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Music

Getting The Spins: Willie Nelson – Phases and Stages

(Atlantic Records, 1974)

I have a ton of country records, but I’ve neglected them over the past couple years–even Willie, whom I love more than most things. But a live DJ set last night over at The Days of Lore Facebook page (which was an absolute drunken, fun and hilarious three and a half hours) prompted some requests for Kenny Rogers (rest in peace, gambler), Dolly Parton and, of course, Willie Nelson. Phases and Stages is, and always has been, my favorite Willie record, which came at his absolute creative peak in the early-’70s. It’s a concept album about a breakup, from the vantage-point of both the man and the woman. There are some pretty biting moments, like “Pretend I Never Happened” (“You will not want to remember any love as cold as mine”) and “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way,” as well as a couple of fantastic bar-boogie shakers like “Sister’s Coming Home”/”Down At the Corner Beer Joint” and the day-drinking classic “Bloody Mary Morning.” Throughout are lovely instrumental refrains that serve as the connective tissue to the stories. It’s one of Willie’s best. And I’m glad I dusted it off, because it’s a beautiful record, by a beautiful man.

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Music

Getting The Spins: Wipers – Over the Edge

(Trap, 1983; Jackpot, 2009)

Well, “Doom Town” sounds about right, doesn’t it? Imagine if Greg Sage was in his 20s writing songs during a pandemic. What kind of bleak, fucked-up music would Wipers be making? Well, it would probably sound exactly like the songs that appear on those first three records. I’m listening to Over the Edge because it fits the current mood of hopelessness, matched by the gray Pacific Northwest skies I’m currently staring at outside my window. Plus I just finished a piece on Wipers’ first record Is This Real? for Vortex Magazine that should run in their April issue. I interviewed original drummer Sam Henry as well as Toody Cole from Dead Moon, along with others who were running loose in Portland in the late-’70s and early-’80s. It was a different time fore sure…although, was it? Is this real?

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Music

Getting The Spins: Bruce Haack – The Electric Lucifer

(Columbia, 1970)

Ominous, eh? Wait until you hear it. Actually, Bruce Haack, the man behind The Electric Lucifer, spent a good portion of his career making children’s records, and even appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to talk about his magick homemade synthesizers (something I touched on in my musical appreciation of Fred Rogers). Those synthesizers are the main attraction here…unless the half-baked Heaven-versus-Hell concept is more your thing. The Electric Lucifer is a pretty fantastical and fantastically weird record, ahead of its time for its use of electronics right out of Haack’s laboratory. It’s a perfect mix of robotic sizzle (“Song of the Death Machine”) and psychedelic tuneage (“Cherubic Hymn”). And you know what? It sounds exactly how I feel these days. Hail the Electric Lucifer!

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Music

Getting The Spins: XTC – Black Sea

(Virgin, 1980; Epic, 1982)

I love XTC. Adore them. They’re one of those bands that, sure, they’ve put out a couple weak-for-them records–but have they ever made a truly bad one? That’s a discussion for another time (the answer is no). XTC is one of those bands I am comfortably familiar with, but also continually discovering and rediscovering. Like, I just put on Black Sea for the first time in a maybe a year, and now I’m wondering if this is now my favorite XTC record (which I’ve always considered The Dukes’ records and the obvious Skylarking to be). It’s the perfect stop between the punkier White Music and more polished pop of English Settlement. Black Sea is spinning as I write this, and “Towers of London” just came on…and, yeah, this album just keeps on giving. So, yes. This is absolutely my favorite XTC record. For now.

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Music

Getting The Spins: Terry Riley – A Rainbow in Curved Air

(CBS Records, 1969)

Terry Riley’s music still sounds as otherworldly as it did when it was released. Now wrap your head around the fact his best-known work In C came out in 1964–19-fucking-64! Some perspective: It was the dawn of the British Invasion, and teenyboppers were dancing (at safe and appropriate social distances) to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Baby Love.” By the time Riley released A Rainbow in Curved Air in 1969, music was growing more adventurous…and it was still light years ahead of its time. This record remains a perfect specimen of minimalist electronic ambient music, influenced as much by Indian classical music (most notably singer Pandit Pran Nath) as it was the psychedelics Riley was ingesting. “[Drugs] had a big impact on the way I conceived a musical form,” Riley told me last year (in what ended up being the final piece I wrote for the CN&R). “It took me into details of music that I hadn’t seen before. It blew things up, like a big magnifying glass.” You don’t have to do drugs in order to enjoy Riley’s music, but it’d be a lot cooler if you did.

