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The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Music news, rumors, what you're listening to, how you're listening to it and whether it's all on the up-and-up.

Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby minicat » Tue Jul 08, 2014 9:29 am

Calling WAR the worst thing ever wasn't really right either -- because I do give them credit for trying. And others liked it, it was a hit.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Tue Jul 08, 2014 9:47 am

snoqueen wrote:Either way, you like it or you don't.
Let me be clear here: I DO like it. Just generally less than most other Motown. And I'm glad to hear some of the other reactions here, as I really did kinda think I was the only one who didn't think the Tops were... well... the tops. Review guides tend to gush over them and often paint them as one of the best things about Motown specifically and '60s soul music in general, but as a lover of both of those things, I just don't think that's true.

minicat wrote:Rockwell was ok.
How would you know this?
You really had enough time to spare at some point in your life to give his LP a spin? I'd say you need a hobby but...
minicat wrote:That Soupy Sales LP is far from embarrassing, and better than it has any right to be.
I wouldn't know. I just think it's hilarious that that LP is on Motown. But the question wasn't whether it was good or bad, it was about what was the "least essential Motown act". Certainly you wouldn't try to argue that Soupy Sales was more essential to the Motown Sound than the Four Tops, would ya?
minicat wrote: Bruce Willis I can't defend, though.
Well... he's marginally better than Jim Belushi.
minicat wrote:... the incendiary Levi Stubbs...
Damn straight. The dude had some serious pipe and deserves props. Although I must admit, when I think of him, I usually picture a mean green mother from outer space...

And you can add me to the anti-"Walk Away Renee" camp. That was a real lowpoint of the comp I just listened to. To tell the truth, perhaps the best Tops song isn't on Motown at all, it's this silky '70s jam.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Sun Jul 13, 2014 2:07 pm

Alrighty... a friend specifically told me how much he was looking forward to my Aretha write-up, so I promised to go into a little more detail. So brace yourselves. But if you ain't got the time or the patience, here's the tl;dr version: Aretha Franklin has one of the greatest voices ever committed to wax, and in the late '60s, she recorded some of the greatest music the world has ever known. I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You and Lady Soul should be in every discerning music lover's collection. Her star starts to fade in the early '70s and by the middle of the decade, she's in solidly meh territory. After that, she flounders into the disco age, I lose interest, and my collection ends.

OK, now here's the long version:
One of the singularly towering talents of the late '60s (and quite simply, one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century), Aretha Franklin did more to inject gospel fervor into popular R&B music than anyone but Ray Charles (who is one of Aretha's clearest and most direct influences.) After wallowing in mostly wrongheaded sessions at Columbia for the early part of the decade (none of which I currently own because there's really not much reason to bother with this stuff), Aretha came out roaring once she switched to Atlantic and hooked up with sympathetic producer Ahmet Ertegun, engineer extraordinaire Tom Dowd, and the fantastic Muscle Shoals house band, hot from their streak of greatness backing Wilson Pickett. 1967's I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You and 1968's Lady Soul are two of the most amazingly awesome R&B albums ever recorded, both being pretty much non-stop, wall-to-wall greatness. I have them both burned together onto a single CD and holy shit, it really just doesn't get any better, folks. Aretha deploys her immense, expressive voice and exceptional piano playing (an aspect of her tremendous talent oft-overlooked when folks discuss her legacy) on a stunning collection of some of the finest R&B songs ever written. Her taste in covers here is fantastic, beginning with Otis Redding's "Respect" (which, ever since, has been referred to as "Aretha Franklin's 'Respect'") and including "Drown In My Own Tears" (surely swiped from Ray Charles), Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready", a fantasic romp through James Brown's "Money Won't Change You", and the oft-recorded Jim Ford-penned "Niki Hoeky". (The sole exception to my ears being The Rascals' "Groovin'", which is, IMHO, a thoroughly overrated song in any context.) And the hits? Oh, the hits! "I Never Loved A Man", "Chain Of Fools", "Dr. Feelgood", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "Since You've Been Gone (Sweet, Sweet Baby)", and sister Carolyn Franklin's "Ain't No Way" are some of the finest R&B singles waxed in the '60s and frankly, some of the greatest recordings from any era or genre, period. Truly amazing stuff that no respectable music collection should be without.

