Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: 'It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection'


In an age when lazily staged poses and perfunctorily photo-shopped images are regularly used to promote major motion pictures, it is halting to revisit the art once used to sell movies regarded as junk for the matinee crowd. Even films as chintzy as The Angry Red Planet and The Crawling Eye were hawked with striking graphics and paintings. Artworks for more prestigious pictures, such as Lionel Reiss’s bold art deco piece advertising The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and an uncredited work for The Invisible Man so haunting and striking and innately nightmarish that text was barely deemed necessary, are—no exaggeration— museum quality.

Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett has long recognized the artfulness, power, and fun of classic horror and sci-fi movie posters, amassing an impressive collection being exhibited in a show called It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection at the Peabody Essex Museum in (appropriately enough) Salem, Massachusetts, and in a tie-in book of the same name.

The book combines oddities such as the aforementioned Caligari poster, Roland Coudon’s funeral procession tableaux for Frankenstein, and a Karoly Grosz Mummy poster that spotlights the film’s human cast members with a lot of more common promos for pictures such as Dracula’s Daughter, Barbarella, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and Island of Lost Souls. Hammett favors pre-sixties posters, though there is a scattering of later day ones for movies such as Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, Blacula, and of course, It’s Alive. It’s an impressive collection, though I cannot really comment on the posters’ representation in this book since I only received an extremely lo-res pdf for review purposes.

It’s Alive! also features a few interesting essays on the history and craft of horror promo posters, the fear reaction as explained through neuroscience and psychology, and Hammett’s own relationship with horror films and their adverts. Hammett is only quoted in that latter essay, so he generally allows his artworks to assume the starring role in this book. However, a shot of him grinning like a kid surrounded by his collection of other creepy toys, records, magazines, comics, models, and props really makes me wish this book had expanded its scope more beyond often familiar poster artwork to encompass the complete Kirk Hammett Horror Collection.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Farewell, George Romero

Without him, zombies would still be toiling on sugar plantations instead of swarming urban areas. George A. Romero reinvented the zombie in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead even though the "Z" world is never even whispered in its taut 96 minutes. Romero followed up on his pioneering big-screen-E.C. comic with such sequels as Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, solidifying his legacy as King of the Zombies, but his achievements hardly end with droves of flesh-eating undead. Romero also made vampires human and sympathetic with Martin, horror comics move and breathe with Creepshow, and killer monkeys campy fun with Monkey Shines. He was also the producer of the classic small-screen anthology series Tales from the Darkside and a charming, politically-sharp presence in such documentaries as Midnight Movies. Having died of lung cancer at the age of 77, George Romero's charming personality will be missed but his nerve-wracking film work--much like his favorite monsters-- won't stay dead.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: 'Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis'


With a title and cover focusing on objects and a publisher specializing in photo books, Glitterati’s Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis seems like it should be an eye-bursting collection of images of Elvis’s glitziest and gaudiest costumes and knick-knacks. There is some of that stuff with shots of Graceland’s outrageous interior and the King’s capes and jumpsuits, but the real purpose of this book is to share anecdotes from and images of people who knew Elvis both intimately and fleetingly.

A good deal of the stories are pretty superficial and tend to accentuate the positive. We get that Elvis was very generous, very down-to-earth despite the spangles and wall of TVs, and had a quirky penchant for roller-skating and practical jokes.  Only a scattering of anecdotes reveal more about the man beneath the pompadour, but these can be pretty revealing indeed. Ex-girlfriend Anita Wood remembers how Elvis’s mother’s casket had to be covered in glass “so Elvis wouldn’t be touching her all the time” and discussed his mother’s corpse in baby talk (“look at her little footies”), giving us a glimpse of a creepy side most other commentators avoid. Elvis’s personal stylist Larry Gellar tells an equally intimate though more touching tale about Elvis’s thirst for someone with whom to discuss his spirituality, his complex feelings over his twin brother’s death at birth, and his impoverished beginnings. This phase of Elvis’s life is also documented with stark images of his boyhood home. The decision to include the infamous Dr. Nick, who kept Elvis’s medicine cabinet a bit too well stocked and contributes an innocuous anecdote, might not have been the most well-considered one. Neither was the decision to end the book with a story that ends with Elvis apparently making some sort of racist joke.

But again, the main photographic focus is the faces of all the people who share their stories, and Thom Gilbert shoots this cast of characters in intense close ups. Because these people are in the later stages of their lives, and Gilbert makes no attempt to airbrush away the lines and white hairs (though Kim Novak, who contributes the foreword, is represented by a Vertigo-era head shot), his photos seem to tell their own tales of long-lived lives. The almost exaggerated smiles on a lot of these faces imply they’ve been happy ones, perhaps partially because they’d been touched by Elvis. Yet because Gilbert is more concerned with faces that do not belong to Elvis than memorabilia, I’m not sure how appealing the photographic aspect of this book will be to fans. Appreciators of bold portraiture may be the real audience for Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: 'The Monster Movies of Universal Studios'


When I was a Monster Kid, there was nothing I liked to check out from the school library better than books about classic horror movies. They gave you the basic rundown of what made flicks like Dracula and The Wolf Man so boss and delivered plenty of B&W photos to back it up. Today, works such as Gary D. Rhodes’s Tod Browning’s Dracula and David J. Skal’s The Monster Show take a more scholarly and/or critical look at the classics. The Monster Movies of Universal Studios falls somewhere between the kids and film criticism library shelves.

