The Velvet Underground: “Rock And Roll” (Loaded, 1970)

When I told my wife Lou Reed had died yesterday, we had this moment where I’m pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing: “That’s crazy. Lou Reed can’t die.”

That’s not a joke about him surviving his lifestyle in the 70s. It’s more the sense that Reed is so much a part of what the world looks and sounds like today that it’s hard to imagine all of it without him. He had a public image unlike anyone else—the dude was so cool that everything he did looked like a pose, but it was actually just him being himself.

Reed was never comfortable just being agreeable—he’d push back at interviewers and critics and pretty much never gave a stock answer or said what you figured he’d say. He could seem ornery for the sake of it, he intentionally made one of the most unlistenable albums ever produced, and he could be maddeningly inconsistent from project to project, but the underlying humanity of his work was never far from the surface.

I think that’s why “Rock & Roll” is my favorite Lou Reed song, with VU or otherwise. His songwriting was illuminating, and hell, it’s probably the only exposure a lot of people have had to drug culture, drag culture, and the thought processes behind modern art. This song ties all of that together without bothering to get into the details. 

"Her life was saved by rock and roll" is essentially autobiography—music was the thing that lifted Reed out of a life that included being forced into shock therapy to "cure" his bisexuality and put him in the driver’s seat. In some ways, the song seems light, almost a lark, but I think that everything else Reed ever wrote about is embedded within it. With VU, Reed was one of the people who did the most to stretch the definition of rock and roll, and I think that all the drugs and lives he wrote about were facets of his own definition of rock and roll. All of it was rock and roll. All of it was what saved him.

The girl in the song hears the music, and her life is saved. Reed claimed that rock and roll was his god, so salvation here can assume a sort of literal meaning if you want to read it that way, but I think there’s room in this song for anything, from a particular type of music to movies to painting to hiking to whatever else might be the thing that gives your life direction and meaning, to be your rock and roll, the thing that saves you.

Plus, it rocks. Long live Lou Reed.

The Johnny Otis Show: “Watts Breakaway” (Cuttin’ Up, 1970)

I didn’t hear about it at the time, but nearly a year, ago Johnny Otis passed away at age 90. He wasn’t a marquee name, so his death wasn’t widely reported, but he had a strangely huge influence for a musician so relatively little-known.

Born Iaonnis Alexandres Veliotes in 1921, he was the son of an immigrant grocery store owner. The store was located in a mostly black neighborhood of Berkley, California, and early in his life, Otis found himself identifying far more with the culture of his black neighbors than with mainstream America. He played drums in swing orchestras, crossing paths with Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young, and founded his own band as World War II came to a close—his version of “Harlem Nocturne” was among the most successful and best versions of the standard ever recorded. 

That band launched the career of Wynonie Harris of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” fame, and Otis had a hand in the rise of several other r&b stars, including Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Johnny Ace, and Esther Phillips. His own singles topped the US r&b chart four times—1958’s “Willie & the Hand Jive” is the most enduring of these—but he was never content with just leading a band and producing. 

He operated a handful of music venues during his life, the last of which was a hybrid grocery store/blues club, which I imagine would have made his father proud. He played sessions and wrote songs—he’s the drummer on Big Mama Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” and wrote “Every Beat of My Heart,” which was a huge hit for Gladys & Knights & the Pips in 1961. 

He dabbled in politics but never won elected office, though his brother Nicholas served as ambassador to first Jordan (under Carter) and later Egypt (under Reagan). He did A&R for King Records, and was a well-loved disc jockey during two different times of his life. He also pastored his own church for a while, an odd vocation for a guy who once recorded an album of pornographic songs under the name Snatch & the Poontangs.

He made that record the same year he recorded “Watts Breakaway” with his band the Johnny Otis Show. This song is infectiously funky, and even features a great, self-effacing exchange in which Otis asks vocalist Delmar Evans why he can’t do his own dance as well as the singer. 

Oh yes, and he was also the father of the great guitarist Shuggie Otis. Talk about a life. This guy lived it like it was going out of style. A full seventy years of doing what you love is something anyone could aspire to. 

Pink Floyd: “Embryo” (1970/07/16 Paris Cinema, London, Peel Session)

It’s pretty easy for me to know what the biggest event of 2013 will be for me: I’m going to be a father in June. My wife and I are a modern couple. We got married over ten years ago, and now, in our early 30s, we’re just getting to the parenthood phase. Seems like a lot of people I know are doing that (or waiting even longer).