In between those twin masterpieces (while suffering from a not-quite-healed elbow injury, so there's less great piano playing here) Aretha cranked out Aretha Arrives, which can't help but pale in comparison. "Baby, I Love You" is the only hit here -- and it's one of her best ever (and features some of the best Franklin sisters backups) -- but there's a preponderance of filler, with some less interesting cover choices this go-round (and zero Aretha originals.) "Satisfaction" leads things off, but is less-than-inspired (as I note again later, her live version from Aretha In Paris is much more exciting), and that's followed by "You Are My Sunshine", which should have been retired after Ray Charles did it on his classic Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music LP. She clocks in for work on an unnecessary version of the oft-recorded (by Nat King Cole, The Impressions, Nancy Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Wynton Marsalis, Luther Vandross, Liza Minelli, her sister Erma, and countless others) "Never Let Me Go", and wanders aimlessly through "That's Life", a song which suits her not at all. But she really shines on her bizarro take on ? And The Mysterians #1 smash "96 Tears" and the Willie Nelson-by-way-of-B.B.King "Night Life". Basically, this whole album is just kinda filler (and the syrupy strings on many of these tracks often overwhelm the band and Aretha's vocals), but let me be clear: in 1967, Aretha filler was better than the vast bulk of anyone else's top-shelf stuff. Even when the material's not up to snuff, Aretha's vocals are still a force of nature. Not the album to start with, by any means, but not any kind of embarrassment. Much better is 1968's Aretha Now, the immediate follow-up to Lady Soul, and nearly the equal of the two masterpieces which I opened this exploration with. Exploding out of the gate with the classic "Think", the album quickly makes a sharp left turn into pop/gospel with a fantastic version of Bacharach/David's "I Say A Little Prayer" without sounding the least bit forced. "See Saw" is great funk swagger (albeit not as great as the non-LP "The House That Jack Built", which was the A-side of "I Say A Little Prayer" -- but both sides deservedly went Top 10.) Dipping into the Ray Charles repertoire yet again, Aretha turns in a solid version of "Night Time Is The Right Time" followed by an interesting, if inessential, take on Sam Cooke's "You Send Me". The Sam and Dave raveup "I Take What I Want" is also given a spirited treatment (with particularly great backup contributions from The Sweet Inspirations) and even the stuff that might be considered filler here ("Hello Sunshine", "You're A Sweet Sweet Man", "A Change") is top-notch.

Aretha had only one album release in 1969 -- Soul '69 -- and unfortunately, it's her first real misstep since revealing her greatness to the world. Overblown, fussy arrangements with a de-emphasis on pop and soul in favor of MOR-ish jazz just don't cut the mustard with me. It's still Aretha singing in her prime, so it's not a total disaster, but the well-known covers here ("Bring It On Home To Me" and "Tracks Of My Tears" in particular) are decidedly subpar interpretations and some of the song selection is downright ludicrous (I'm looking at you, "Elusive Butterfly". I mean, really? "Elusive Butterfly"!?) Ultimately, the biggest sin here is that this LP is just plain boring, something Aretha had never been on her previous Atlantic releases. Luckily, I have this album burned onto a CD with a bunch of leftover tracks from various sources, so once the album proper was over, I was treated to a bunch of good stuff not found elsewhere in my collection: her fabulous 1971 single "Spanish Harlem", her wonderful gospelized "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (one of the handful of truly great versions of that much-recorded chestnut), the totally kickin' and relatively unknown 1975 single "Hey Mr. D.J.", and her overclocked version of "Think" from the Blues Brothers soundtrack. (I know the Blues Brothers get a lot of flak, and rightly so -- I'm hardly suggesting their records are particularly worthwhile -- but it's not like the Blues Brothers Band weren't a bunch of ringers and Aretha really shines here. The same goes for the rip-snortin' version of "Shake Your Tailfeather" by Ray Charles, for that matter. But I digress...)