Author James L. Neibaur zips though the 29 movies he covers too swiftly for the book to qualify as scholarship, and his writing is simple enough for any Monster Kid to grasp (Neibaur is an Encyclopedia Britannica contributor, and his affectless writing would not be out of place in an encyclopedia), but he does make room in each roughly 5-to-10 page chapter to get into a bit of plot synopsis, a bit of criticism, and a bit of background history. For those of us who’ve consumed what’s already out there, chapters on well-examined films such as Dracula and The Wolf Man are redundant, but ones on items such as The Invisible Woman and The Mummy’s Tomb are fresher—if not exactly revelatory— and more likely to stimulate Neibaur’s critical side. That latter observation is not a sly criticism of Neibaur, since the Monster Kid in me appreciates his unabashed love of Dracula, a delightful film too often run down in contemporary criticism, and since analysis is not the author’s primary goal.

Neibaur limits his discussions to films that deal with the big six monsters of Universal (or Universale, as he repeatedly spells it for some reason) —Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature—which means that both Chaney and Rains’s Phantoms and Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde get left out of the chat, as do non-Monster horrors such as The Black Cat and The Old Dark House. So The Monster Movies of Universal Studios isn’t exactly the definitive book on the topic, but I bet some modern-day Monster Kids might still enjoy checking it out of their own school libraries.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Review: The Beach Boys' '1967—Sunshine Tomorrow'


1967 was a tough year for The Beach Boys. While their chief rivals The Beatles were dropping jaws with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Brian Wilson terminated his struggle to create SMiLE, an ambitious project that would have made Pepper’s sound like Please Please Me. Despite an invitation to perform at the taste-making Monterey Pop Festival, The Beach Boys pulled out, supposedly out of fear that they would look pathetically unhip sharing a stage with the likes of Hendrix, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. Unable to follow up on the smash commercial and artistic success of “Good Vibrations” in 1966, our boys from Hawthorne seemed to be in a pretty grim way in ’67.

They didn’t give up though, and if The Beach Boys could not (or would not) keep up with pop’s rapid progress, they would at least keep working. In the waning months of this ignominious year, they managed to release two albums. While Smiley Smile was a pale shadow of the grand SMiLE, sounding more like the demos that might have proceeded that project than the ultimate result of it, it was at least weird enough to sound fairly contemporary. And along with the two monumental singles that anchor Smiley Smile —“Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains”—it has some pretty little sketches, such as the psychedelic doo-wop of “With Me Tonight” and the heavenly Hawaiian sojourn “Little Pad”.

The Beach Boys final album of ’67 was much stronger, eschewing weird psych trends for an earthy soul sound exemplified by the divine minor-hit “Darlin’”, the funky title track, and an unexpected yet terrific cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her”. Interestingly, though, the production continued to be as thin and underdeveloped as that of Smiley Smile despite the density soul demands. The thinness was particularly odd considering that Wild Honey was only mixed in mono.

To commemorate its fiftieth anniversary, Wild Honey has received its first stereo mix, and this new presentation is the centerpiece of a double-disc set called 1967—Sunshine Tomorrow. While mono has always been the ideal Beach Boys format, the new stereo mix of Wild Honey actually sounds fuller than the mono original, pumping bass sounds to richer levels without allowing them to distort or overwhelm. Clarity is incredible, and details such as the warm backing vocals on “Wild Honey” and previously buried horn lines on “Aren’t You Glad” and “Darlin’” flower out of the mix. This new mix might even turn a really good Beach Boys album into a great one.

Since Smiley Smile has always been available in stereo, it is not as spotlighted as the album that followed it on Sunshine Tomorrow, though session highlights of both albums are included. Smiley Smile is represented by such items as a whistling version of “Vegetables” extended by a minute, a gorgeous tag recorded for “Wind Chimes”, and a more forceful alternate snatch of “With Me Tonight”. However, Wild Honey remains the focus of this set, and its outtakes and session highlights are more revelatory. There’s a cool outtake previously issued on the Hawthorne, CA CD called “Lonely Days”, an alternate version of “I Was Made to Love Her” with a wild a capella coda, and sessions that spotlight such odd elements as the Theremin in “Wild Honey” and what sounds like the mutant offspring of a tack piano and a ukulele on “Aren’t You Glad”. A Wild Honey-era demo of “Surf’s Up” that finds Brian performing his masterwork alone on piano in his home was previously issued at the end of the first disc of The SMiLE Sessions but it includes an extra minute and a half of talk and false starts leading into the performance here. A nice thing all these sessions reveal is that despite the crushing blow of seeing SMiLE aborted and the dropping popularity of his band, Brian Wilson had not yet checked out in late 1967. In fact, he still sounds very much in charge and creatively juiced as he runs the Smiley Smile and Wild Honey sessions.

