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Musics

Getting The Spins: David Bowie – Station to Station

(RCA, 1976)

Which is your favorite Bowie record? It’s a fun question that brings out all sorts of answers due to the extensiveness of David Bowie’s catalog. Station to Station might not be my number one Bowie record (that might go to The Man Who Sold the World), but it is easily in my top three. Ask me next week, and I’m sure I’ll give you a completely different answer. Station to Station marks a pretty significant transition for Bowie, as it combines the funk and soul influences of his previous record Young Americans, while nodding toward the German electronic influence that would shape Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, starting with 1977’s Low. Bowie infamously doesn’t recall the recording of this album, partly due to his heavy cocaine use at the time, evidenced by this 1974 interview with Dick Cavett, as well as this fantastic and fantastical film, which Bowie starred in before recording Station to Station.

Oh yeah…the record! “Golden Years” was a big single for Bowie, one that even landed him an appearance on Soul Train, in which he lip-synced…again, sorta awkward and coke-up. It’s a fantastic song. And the title-track is one of my favorite all-time Bowie songs–a 10-minute, spaced-out disco inferno, which showcases the hot-shit rhythm section of bassist George Murray and drummer Dennis Davis. “Word On a Wing” is one of Bowie’s most aching songs, both lyrically and vocally. I listened to it over and over after Bowie’s death in 2016, and it absolutely crushed me. Still does. Welp, this got sad real quick. Soooo…what’s your favorite Bowie record?

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Musics

Getting The Spins: Smog – Knock Knock

(Drag City, 1999)

I’m a Bill Callahan fan–although, I have to say I’m not super familiar with his vast catalog. What I do know is that Knock Knock is a phenomenal record, worthy of any occasion. Like a lot of people, my first exposure to Smog came though 2000’s High Fidelity, which featured “Cold Blooded Old Times.” It’s an upbeat, chugging rock song with a black heart, as Callahan lobs a barrage of lyrical darts about an abusive relationship and the affects it has on a child. Of course, Callahan has the voice to make those words really sting. Musically Knock Knock is essentially a folk record with lots of layers–children’s choirs, horns, fuzz guitars–and essentially a lot of the creature comforts of ’90s indie rock. And just look at the cover for chrissakes. If I saw that sleeve, knowing absolutely nothing about the artist, I’d assume it was either the worst band in the world, or the greatest. Smog is neither. But when I put on this record, it’s definitely the greatest experience in the world.

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Musics

Getting The Spins: KISS – Revenge

(Mercury, 1992)

This record was a huge deal for KISS fans when it was released 28 years ago (unholy shit!). Revenge came out as grunge was coming in, and leading up to the release Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley promised a heavier, no-nonsense rock record (they’d just suffered the loss of drummer Eric Carr as well, which seemed to help refocus the band). Of course, KISS fans had been subjected to this sort of bluster before only to be let down (see Crazy Nights). My confidence was restored the night I tuned in to watch MTV debut the video for lead single “Unholy” a month before the album came out. The single and vid delivered–the opening riff was killer, and Gene looked and sounded more evil than he had in a decade. And the record itself? I loved it at the time, even if I secretly hoped for something heavier (by that point I was on a steady diet of Prong, Sepultura and Soundgarden). I should note that then-lead guitarist Bruce Kulick absolutely owns on Revenge, and drummer Eric Singer showcases by he’s arguably KISS’s best-ever drummer.

In the years since, Revenge has generally been held in high regard by both fans and the band. I’ve gone back and forth as to where I rank it, or whether or not it’s worth the acclaim. That said, I finally bought it on vinyl a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been thoroughly digging it (hearing the trashy “Take It Off” and the underrated deep cut “Paralyzed” blast through the speakers is just what the doctor ordered). Soooo…my not-so-quick reassessment: I guess I really do like Revenge.

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Musics

Getting The Spins: Rush – Permanent Waves

(Mercury, 1980)

I never did give a proper sendoff to Neil Peart, so here it is with one of my favorite Rush platters. While 1978’s Hemispheres continued their run of episodic prog masterpieces, Rush entered the new decade with a grab-bag of new tricks–namely synthesizers, and a focus on more concise writing. This manifests itself right away with “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill,” a couple of radio-friendly songs, each clocking in at around five minutes. It’s not until “Jacob’s Ladder” that we get a whiff of the familiar. While synths are more prominently featured, guitarist Alex Lifeson swoops in with plenty of guitar heroics. Geddy Lee even reigns in his vocals a bit (though not his bass playing), and Peart is Peart–playing perfectly to the songs, while also doing insane things on the kit. It’s a beautiful record by a beautiful band.

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Musics

Getting The Spins: Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

(Reprise, 1986)

A little history: I grew up in a town called Red Bluff, surrounded by hicks–hell, some of my best friends at the time were Copenhagen-chewin’, Coors Light-drinkin’, country music-listenin’ rednecks. I was introduced to Chris LeDoux, The Mavericks and Dwight Yoakam (and those were the good ones, there were many more) while getting into trouble on the mean streets of RB. Yoakam, of course, has always been cool as fuck, and I’m pretty sure I thought so even then. I picked this record up for a buck somewhere along the way, and it’s always a great beer-swillin’ and meat-grillin’ party record. I saw him at the Oregon State Fair a couple years ago–for the $2 admission to get into the fair–and, of course, he was fantastic. I also remember drinking a lot of beer and making multiple unwise fried-food decisions–further proof that you can take the boy out of Red Bluff, but you can’t take Red Bluff out of the boy.

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Musics

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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Musics

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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Musics

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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Musics

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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Musics

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.