1970 saw the release of two Aretha LPs: This Girl's In Love With You and Spirit In The Dark. This Girl is a decidedly more laid-back affair than most previous Aretha, and frankly, it suffers for that. Her "Son Of A Preacher Man" pales in comparison to Dusty Springfield's, her "Dark End Of The Street" lopes casually for the bulk of its duration, only erupting into greatness near its end, and her one-two punch of Beatles covers -- "Let It Be" (which actually beat the Beatles version into the marketplace by nearly two months) and "Eleanor Rigby" -- is mostly pointless (particularly the latter, which has been covered by multiple R&B artists without ever justifying itself as a song worth covering in such a context.) There's a lot of soul here, just not as much fire as on her greatest stuff. The standout: an alternately slinky and explosive version of The Band's "The Weight", highlighted by some snakey Duane Allman guitar. A step up from Soul '69, but still not prime Aretha. Spirit In The Dark is preferable, IMO. It kicks off with a stunningly great version of the Ben E. King hit "Don't Play That Song" (it's one of my all-time favorites of hers) and a steamy version of what would become one of B.B. King's signature tunes, "The Thrill Is Gone" (B.B.'s version was also a 1970 release), showcasing her mighty piano chops. Elsewhere, Aretha turns in a great vocal on sister Carolyn's "Pullin'", and does right by the Jessie Hill/Dr.John-penned "When The Battle Is Over" (which again features some sizzling Duane Allman guitar.) Aretha herself wrote four of these tracks (which I think is her largest songwriting contribution to any of her albums) and while "You And Me" and "One Way Ticket" are mostly just (admittedly high grade) filler, "Try Matty's" really cooks and "Spirit In The Dark" is one of her finest compositions, nicely balancing her strengths and easily moving from ballad mode to full-on gospel fire.

1972's Young, Gifted And Black is even more laid-back than This Girl, but it's stronger overall. It kicks off with two absolutely gorgeous songs -- "Oh Me Oh My (I'm A Fool For You Baby)" and "Day Dreaming" -- before sliding into one of Aretha's most satisfying grooves on the fantastic "Rock Steady". The second side isn't as immediately pleasurable, although a stirring version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" is a highlight. Her gospel-ized version of "The Long And Winding Road" is a most noble effort, but it still remains one of McCartney's lamest-ever ballads, and there's also an interesting version of "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)", but it never really catches fire. But the album-closing "Border Song (Holy Moses)" is probably the definitive version of that Elton John classic, and it points towards the towering achievement of Aretha's real classic from 1972, the incredible gospel album Amazing Grace. Recorded over two nights in a church, and backed by a full-on gospel choir, Aretha's voice is as fine as it would ever be on this (expanded on CD) double-disc set which contains amazing versions of gospel classics as well as more contemporary material. This monumental recording would be the last truly great Aretha record and unless you just can't get behind religious music at all, should sit next to Loved A Man and Lady Soul in any comprehensive music collection.

Unfortunately, it's mostly downhill from there. In 1973, Aretha hooked up with Quincy Jones to produce Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky), a real mess of a record. It's a light-jazz inflected, funk jam disaster that really has little to recommend it. Every time a song starts to develop into something interesting, the fussy arrangements devour it and bury Aretha under so much production goop it's amazing she could still be heard at all. And depsite fewer interesting ideas than usual, the songs are some of the longest she'd ever record; 4 of these 9 tracks clock in at over 6 minutes and two of those are over 7! Boo! Aretha gets in some great piano licks here and there (and Billy Preston noodles aimlessly elsewhere), but this album's a wrongheaded disaster and not recommended to any but the most devoted fans. The lowpoints: a particularly bad version of Sondheim's "Somewhere" (Why, Aretha, why!?) and the ridiculous Manhattan Transfer-esque "Moody's Mood". Sister Carolyn's "Angel" is a well-loved single, but I think it's a perfect example of the overproduction which plagues this record (although I will grant that Aretha's vocal is superb, as it is elsewhere on this boondoggle. She's still the Queen, after all.) The CD reissue appends the minor hit "Master Of Eyes" but it's no better than the album proper. Avoid this one.