Although The Beach Boys passed on Monterey, they continued their roadwork in 1967, and the stage aspect of their career is also very well represented on 1967—Sunshine Tomorrow. The unreleased live album Lei’d in Hawaii leads the way with its first official release (though “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Barbara Ann”, a couple of songs associated with that scrapped project, are absent), and the quality is excellent. Rehearsals from these shows basically amount to clean, studio versions of “With a Little Help from my Friends”, The Box Tops’ “The Letter”, and Wayne Fontana’s “Game of Love”, all rendered in the sparse, organ-centric Smiley Smile style. The sound quality of four songs recorded in Honolulu is less impressive though it is historically significant since it marks Brian’s brief return to the stage.

Smiley Smile and Wild Honey may not be as timeless as Pet Sounds, but they are both tremendously interesting albums with a fair share of great tracks between them, and it’s very cool to see these oft-ignored albums get the attention they receive on 1967—Sunshine Tomorrow. Hopefully Friends, the album that really found The Beach Boys returning to form, will get similar treatment on its 50th Anniversary next year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: Vinyl Reissue of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'


John Williams has a reputation for creating unforgettable, rousing, and well, bombastic tunes, such as the themes to Star Wars, Superman, and E.T. However, he did not become Hollywood’s biggest soundtrack composer with bombast alone. Williams could also conjure pieces of elliptical beauty, such as the haunting five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the rippling “End Credits” music from E.T. that recalls Saint-SaĆ«ns’s “Aquarium”.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtrack recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra features some of Williams’s most famous big numbers, such as its adventure-drenched “Raiders March” and “The Desert Chase”, but subtler themes such as “In the Jungle” and “The Map Room”, as well as more mischievous ones such as “The Basket Game”, are what make it compelling listening even without images of Harrison Ford being dragged behind a truck. “The Miracle of the Ark”, which swells from the ghostly “Map Room” theme to a Bernard Hermann-esque nightmare of slashing notes, ranks with E.T.’s “End Credits” and “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back as one of Williams’s greatest artistic statements.

Concord Music is now reissuing the Raiders of the Lost Ark Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on a 180 gram vinyl double disc. This is the expanded edition released on CD in 2008 as opposed to the skimpy, 9-track single-LP from 1981 (though “The Desert Chase” appears in an edit one-minute shorter than that of the original release). Patricia Sullivan’s remaster is apparently the same digital one heard on the CD, but this new vinyl release still has the kind of clarity, depth, and detail you’d want from a soundtrack intended to rumble your theater seat during a whip-cracking matinee.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: 'Behaving Madly: Zany, Loco, Cockeyed, Rip-Off, Satire Magazines'


When Bill Gaines and his line of delightful horror comics came under fire from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (yecch!), his cohort Harvey Kurtzman schemed to pull one of their non-horror titles away from the Comic Code’s wagging finger by changing the format of the satirical MAD from a comic book to a proper magazine. The move was cagey. It was also a mad commercial and cultural success, and you know what happens when something’s successful. Suddenly MAD was sharing rack space with Zany!, Frantic!, Crazy, Man, Crazy, From Here to Insanity, Loco, This Magazine Is Crazy, and plenty of other would-be MADs. Like the comics that attempted to recreate the macabre magic of Gaines’s horror titles, the MAD knock offs rarely lived up to the mag they aspired to be. That doesn’t mean that they never delivered funny material or top-notch art. In fact, many MAD-men such as Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Angelo Torres, Basil Wolverton, and Will Elder also worked for the other guys. So did such comics luminaries as Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, and John Severin of the most enduring MAD knock off, Cracked.

IDW’s new collection Behaving Madly curates articles from the best of the knock offs, many of which feature these big name artists. Not everything in the collection can go toe-to-toe with the Usual Gang of Idiots. Certain pieces seem to end before reaching a punch line or opt for a sort of head-scratching absurdity. Some are too text heavy, such as Ric Estrada’s limp spoofs of Hemingway and Spillane from Frantic! The bits that strive most to follow the MAD format are usually the most successful, such as Art Gates’s hilariously violent Blackboard Jungle spoof from From Here to Insanity and Wolverton’s magnificently grotesque “Fashions for the Miserable Motorist” from Crazy, Man, Crazy.