Are we ready? Damn, is anyone ever really ready to be a parent? I don’t think it’s something you can ever fully prepare for. You read up on life stages and what to expect, but parenthood is still something that happens literally in an instant (hopefully not a terribly long one for the mother’s sake). One moment you are not a parent. The next you are. The nine months of pregnancy doesn’t ease you into it at all.

I’m looking forward to it. I’ll with deal with whatever happens. People ask me, “do you want a boy or a girl?” I don’t care. It’s not as though I’d value the child any differently if it were one or the other. I’d like a healthy child. But if there is some health problem, well, we’ll deal with that too.

We won’t know the gender for a few more weeks, but once we do, I guess I’ll start thinking about names and how I might raise that child in a way that helps them flourish. In the long run, that’s all I really want: for the child I have to have the best life possible for that child. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but I’ll try.

(Source: yeeshkulmk2)

And here is David Lynch’s The Grandmother in its entirety for those who’ve never seen it. 

Tractor: “Bonding Scene from The Grandmother” (The Grandmother OST, 1970)

Today, Mark Richardson reviewed the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Eraserhead for Pitchfork. He makes a lot of good points about the musicality of Lynch and Alan Splet’s sound design for that very strange, unsettling film. The Lynch/Splet partnership began seven years before Eraserhead was first shown to the public, though, when Lynch was still finding his way into film-making with shorts.

Lynch has said that he first got into filmmaking out of a desire to see his paintings move, and his first shorts, “Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)” and “The Alphabet,” quite literally follow this impulse. His longest film prior to Eraserhead was 1970’s The Grandmother, which is 33 minutes long, and is his first narrative film, though the surreal, heavily metaphorical content by no means lends itself to conventional storytelling.

The basic story is that a boy whose parents are alternately neglectful and brutal grows himself a grandmother to serve as a protector figure and a comforter in a world where he has neither. There are very few live-action shots; even the scenes where the actors perform are shot in fragments or frame by frame and then cut together into choppy animations. These scenes are intercut with nightmarish animations similar to the moving paintings of Lynch’s earliest films.

Lynch and Splet spent months developing the sound effects for The Grandmother, which has no dialogue. When the parents speak to their son, their voices come out as primitive, guttural grunts. All they can say is a back-masked “mon!” The grandmother whistles musically for the boy, and the foley is full of scrapes, thumps and strange, textural noises, many of them played at off speeds or backward.

And there is music, too. Lynch brought in a local band called Tractor to play on the soundtrack, and their contributions are woven into the sound effects to the point where they merge to become a single soundscape. The piece of music I’ve highlighted above begins about 22 minutes into the film, and it’s delicate and mostly unmolested by sound effects, a sharp contrast to the rest of the film’s soundworld befitting the only scene of true tenderness in the whole thing.

Eraserhead graduates to another level of film making, but a lot of the elements that make it so haunting were refinements of ideas first explored here, and that includes the sound design.

U.K. Prog, Volume 6: 1970b Wizarding (Notes)

This is the companion volume to Volume Five, featuring more music from 1970. One thing you might notice as you look over the tracklisting is that there are a lot of songs from self-titled LPs here. Bands were coming on the scene at a furious pace in 1970, from the high profile to the no-profile, and this volume captures a lot of that new talent.

Download the mix here.

1. King Crimson: Cirkus 6:29 

From the Island/E’G LP Lizard

King Crimson’s debut hit the British rock scene like the shockwave from a supernova, instantly changing the progressive rock game, but the band itself couldn’t stay together as the music it helped invent rose to prominence. Their second album was pieced together by a patchwork group of musicians, some held over from In the Court of the Crimson King, some new, and it didn’t really carry the band forward so much as keep its foot in the door. By late 1970, guitarist Robert Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield had managed to construct a new version of band with a sound just as distinctive, if not quite as mind-rending, as the first version. Fripp’s school friend Gordon Haskell, who would later have a decent career as a solo pop act, took over bass and vocals, and his bizarre baritone is part of what gives “Cirkus” its freaky carnival atmosphere. That and the wildly stabbing mellotron, odd lyrics and Fripp’s manic acoustic guitar runs.

