it is a true testament to the strong songwriting relationship between Elton and Bernie Taupin that would last for the next bazillion years.

'Tumbleweed' has clearly influenced so many bands.  It practically birthed a sub genre all on it's own - Americana Alt Country.  I have heard the CA jam band Tea Leaf Green cover 'Ballad of a Well-Known Gun".  I swear I was the only one singing along. Page from Phish has even offered a hat tip by covering 'Amoreena' on Summer Tour 1997.  Perhaps the record entered their life in a similarly profound way it did mine.  Who knows?

When the remastered CD's were sent around in 2005 (ish) we got an early look into the painted windows of The Madman Across the Water with the original version of the tune.  The 'Tumbleweed' sessions were so fruitful they spawned another album!  I actually prefer this version to the fancier version on the album of the same name that would be released the very next year in 1971.  Elton would catapult to ridiculous levels of stardom with the Madman album, but 'Tumbleweed' casts a huge shadow over it.


That's all for now, 
Bandy