1974's Let Me In Your Life is still no classic, but it's a definite improvement over Hey Now Hey, if for no other reason than it contains the stunningly beautiful "Until You Come Back To Me". There are other pleasures here, though they're slight. As this is mostly still in the laid-back vein Aretha seems to have preferred since This Girl's In Love With You, "Every Natural Thing" sticks out as having a solid, if undistinguished, groove. Elsewhere, she wisely taps into her gospel roots eschewing the strained jazziness of her previous album. But a preponderance of ballads and lackluster production ultimately sink this thing.

Which brings us to Sparkle, a 1976 soundtrack/collaboration with Curtis Mayfield. Well, collaboration is probably too strong a word, as there's little here to suggest Aretha was anything but a hired gun. That said, while the only individual song which really pops is the deserving hit "Something He Can Feel", the LP works OK when taken as a whole. Aretha as background music, anyway. Not exactly Mayfield's crowning achievement either, and alas, the end of my interest in Aretha's recordings. (I've never heard a lot of what came later, so I'm not saying it's bad, but I suspect it ain't good, with the possible exception of her 1980s gospel album, because... well... gospel Aretha probably can't help but be good.) But before I go, there's two live albums to consider.

The 1968 live album Aretha In Paris is much better than its reputation, IMHO. A supercharged version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" kicks things off in high style (and is better than the studio version found on Aretha Arrives.) That's followed by a pair of good deep cuts from I Never Loved A Man and "Night Life", but as the album gains steam, it turns into a powerhouse greatest hits album, with only a brief detour into yet another unnecessary (and even more unispired) version of "Groovin'". Yeah, it's all a little rushed at times, but the band really cooks -- despite Jerry Wexler's insistence that they were horrible -- and Aretha's clearly having a blast. Replacing that "horrible band" in time for the generally overrated 1971 LP, Live At The Fillmore West, Aretha is here backed by King Curtis and the Kingpins, augmented by The Memphis Horns and Billy Preston on organ. But the all-star band, a few more years of hitmaking, and a pretty pointless Ray Charles appearance just don't add up to much in the way of excitement. "Respect" is fine and I'll always welcome Aretha singing "Don't Play That Song", but there's also "Love The One You're With" (the lyrics of which remain execrable no matter who the singer and what the context), another run-through of her dopey take on "Eleanor Rigby", a less-than-inspired version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water", and the whole mess closes with the schlocky "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)" for no particular reason. So don't listen to the review guides -- listen to me: Aretha was simply better in 1968 than 1971, so stick with the earlier album if'n you gotsta get some live Aretha.

Next up... why, Erma Franklin, natch.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby scratch » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:15 am

So with your interest in Aretha waning in the 1980s you may have missed--or simply tried to forget--her teaming up with Keith Richards for the title song to Whoopi Goldberg's movie Jumpin' Jack Flash on which Keith and Ron Wood performed. I think they're in her music video for the song, too, and they also issued a 12-inch 33 1/3 slab of vinyl with five different mixes of the song. It was produced by Keith with Steve Lilywhite engineering, so the sound is that sort of bombastic scratching and synthing sort of dub the likes of Lilywhite produced on other Stones remixes of the '80s. Kinda lame in that dino-rockers trying to sound hip way, and five versions* of studio noodling of the same song is more than enough for anyone, but an interesting (to me anyway) artifact of when Keith and Mick were feuding and trying to top each others' side projects.

*Album mix,
Street mix,
Street mix (Radio edit),
Master dub mix,
Beat dub mix.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Kyle Motor » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:57 am

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:Next up... why, Erma Franklin, natch.

Looking forward to this.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby minicat » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:34 am

Don't forget Carolyn.