Whether or not the comedy hits the bull’s eye, the artwork is almost uniformly boss and the ultra-fifties themes hit the nostalgic sweet spot. Behaving Madly is a trip through a malt shop populated by Elvis, Marilyn, Monsters (there’s an entire section devoted to Drac, Frankie, and their cronies), Archie (in a Zany! parody that’s nearly identical to one that appeared four years earlier in MAD), Ernie Kovacs lookalikes, and Maiden Form bra models. This also means that the spoofs sometimes play up such outdated and highly regrettable sources of “humor” as racial stereotypes and beating up women (blecch!). However, most of the pieces in Behaving Madly are an uncomplicated kick, and the near 50-page introduction is a swell history of these second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth-rate magazines.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: 'Silhouettes and Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978- 86'


Goth was a distinctively eighties movement, pushing its furrowed brow against the gleeful superficiality of Duran Duran or Animotion in the same way the definitively-nineties grungesters bucked the hair metalists in the next decade. Despite that, you could probably trace Goth back to the sixties with Procol Harum and Nico, and if you want to get cute, a lot further back than that to the Gregorian chanters. But if Goth ain’t one thing, it’s cute, and Cherry Red’s new box set Silhouettes and Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978- 86 provides five discs of proof.

Goth never caught on as a mainstream-newsworthy item the way grunge did, so it only produced a few couple of superstars, namely The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux, and because everyone did not get the chance to burn out on Goth as they did on grunge, Goth had much longer, spidery legs. Consequently, there was so much to choose from in compiling Silhouettes and Statues that key artists such as Siouxsie, Killing Joke, and Christian Death could be sidelined in favor of a slew of more obscure artists.

There are gradations in this set’s overwhelming grey. While I might not go so far as to call them poppy, tracks such as Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”, Southern Death Cult’s “Moya”, Zero Le Creche’s “Last Year’s Wife”, Cocteau Twins’ “In Our Angelhood”, Balaam and the Angels’ “The Darklands”, The Damned’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, All About Eve’s “D Is for Desire” (which takes some of the sting out of the absence of the movement’s definitive diva, Siouxsie Sioux), and quite a few others are as accessible as the best of the legit New Wavers who never shot a video on a yacht. There are also alluringly spooky numbers from Dead Can Dance, Bushido, Adam & the Ants, and original Goth maestro Nico, while toothy tracks by Actifed, UK Decay, Penetration, and Flesh for Lulu straddle the line between Goth and punk invigoratingly.

Silhouettes and Statues most certainly does not play it safe, though, and excessively abrasive or otherwise difficult tracks by The Birthday Party, Portion Control, Schliemer K, In the Nursery, Bone Orchard, Part 1, and nine-and-a-half minutes of Anorexic Dread will wash away the less dedicated like a gloomy, doomy tsunami. Of course playing it safe is not very Goth, while washing stuff away like a gloomy, doomy tsunami is, so anyone who still sprays their black locks up like a starfish and slathers on the pancake makeup will delight in Silhouettes and Statues. Well, maybe “delight” is the wrong word, but you get the picture.

Friday, June 16, 2017

'David Lynch: The Art Life' Coming to Blu-ray from Criterion

Released last year, David Lynch: The Art Life focuses on the first phase of when Lynch's career as a creative renaissance man when he  concentrated on painting and making short films such as the installation piece Six Figures Getting and The Alphabet. On September 26th, the feature-length documentary will be coming to Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection. Bonus features for this release are apparently limited to an interview with the film's co-director Jon Nguyen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: Michael Nesmith's 'Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff'


In 1965, young Mike Nesmith was bumming around Texas under his shaggy tresses when he noticed that people were taking a lot more notice of him than usual. When he stepped into a 7-Eleven, the cashier flipped out and told him that the local radio station had been reporting on his appearances. Nesmith decided to pop in on the station manager to find out what the deal was. When he got to the station, the manager asked him to confirm that he was, indeed, George Harrison. Nesmith admitted he was not. The station manager threatened to have him arrested for fraud.

Mike Nesmith was not yet a Monkee when this asinine incident took place, but it pretty much sums up his experience in a made-for-TV band that a bunch of dummies assumed was as genuine a band as The Beatles and accused of fraud when they found out the band wasn’t.

Of course, The Monkees did become a genuine band with no shortage of fight from Mike Nesmith. So there’s no mystery behind why this particular fellow was thrust into the role of The Monkees’ leader both in the fictional world of their TV show and in real life. Nez seemed to have a complex relationship with that role. From the very beginning of The Monkees project, he was the most involved in their music as both writer and producer, yet based on his new autobiography Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, he seemed as bewildered by that role as he was when he was almost tossed in the clink for not being George Harrison. Nesmith reveals that some innocent inquiries into how involved he would be with the music—and less innocent pleas to be let out of his contract when he discovered the bubblegum leanings of that music—prodded TV-series producer Bert Schneider to insist that Mike get involved with The Monkees records.

I’d always wondered how that happened—how a basically untried folk musician had been allowed to write and produce highly unconventional tracks for a primarily commercial project with so much riding on it. The problem with The Monkees’ story had always been that despite the band’s tremendous and ongoing popularity, it has never been told in a definitive and completely thorough way. Consequently, I had a lot of other questions, such as “What is Nesmith’s relationship with the unusual religion of Christian Science?” “What was the extent of his friendships with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix” “Why did this apparent peacenik join the Air Force?” and “Why did he consider himself to be a loser, as he brands himself during one of those candid interviews at the end of the Monkees show?” In Infinite Tuesday, Nesmith addresses these topics thoroughly, candidly, and with no shortage of self-effacement. He also answer questions I’d never thought to ask about his involvement with a hippie commune and guru during a personal low point in the seventies and friendships with such luminaries as Douglas Adams and Timothy Leary, though I was less interested in his dealings in business and technology that dominate the narrative after the seventies.