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Music

Getting The Spinz: Split Enz – Frenzy

(A&M Records, 1979)

Anyone who knows me knows I am a lover of all things Finn: I love Tim. I love Neil. I love Liam. I love Crowded House (ssshh…don’t tell anyone). And I love Split Enz. Frenzy was released in 1979, one year before the band broke through with True Colours and became fixtures on MTV with their always-fantastic videos. This one is kind of overlooked…even by me! But as I revisit Frenzy, I am absolutely loving it. While 1977’s Dizrythmia marked Split Enz’s transition out of weirdo circus art prog, Frenzy sees the band settling into the taut new wave pop that would colour the rest of their output. A 20-year-old Neil Finn also made his Enz debut on this record (with the excellent “Give It a Whirl,” “Holy Smoke” and “Carried Away”), but brother Tim takes the lead throughout most of Frenzy (bassist Nigel Griggs also deserves a nod for his knotty post-punk closer “Livin’ It Up”). “I See Red,” “Master Plan” and “Marooned” are all pop perfection, which is essentially all you get with Split Enz. I am 4FR a frenz of Enz.

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Music

Getting The Spins: “Weird Al” Yankovic – In 3-D

(Rock ‘N’ Roll Records, 1984)

“You can learn to cope with stress, and you can beat the IRS, and the incredible frog-boy is on the loose again.”–Al Yankovic

Was 1984 the greatest year in pop culture history? Definitely if you were 11 years old. Which I was. I mean, come on: Temple of Doom, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, The A-Team, Family Ties, Hardcastle and McCormick, Purple Rain, Out of the Cellar, Like a Virgin…OK, an entire piece on 1984 ASAP. Oh, and “Weird Al” Yankovic–who’d previously only been known to nerds like me that listened to Dr. Demento–released his breakthrough album In 3-D, which caught fire thanks to a little song called “Eat It.” I still love Al. Who in their right mind doesn’t? I connected with his absurd humor 36 years ago, and you know what? That never changed. As Al explained to me in 2013: “I guess I was always twisted. I mean, I don’t know if my classmates thought I was funny, or just weird.” In 3-D might be his best album overall. It definitely includes some of his best original songs, including “Midnight Star” and “Nature Trail to Hell” (both of which I was lucky to see Al perform in 2018 during his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour). In 3-D was one of the first cassettes I ever owned, so listening to this record always takes me back to when life was simpler. Now things are just weird.

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Music

Getting The Spins: Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted

(Priority Records, 1990)

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to scoop up as many hip-hop records as I can, mostly from the “Golden Age,” which roughly covers the mid-’80s through the mid-’90s. My love for this era centers a lot around the production and the use of samples. That said, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a stone-cold classic, the perfect mix of Cube’s laid-back West Coast style and the sparse, East Coast production provided by The Bomb Squad, the team behind Public Enemy. The lyrics are still jarring three decades (!!!) later. That title track is straight venom. As is “Once Upon a Time In the Projects,” which includes a sample from Betty Davis’s “Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him.” Ear and mind candy for daze.

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Music

Getting The Spins: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Capitol Records, 1985)

Seems fitting, right? “All we want is life beyond…the Quarantine.” I love this soundtrack, which I picked up cheap at the record show I recently attended. I literally hadn’t heard “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” since I was taping the song off the radio in 1985. It’s fucking great. It’s fucking Tina Turner! The instrumental version on here is also quite fun to listen to. And add to it a whole second side of Maurice Jarre instrumental magick, and you’ve got the sounds of a true hunker-down dance party.

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Music

Getting The Spins: Stevie Wonder – Talking Book

(Tamla, 1972)

You can never go wrong with Stevie. Never. And his five-album run from 1972’s Music of My Mind to 1976’s Songs In the Key of Life is about a spotless as you’ll ever find (I’d even say the next two records–1979’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” and 1980’s Hotter Than July–are perfection). I’ll write more about those at length another time, but right now let’s talk Talking Book. It contains one of Wonder’s biggest hits “Superstition,” which is always a stone-cold banger. But “Maybe Your Baby” is a killer hypnotic funk jam (and check out the shredding guitar work from Ray Parker Jr.–yes, that Ray Parker Jr.). And the closer “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” always makes my heart sing (it helps that my wife and I used it as our wedding exit song). What else can I say, other than Stevie Wonder is beautiful. And we might need his music now more than ever.