I need to hear the Paris album ... pretty much agree with everything else in your assessment. (especially about the over-rating of the Fillmore album, which in its own way is as big a disaster as Hey Now Hey). However, I'd argue that despite the general dismissal by most critics over the years, there's some surprisingly good music in the Columbia years. Yes, the label wasn't quite sure what to do with her talent, but judging by her career as a whole, ultimately neither was Aretha.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Marvell » Mon Jul 14, 2014 11:37 am

See also Graham Parker's "Obsessed with Aretha." The version on that live album he did with the Figgs is a whole lot of awesome.

Yeah but when you hear Aretha singing on some advertisement
Or with a big fussy band on some hall of fame concert
She's still got the lungs and the dress and the stole
You might even say the girl's still got soul
But not that much no no no not that much
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Jul 14, 2014 12:04 pm

Kyle Motor wrote:
Prof. Wagstaff wrote:Next up... why, Erma Franklin, natch.
Looking forward to this.
Well, shit... you're not expecting as in-depth of a write-up I hope, given that my entire Emra collectin fits on a single CD.

minicat wrote:Don't forget Carolyn.
Not only did I have no idea she even had solo recordings and have never heard any of them, I don't own any. So there's nothing to forget. Perhaps I need enlightening? (I did give her a few props in my Aretha review...)

minicat wrote:... pretty much agree with everything else in your assessment. (especially about the over-rating of the Fillmore album, which in its own way is as big a disaster as Hey Now Hey).
I really don't understand why critics seem to get so excited about that Fillmore LP. Is it just that the idea of an Aretha-Ray collaboration is so exciting they can't hear past the fact that he's only on the record for but a handful of minutes? (One Rolling Stone guide literally has as its complete review of the album: "Live At The Fillmore finds Aretha in collaboration with Ray Charles.")
I'll loan you Paris when I see you later this week. I'll be curious to hear your take on it (and especially the band.)

minicat wrote:However, I'd argue that despite the general dismissal by most critics over the years, there's some surprisingly good music in the Columbia years.
Sure and true. But it's something I used to own on vinyl, never listened to, and so never picked up on CD. Do you ever actually pull that stuff out and spin it? (One or two songs from that era have shown up on volumes of my annual Christmas mix...)

scratch wrote:So with your interest in Aretha waning in the 1980s you may have missed--or simply tried to forget--her teaming up with Keith Richards for the title song to Whoopi Goldberg's movie Jumpin' Jack Flash on which Keith and Ron Wood performed...
Well, I know I saw that (dreadful, horrible, nearly unwatchable) movie back in the day, but yeah, I don't remember a damn thing about the music or the video you describe. But heck, it's gotta be better than Mick's romp through "Dancing In The Streets" with Bowie, as that recording (and accompanying video) necessitated a new, even more disparaging definition of the word "awful".
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby minicat » Mon Jul 14, 2014 12:22 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
minicat wrote:Don't forget Carolyn.
Not only did I have no idea she even had solo recordings and have never heard any of them, I don't own any. So there's nothing to forget. Perhaps I need enlightening? (I did give her a few props in my Aretha review...)


minicat wrote:However, I'd argue that despite the general dismissal by most critics over the years, there's some surprisingly good music in the Columbia years.
Sure and true. But it's something I used to own on vinyl, never listened to, and so never picked up on CD. Do you ever actually pull that stuff out and spin it? (One or two songs from that era have shown up on volumes of my annual Christmas mix...)


weeeelll ... Carolyn's albums I had were ok. I didn't keep them. The ones I had were on RCA from around '69-'70, and musically sound like they are on RCA from around '69-'70 (i.e., trying to be hip and landing kinda square). She's singing like crazy, so they're worth checking out if you ever run across them.