Interestingly, the one thing Nesmith steers clear of in Infinite Tuesday is discussing Micky, Davy, and Peter in any depth despite talking at great length about his Monklees experience in the sixties. Perhaps their difficult relationship, one of the better known details of Monkees lore, made him back off, not wanting to stir the pot after his recent touring and recording experiences with his old cohorts. Whatever the reason, the oversight is glaring, as is the lack of any mention of the recent and tremendously successful Monkees reunions or even Davy Joness death. This is the one hole in an otherwise satisfying piece of storytelling, the telling of which recalls the dense lyricism of “Carlisle Wheeling” and “Tapioca Tundra”. A pop autobiography with genuinely interesting stories is rare. One that is also well written is rarer still.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Farewell, Anita Pallenberg

Despite her work as a model and actress who appeared in such groovy items as Performance, Barbarella, and an episode of Absolutely Fabulous (in which she played the Devil against Marianne Faithfull's God), Anita Pallenberg will forever be known as the woman who made Keith Richards seem tame. Her life was well-lived but rocky. She endured an abusive relationship with Brian Jones before getting involved with Richards. Her drug-abuse rivaled that of her mate's. The death of the infamous couple's infant son Tara drove a wedge between them that caused a permanent split after Pallenberg's 17-year old boyfriend Scott Cantrell killed himself in her and Richards' bed in 1979. 

In the early eighties Pallenberg worked hard to get sober, and despite a couple of relapses, continued on while mostly choosing to remain outside of the public eye with occasional returns such as her Ab Fab appearance and work as a DJ. Yesterday, Pallenberg died at the age of 73. Her Rock & Roll adventures will surely continue to be the stuff of myth for years to come.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Publication Date for David Lynch's Memoir

Way back in October 2015, I reported David Lynch's plan to publish his memoir in 2017. Room to Dream: A Life in Art (formerly titled Life and Work) is arriving a bit later than scheduled (they're not even sure if it is a baby!), but according to Amazon.com, it is arriving. The date is now February 17, 2018, and Random House will be issuing the 496-page book which will actually combine Lynch's personal recollections with a biography by Kristine McKenna, who has the cool distinction of being a pioneering chronicler of the L.A. punk scene.

Here's the official copy from Amazon:

"In this memoir, David Lynch, co-creator of Twin Peaks and writer and director of groundbreaking films like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, opens up about a lifetime of extraordinary creativity, the friendships he has made along the way and the struggles he has faced—sometimes successful, sometimes not—to bring his projects to fruition.

Part-memoir, part-biography, Room to Dream interweaves Lynch’s own reflections on his life with the story of those times, as told by Kristine McKenna, drawing from extensive and explosive interviews with ninety of Lynch’s friends, family members, actors, agents, musicians, and collaborators. Lynch responds to each recollection and reveals the inner story of the life behind the art."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: 'Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production'


Producer Shel Talmy is a controversial figure in sixties pop. He got his first major gig by passing off records by The Beach Boys and Lou Rawls as his own productions (they weren’t). He foisted an old blues song called “Bald Headed Woman” on many of the artists he produced to collect royalties on a song he claimed to have written (he didn’t). He perpetuated a difficult-to-kill rumor that Jimmy Page played on The Kinks “You Really Got Me” (he didn’t), much to the infuriation of Dave Davies. He trapped The Who in a terrible contract that gave him a ridiculous chunk of their royalties, creating legal and financial troubles for the band for years (he did).

Talmy’s machinations were questionable to say the least, but there is no question that he cut some of the weightiest, greatest records released between 1964 and 1970. His signature Wall of Noise is evident in some of the best recordings by The Kinks, The Who, The Easybeats, and The Creation. However, there are also subtler colors and innovations in his work. He gave The Who the go-ahead to stir up so much aural chaos on “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” that most DJ’s thought the record suffered from some sort of awful technical glitch. He caught Eddie Phillips using his innovative guitar-bow technique on The Creation’s mighty “Making Time”. He etched the gentler acoustic sounds on Chad & Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” and beat The Beatles and Moody Blues to the punch by using the Mellotron on Manfred Mann’s “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” in 1966.

These are some of the unquestionable classics that appear on an essential and well-annotated new comp from Ace Records called Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production. This 25-song disc is not just a lesson in Talmy’s recording history, but more importantly, a simply smashing collection of sixties records familiar and obscure. The song selection is excellent with The Kinks represented by their finest early single (“Tired of Waiting for You”, personally selected by Ray Davies), rare alternate versions of common items such as Davy “Bowie” Jones’s “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” and The Easybeats’ “Lisa”, and other superb tracks by the likes of Roy Harper, The Nashville Teens, The Pentangle, and Lee Hazelwood, as well as less famous artists such as The Mickey Finn, The Rokes, Lindsay Muir’s Untamed, and The Sneekers, who put a few more bucks in Talmy’s pocket with yet another rendition of “Bald Headed Woman”. Oh, Shel.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Farewell, Adam West

You can take your dark Dark Knights and take a holy jump in a bat lake. To many of us, Batman was funny--not the butt of jokes, but the maker of them with a straight-faced brand of comedy that prognosticated the Zucker Brothers and others of their ilk who never mastered the form as Adam West did. Adam West made Batman fun as no other actor who personified the Caped Crusader did, and by embracing that character throughout his career, he endeared himself to fans with humility, honesty, and eternal good humor. That humor will live on even though Adam West has died at the age of 88 after suffering from leukemia. No one will ever fill out the cape and cowl like he did... Pure. West.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Psychobabble's Ten Greatest Albums of 1992!


The year after Nirvana kicked open the doors for a form of Rock that did not require crates of Aquanet, “grunge” was the industry’s favorite buzzword. Yet the less grungy sounds that would soon be championed as “alternative” by a press desperate to put some sort of label on all the eclecticism were already in effect. Many makers of the best albums of 1992 may have had a pair of Doc Martens in their closets, but their sounds drew on a wide variety of sources: the Girl Group sound of the sixties, punk, folk, twee pop, industrial, and synthesized minimalism. And I’m not just talking about Guided by Voices’ eclectic annual contribution. I’m talking about Psychobabbles Ten Greatest Albums of 1992!

10. Hey Babe by Juliana Hatfield

While a lot of independent groups were getting grungy or disturbingly surreal or channeling The Smiths in the late eighties, Boston’s Blake Babies were a fresh breath of pure pop. As soon as the trio split in 1992, bandleader Juliana Hatfield didn’t waste a second getting her solo career started, and she did so with her most Blake Babyish disc. Hey Babe is a smashing solo debut with all the sweet pop melody and power pop guitar work of the Babies’ best. Yet tracks like “Nirvana” (about Hatfield’s infatuation with the band with which everyone was infatuated in ’92) and “Get Off Your Knees” indicate that she could get heavier on her own than she had with her old band. Some critics sneered at Hatfield’s girlish voice and accused her of being either too self-deprecating or too self-aggrandizing, failing to realize how patronizing the former gripe is and how shortsighted the latter one is. Just as a lot of critics missed the humor in Morrissey’s tales of woe, they also let the subtle funniness of “Ugly” (“I’m ugleeeeee with a capital U”) and the knowingly absurd “Everybody Loves Me But You” soar over their heads. As over-the-top as these songs are, there is still a layer of true woe beneath them that makes them work as humor and weepy diary entries. Maybe Hatfield was channeling The Smiths after all. Not a bad band to channel.

9. Get Your Goat by Shudder to Think

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: 'Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star'


In the few years before making his name in Big Star, Chris Bell bounced around a few different Memphis bands. The interesting thing about each of them is that Bell’s retro sensibility was already well in place when he strummed for The Wallabys, Ice Water, and Rock City, which featured fellow future-Big Star Jody Stephens behind the kit. Like Big Star, each one of these bands owed more to mid-sixties British pop than circa-1970 American Rock. Some of their songs, such as Rock City’s “Think It’s Time to Say Goodbye” and Ice Water’s “All I See Is You”, sound like they could have been on #1 Record. On the rare occasion Bell sang lead, the results often ended up in Big Star’s trick bag, as when that band recycled Rock City’s “My Life Is Right” and “Try Again”.

However, the new early-Bell compilation Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star is not limited to Big Star-esque power pop. There’s also a pronounced psychedelic influence on a lot of this stuff that never bled onto Big Star’s records so unabashedly. The Wallaby’s “Feeling High” is pure Syd Barrett bounce while the title track sounds like a groovy outtake from Crimson & Clover. The aptly named “Psychedelic Stuff” has a whiff of The End about it.

The only time that Looking Forward really sounds of its time is when Rock City cobble together an almost proggy suite of songs about the dubious nature of religious leaders. This five-song sequence also contains this compilation’s only blunder since a couple of random songs are senselessly programmed within the suite. Otherwise, Looking Forward really holds its own as a superb collection of tracks that mostly look back at pop’s 1966/1967 peak.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Review: 'Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series'


Although Topps had produced entertainment tie-in cards for such properties as The Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, and Batman, the company’s decision to try a series based on Planet of the Apes in 1969 was a different kettle of monkeys. This was the first time Topps produced a series of cards based on a big hit movie starring a big movie star: namely Charlton Heston. This had certain legal ramifications since Heston was not thrilled with the idea of having his square-jawed visage packaged with stale bubblegum. In the end, he only gave the OK for Topps to include him on a mere nine cards, an offer Topps kind of wasted by using a few of these cards to only show the back of Heston’s head, his feet, or in one glorious instance, his butt. To give the impression that Heston was better represented than he actually was, Topps reduced its usual run of 66 cards to a mere 40. Although she was a complete unknown at the time, co-star Linda Harrison didn’t have any face time in the series at all. Fortunately, there were no such issues for the actors and actresses hidden in ape make up, and let’s face it, the kids who bought these cards were more interested in ogling awesome ape faces than Heston and Harrison’s pretty pusses.