As far as Aretha on Columbia ... yeah, I've been picking the Columbia LPs up over the years as I find them and so far have been pleasantly surprised for the most part. I have kept all of those and gotten rid of Soul '69 and This Girl's In Love With You, if that tells you anything. (and, Fillmore, for that matter.) One thing with the Columbia material is hearing the albums in their original incarnations, rather than the many reshufflings and retreads Columbia issued after Aretha hit big. I think those are partly what gives that era's albums such a rep as being scattershot. The original albums shift between styles as the years went on but each is internally consistent musically for the most part. I mean, there's nothing as revelatory as I Never Loved a Man The Way That I Love You, but I can think of few '60s soul LPs that are.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Jul 14, 2014 12:55 pm

Well perhaps it's time for a reassessment of the Columbia Aretha on my part. It really has been at least a decade since I owned/listened to any of them (and I probably only had comps, not any of the original LPs.)
So do you have the Duane Allman Anthology album? Because if you don't, and you got rid of This Girl's In Love With You, then your collection is missing Aretha's version of "The Weight", which would be kind of a shame.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby minicat » Mon Jul 14, 2014 2:02 pm

Yeah, I have the two Duane sets.

I'll try and remember to bring you some Aretha.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Kyle Motor » Mon Jul 14, 2014 2:02 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
Kyle Motor wrote:
Prof. Wagstaff wrote:Next up... why, Erma Franklin, natch.
Looking forward to this.
Well, shit... you're not expecting as in-depth of a write-up I hope, given that my entire Emra collectin fits on a single CD.


I have a 45 or two of hers but haven't heard much more. The stuff I have is mostly written/produced by Bert Berns, which I'm a sucker for.

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
minicat wrote:... pretty much agree with everything else in your assessment. (especially about the over-rating of the Fillmore album, which in its own way is as big a disaster as Hey Now Hey).
I really don't understand why critics seem to get so excited about that Fillmore LP.


I honestly think it's a reputation thing with the Fillmore and boomers/hippies, probably pushed along by shit-nostalgia purveyors like Jann Wenner. That Humble Pie live LP at the Fillmore is garbage, yet gets raved about while the real live Humble Pie gem (this CD and other versions with different titles), recorded a couple years later at Winterland, is WAY better (much less aimless noodling/jamming, absolutely fierce sound, great soul backing vocals by The Blackberries, etc).
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Jul 14, 2014 2:18 pm

Kyle Motor wrote:I honestly think it's a reputation thing with the Fillmore and boomers/hippies, probably pushed along by shit-nostalgia purveyors like Jann Wenner.
I think you may be onto something here. And combined with the whole "Ray Charles + Aretha must equal magic!" notion, it neatly explains why this dud of an album is so often praised (although admittedly, it never gets the same raves that her best stuff did, so it's not like critics are misleading people into thinking it's any kind of masterpiece.)
However, the magic aura of Fillmore doesn't keep most critics from dissing the hilariously fantastic Zappa Fillmore East LP, so it's certainly not a magical guarantee of critical acclaim. And it's done nothing that I'm aware of for the reputation of this album:
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:23 am

The Project has been barrelling forward full steam the last couple weeks, so here's what's been up since the big Aretha jam.

ERMA FRANKLIN -- Her 1968 LP Soul Sister has a handful of killer tracks ("You've Been Cancelled", "Can't See My Way", a nice version of "Hold On, I'm Coming" and most especially, the sizzling hot "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)") plus a whole slew of filler. The very worst stuff here is terrible -- an atrocious "Light My Fire" and yet another endless slog through "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" (please see note at bottom.) But mostly it's just good-not-great late '60s soul. Her "Son Of A Preacher Man" is better than Aretha's (but still no threat to Dusty's) but she can't top her sister on "Baby I Love You" and she's no match at all for Stevie on "For Once In My Life". Her Golden Classics on Collectables is all over the map but filled with lots of pleasures, not the least of which being the song for which she is justifiably famous, "Piece Of My Heart" (and the copycatish "Open Up Your Soul" is better than most such follow-up singles are -- see Bobby Freeman below.) Her "Big Boss Man" is just OK, but "Baby, What You Want Me To Do" is pretty badass. It's also got a thoroughly charming version of an obscure Shirelles song ("Abracadabra", which thankfully ditches the goofy backups on the original) plus the pop-gospel punch of "It's Over". I've also compiled a few random tracks from various sources, the most notable being her 1961 girl group track "What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)". Erma had a fantastic voice sometimes underserved by lackluster material, but the best stuff is pretty top-notch.

THE FREAK SCENE/THE DEVIL'S ANVIL -- Where the heck did this come from? (Actually, I can tell from the price sticker that it came from MadCity Music circa 2011, but I have no memory of why I picked it up.) This disc has two albums by two completely different bands. The first, Psychedelic Psoul by The Freak Scene, is a load of hippie nonsense from 1967. ("Featuring Rusty Evans" declares the cover, but I apparently missed that day of class.) Beyond dated -- the Allmusic review goes to great lengths to paint this album as groundbreaking but I guess it has the misfortune of getting to my ears almost 30 years after I got into much better stuff because it didn't interest me at all. The second album is Hard Rock From The Middle East by The Devil's Anvil ("Featuring Felix Pappalardi" this time, which is possibly the explanation for why I bought it?) I'm not sure this qualifies as "hard rock" but apparently "from the Middle East" is legit, as these were Arab-Americans playing authentic instruments. I don't know nothin' from Middle Eastern music, but I hope it's generally more interesting than this drivel. Allmusic's review in the link raves about this LP, so this may be a case of me simply having a tin ear for ethnic music. Or maybe I just shouldn't have listened to it right after Freak Scene. Either way, this sucker is PURGED!

JOHN FRED & HIS PLAYBOY BAND -- With Glasses...The Very Best Of... has got to be more John Fred than anybody could ever want, right? I've always been a sucker for "Judy In Disguise", which is still delightful to hear on the radio a couple times a year, but that was a total fluke and didn't have much to do with the rest of his stuff (until it was a smash, of course.) This set initially shows Fred & Band as a pretty standard white-boy New Orleans-style R&B band, but with a lot of the rougher edges smoothed off. The Animals they ain't. Midway through, they start getting poppier with what passed for psychedelia among people who I presume never took drugs. It's not really an improvement. The best track here besides "Judy" is probably "Can't I Get (A Word In)" but overall, this is pretty much just ok background music.

FREE -- So. Fucking. Boring. I own Fire And Water strictly because at some point in my life, I guess I thought I needed to own "All Right Now". But I don't, 'cuz I hear it on the radio more than enough. Paul Rodgers had the greatest voice in the history of rock music that was never deployed on decent material or in a good band. (That's right, Bad Company rides the Boring Train to Fucking Dullsville too.) Simon Kirke is as square as drummers come and Paul Kossoff is simple, repetitive blooze bluster, which leaves poor Andy Fraser's busy bass to do the heavy lifting. (He fails.) I'd purge this but since it's a burn-job which can't be sold, there's really no reason to unless I run out of space on my rack, and I don't see happening any time soon. Note to bands who want to rock: Pick up the fucking pace once in a while! Yeesh! Listening to this actually made me a little angry... but mostly just sleepy. (There's a live version of "All Right Now" from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 appended to the burned disc I have and it's freaking dreadful. I mean, embarrassingly terribly horrifically bad. Seriously Free, you suck.)

BOBBY FREEMAN -- Pretty good late-'50s/early '60s pop/rock. I've got very little -- just this 12-track Collectables comp. and a couple stray tracks. He's obviously best known for the fantastic single "Do You Wanna Dance" but the majority of these tracks are fun, if slight, listening for fans of songs describing the latest dance steps. "The Mess Around" (not the Ray Charles song) is probably the best but there are a few clunkers, some of which definitely make me a little wary about exploring further. "S-W-I-M" is a lively enough followup to "C'Mon And Swim" but "She Said She Wants To Dance" takes the "let's revisit a hit" formula a little too far (it's exactly the same song!) and a couple of these are sunk by the ridiculous (though common for the time) backup vocals.