Abrams’ new collection of Planet of the Apes cards would be a pamphlet if it only assembled that original 40-card run, so it widens its net to include the card series based on the short-lived 1974 Planet of the Apes TV show and Tim Burton’s bad 2001 remake. The upside to the relatively few cards collected in Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is that each card is allowed to occupy its own page at extra-large dimensions. Also, Gary Gerani, who provided captions for the Planet of the Apes TV series cards, and whose text in Abrams’ recent Topps Star Wars cards books was so entertaining, does the same for this new volume.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: 'The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale'


With the exception of The Joker, Catwoman has to be the most popular super villain in superdom—more infamous than Lex Luthor, the Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, or Batman’s other top nemeses, The Penguin and The Riddler, neither of whom has received his own comic series. And even The Joker has never been the title character of his very own feature film— though I’m pretty sure Catwoman isn’t too proud of that ammonia-scented stink bomb starring Halle Berry.

Nevertheless, Selina Kyle has had a decidedly rocky history. Despite debuting as an atypically in-control and unpunished woman at a time when virtuous female characters tended to reflect the extremely limited concepts of femininity common in the forties and femme fatales always received their comeuppance, Catwoman eventually succumbed to the nasty whims of her mostly male creators. She might be declawed in plot lines that wed her to bland Bruce Wayne or tortured luridly. Even when more progressive minded writers gave Catwoman something to do, childish artists depicted her as a sex object to be ogled. And on the number of occasions when she became too much of a handful, she was erased altogether. In fact, after she had the distinction of being Gotham’s only villain to get a mention in Frederic Wertham’s comics-industry-rocking excoriation Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, Catwoman was isolated in the kennel for twelve years until Julie Newmar repopularized her on TV.

Needless to say, the fact that Catwoman is a woman is intrinsically tied to her difficult history, which Tim Hanley relates in his new book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale. The author studies how his topic was treated in comics, television, film, and video games, noting the positive depictions (her initial appearances in the comics and later ones in The Long Halloween and Catwoman: When in Rome, her treatment on Bill Dozier’s sixties TV series and today’s Gotham, as well as Tim Burton’s Batman Returns) and the less positive ones that objectified and patronized her. The take away from this book is that Catwoman was a great female character full of potential, but the small minds in the patriarchal comics industry rarely knew what to do with her.

Hanley supports his thesis with an intense look at Catwoman’s many appearances (and absences). This can get a tad tedious since he spends a lot of time summarizing comics arcs, and while his constant quoting of the awful dialogue in Batman Returns doesn’t undermine his argument that the film offers a positive, feminist depiction of Catwoman, it does fog up a discussion of the film’s most positive attribute by continuously reminding us of its shittiest one.

The Many Lives of Catwoman still manages to be an excellent study as a whole, achieving a skillful balance of history and analysis. Hanley integrates his cultural findings with neat details about the Catwoman film Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer intended to make, the original casting choice for her first TV incarnation (not Julie Newmar), and the woman who quite possibly inspired her in the first place (not Jean Harlow or Hedy Lamarr as Bob Kane would have you believe). The Many Lives of Catwoman definitively captures Catwoman’s history, compellingly explains how she has bucked and reflected society’s treatment of women, and relates it all with attentiveness and humor. Hanley

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: 'Spaced Out: The Story of Mushroom Records'



Lasting a mere fifteen months from 1971 to 1972, and issuing only sixteen albums, North London’s Mushroom Records still managed to stir up a minor cult following because of the alluringly pungent music label-founder Vic Keary produced. It was an eclectic mix of raga (Pandit Kanwar Sain Trikha), Indian folk (Nitai Dasgupta), psychedelic folk (Magic Carpet), lush prog and early electronic music (Second Hand), jazz (Lol Coxhill), proto new age (Chillum), Irish folk and folk rock (Callinan-Flynn, Jon Betmead), soft rock (Gordo, Ellis, & Steele), and music for burning Edward Woodward alive to (The Liverpool Fishermen; Heather, Adrian, & John). This music is extremely eclectic yet hangs together because of its mutual archaic and exotic vibe and Keary’s sympathetic, sometimes tremendously vibrant (Second Hand’s “Hangin’ on an Eyelid”), production.

Before forming Mushroom, Keary’s work was less distinguished and his taste in artists often dubious. This spotty period in which he was cutting records at Maximum Sound studio is highlighted on the second disc of a new compilation called Spaced Out: The Story of Mushroom Records. Disc one compiles choice cuts from the aforementioned Mushroom artists, and it is perfect background for your next hookah party. Disc two is often more like one of those Golden Throats anthologies. There are incompetently sung versions of “See See Rider” (by the esteemed Alexis Korners’ Blues Incorporated of all artists) and “Knock on Wood” (Oliver Bone), as well as other questionable contributions from the likes of Denis Couldry, The Mark Leeman Five, The Carolines, and Mel Turner.