ACE FREHLEY -- His is easily the best from the Kiss solo album fiasco (though there are keepers on everyone's but Peter's) and it's much more than just the (fantastic) single "New York Groove". The one-two punch opening salvo of "Rip It Out" and "Speedin' Back To My Baby" kicks things off in high style, but the whole record is pretty damn solid and at least as good as nearly any proper Kiss album. Obviously, if you don't like Kiss-brand stoopid rock, you should adjust this review accordingly.

FRESH AIR -- This band's one and only LP, 1970's A Breath Of Fresh Air is a pretty solid, generally heavyish prog album with some folk leanings, packed with ornate organ flourishes and intricate basslines (and just a touch of cheesy flute, because 1970 prog-rock.) The lead-off is a fairly inspired funk-rock workout on "For What It's Worth" but for my money, the real standout is the rolling, dreamy "Somewhere A Mountain Is Moving" ("We're making love to the world with the music we sing!") Thanks for making this one available to me, Radioactive Records! You guys rock.

*Confession: I don't like ANY version of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". Its enduring popularity puzzles me to no end as it's a complete piece of dreck. And yet there was a time when everybody seemed to do a version of it, each duller and more lifeless than the last for the simple reason that it's a lousy stiff of a song to begin with. Sinatra apparently once called it "the greatest torch song ever written," which, given all the fantastic torch songs Sinatra sang, is one of the strangest things I've ever heard in my life. I feel exactly the same way about "Wichita Lineman", another song everybody on the planet seems to think is moving and poignant and nothing less than sheer genius that I think sounds like a freshman's creative writing assignment set to chords picked at random by dice-rolling.
Last edited by Prof. Wagstaff on Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Giant Wagstaff CD Listening Project Thread

Postby Kyle Motor » Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:20 am

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:ERMA FRANKLIN -- Her 1968 LP Soul Sister has a handful of killer tracks ("You've Been Cancelled", "Can't See My Way", a nice version of "Hold On, I'm Coming" and most especially, the sizzling hot "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)") plus a whole slew of filler. The very worst stuff here is terrible -- an atrocious "Light My Fire" and yet another endless slog through "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" (please see note at bottom.) But mostly it's just good-not-great late '60s soul. Her "Son Of A Preacher Man" is better than Aretha's (but still no threat to Dusty's) but she can't top her sister on "Baby I Love You" and she's no match at all for Stevie on "For Once In My Life". Her Golden Classics on Collectables is all over the map but filled with lots of pleasures, not the least of which being the song for which she is justifiably famous, "Piece Of My Heart" (and the copycatish "Open Up Your Soul" is better than most such follow-up singles are -- see Bobby Freeman below.) Her "Big Boss Man" is just OK, but "Baby, What You Want Me To Do" is pretty badass. It's also got a thoroughly charming version of an obscure Shirelles song ("Abracadabra", which thankfully ditches the goofy backups on the original) plus the pop-gospel punch of "It's Over". I've also compiled a few random tracks from various sources, the most notable being her 1961 girl group track "What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)". Erma had a fantastic voice sometimes underserved by lackluster material, but the best stuff is pretty top-notch.

Good to know. I'll keep my eye out for a cheapish copy of the LP and the rest of the 45s on the Shout label.

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:JOHN FRED & HIS PLAYBOY BAND -- With Glasses...The Very Best Of... has got to be more John Fred than anybody could ever want, right?

Most of his stuff I've heard is pleasant & likable, but not exactly memorable. "Judy..." is brilliant, but the dark horse is the b-side of the "Judy" 45. "When The Lights Go Out" is a JAM.

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:FREE -- So. Fucking. Boring.

That reminds me, I need to give my Free LPs one more shot then probably sell them. I want to like them really badly. I adore "All Right Now", but they don't seem to have anything else even close. I like how the band plays & sounds, but they never seemed to put together another complete, solid song.

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:ACE FREHLEY -- His is easily the best from the Kiss solo album fiasco...

A damn-near perfect album, so long as you don't care about really dumb lyrics, which you shouldn't with 70s hard rock.
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