It would probably have been easier if the entire second disc were ghastly; then I could just say skip it and stick to the first one, but some really fine psychedelic nuggets by Second Hand, Felius Andromeda, and Tuesday’s Children, as well as some cool Mod rock by The Attraction and Mersey pop by The Cherokees, are mixed amongst the dross. So be ready to work the remote control hard while grooving to disc two of Spaced Out.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

8 Essentials for Living the Original Star Wars Life


When Twentieth Century Fox took a major gamble on a goofy space fantasy imagined by that goofy kid who’d made American Graffiti, neither that company nor George Lucas could have imagined we’d still be so ensconced in Star Wars forty years later. In fact, fans are now able to ensconce themselves more completely in that wacky universe of wookiees, droids, banthas, and wampas than they could back in the late seventies even though it seemed that every conceivable object had some sort of Star Wars equivalent back then. However, compared to a time when anyone can snooze in a tauntaun sleeping bag, make waffles shaped like the Death Star, or dab on Lando-scented cologne, the late seventies was a comparable Tatooine-desert of Star Wars merchandise. You couldn’t even watch the movies on your TV set yet, so those who wished to never leave Lucas Land had to make do with the essential bits of Star Wars-ernalia available. So for you contemporary kids who don’t understand how good you have it, here are eight examples Star Wars essentials every fanatic worth his or her salt owned back when nobody knew what the hell A New Hope was.

1. Kenner Toys

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The most effective way to melt into the Star Wars universe aside from watching the films has always been to get down on the floor surrounded by little bits of Star Wars-shaped plastic. The history of Kenner’s Star Wars figures has been regurgitated many, many, many times. I’m sure you already know about how unprofitable movie-tie-in toys had been, how Lucas made his fortune by retaining merchandising rights, how the toys weren’t ready for X-mas 1977 so Kenner sold cardboard “Early Bird” vouchers for Luke, Leia, Chewie, and R2-D2 figures instead. Blah, blah. Equally important is how nifty these little figures that could fit into scale Millennium Falcons and TIE-fighters were, how kooky the decisions to make figures of barely-on-screen characters like Prune Face and not-on-screen-at-all characters like Cloud Car Pilot was while neglecting more prominent characters like Tarkin and Uncle Owen because they didn’t look as cool, and how holding one of these tiny things in your hand today draws up childhood memories like biting into a Proustian Madeleine. And let’s not neglect all of those other variations of Star Wars playthings, like the too-big-to-fit-into-a-plastic-X-Wing “large size” figures that did such an effective job of capturing character likenesses and that plush Chewbacca toy that inspired so many of us to toss our teddy bears in the bin.

2. Listening Materials

A Selection of 'Star Wars' Sketches

In a Star Warsy mood because of the original film's 40th anniversary, I knocked off a few Star Wars-inspired pen and marker sketches. Here they are:



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Steelers Wheel Vinyl Reissues


Stealers Wheel are obviously best known for their wonderful one hit “Stuck in the Middle with You”, a breezy shuffle delivered in a Dylan whine that went top-ten in 1973, but their pedigree is stronger than that of your usual one-hit wonder. Core member Gerry Rafferty went on to a long career of his own, which kicked into gear with the lovely and sad “Baker Street” in 1977. Rock and Roll’s pioneering dynamic duo Leiber and Stoller produced Stealers Wheels’ first two albums. And most important of all, those two albums are very good beyond the hit on the first one.

The band’s eponymous debut finds them toying with soul (“Late Again”), Move-style metal (“I Get By”), calypso (“Another Meaning”), and even power balladry (“You Put Something Better Inside Me”) with consistent success and bubbly personality. Steelers Wheel is a collection of poppy, pleasant, well-crafted music with a sort of underlying “White Album” vibe, though without any of The Beatles’ exciting weirdness.

On Ferguslie Park, the songwriting and production are not quite as sharp. Even the heavier tracks sound airy due to Rafferty and cohort Joe Egan’s ethereal harmonies and Leiber and Stoller’s soft production. The album also lacks a major hit to anchor it, though the McCartney-esque “Star”, which did go top thirty, the glammy “What More Could You Want”, and the light metal “Back on My Feet Again” are all excellent tracks, as are the haunting “Who Cares” and “Everything Will Turn Out Fine”, which feels a bit like “Stuck in the Middle with You Again”. The Kinky social commentary that drives through a lot of these songs can be too blunt at times (see “Good Businessman” and even “Star”), but it contributes to the album’s unified feel.

The vinyl reissues of Stealers Wheel and Ferguslie Park Intervention Records issued last year were created in accordance with that label’s 100% analog philosophy and really shine as a result. The softness of Ferguslie Park could have turned into mush with improper mastering, by Intervention keeps it clear and textured.
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