I think Lizard is a generally overlooked album by the band, especially side one—Yes’ Jon Anderson was the guest vocalist on the side-long track that covered the flip, a guest spot that throws into relief just how much less accessible Crimson was than Anderson’s band. Crimson fractured again after this album and didn’t find relative stability again until 1972, when Fripp brought together the classic Bruford/Muir/Wetton/Cross version of the group. That band was a different animal entirely, one we’ll hear from on a future volume. I think this version was no less interesting.

2. Czar: Cecelia 8:21 

From the Fontana LP Czar

King Crimson (or perhaps more correctly, the idea of King Crimson) was a mainstay of 70s progressive rock in Britain; Czar was one of the many bands that gave us a single album and flew to pieces. They’d been together for about four years by that point, relentlessly touring under name Tuesday’s Children (they released six singles under that name, including the 1967 psych gem “Strange Light from the East,” plus another as Czar). The constant touring schedule didn’t let up when their name changed, and Czar was recorded in a hurry between gigs. Among the many groups they played shows with were King Crimson and the Moody Blues, and Bob Hodges’ Mellotron work certainly owes something to them, but he also gave his own voice to their music—the way he pairs his Mellotron parts with Hammond organ is fairly unique. The huge main theme of “Cecelia” uses the Mellotron very assertively on a faux-eastern melody to achieve the perfect kind of overload the band was striving for. It’s basic stuff, but sometimes basic is all you need.

3. The Ghost: In Heaven 3:23 

From the Gemini LP When You’re Dead - One Second

The Ghost was practically two bands on its only album, one a tame folk-pop group led by singer Shirley Kent, and the other a weird prog-psych band led by Paul Eastmont, a former member of Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Fogg. “In Heaven” has elements of prog, hard rock, and psych, all jumbled together, and when it hits its chorus, it has a character not dissimilar to a less polished Uriah Heep. The organ sounds left over from 1968, but I always loved that organ sound and kind of love that Terry Guy didn’t drop it in favor of the heavier Hammond sounds that dominated the early 70s—the song wouldn’t move nearly as well without such a light organ tone. Eastmont’s guitar solo is simple and direct, too—prog’s pop side can be just as enjoyable as its most difficult and ambitious sides.

4. Aardvark: Very Nice of You to Call 3:40 

From the Deram LP Aardvark

Aardvark only made one album, but it was a good one, covering a lot of ground. Its best highlight, “Very Nice of You to Call,” calls to mind a compact, complex version of Brian Auger’s jazz-rock. This was partly aided by the band’s lack of a guitar player—keyboardist Steve Milliner was the guiding force of the band musically, and though he certainly used it, he wasn’t entirely addicted to heavy organ sounds. His piano here is excellent, flecked with jazz phrasing but also comfortable with the occasional classically-inspired run. Aardvark originally did have a guitarist—Paul Kossoff was in the band for several months, as was drummer Simon Kirke, but both of them would leave before the band hit the studio to form Free with Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser. From then on, the group wasn’t much of a touring concern, which left them ill-positioned to follow up on this album. Our loss.

5. Fairport Convention: Sloth 12:18

From the Island LP House Full: Live at the Troubadour

This is cheating, a bit—House Full was recorded in 1970, and actually saw release in 1977, but it’s clearly representative of the music Fairport Convention was making in the wake of Sandy Denny’s departure. The song is simple enough, but it’s the long instrumental passage that follows that demanded inclusion here—this is one of Richard Thompson’s finest moments, and he doesn’t belabor the point, either, backing off just as his searing solo reaches its peak. What the band does next is nearly as interesting, playing through a very quiet breakdown that features tight interplay between Dave Pegg’s bass and Dave Swarbrick’s violin. “Sloth” was also featured in a similarly great but tamer and shorter version on the group’s 1970 studio album Full House, so I’m going with this one instead.

6. Atomic Rooster: Friday 13th 3:35 

From the B&C LP Atomic Rooster

“Sloth” is slow and languid and erupts in measured bursts; Atomic Rooster’s “Friday the 13th” is essentially the polar opposite of that, blasting in with a rapid-fire B3 riff and Nick Graham’s gruff vocals. Atomic Rooster formed in 1969, when keyboardist Vincent Crane and drummer Carl Palmer left The Crazy World of Arthur Brown to pursue their own project. They may as well have called it The Crazy World of Vincent Crane, as he was the only member of the band to play in every lineup, and his occasional bouts with manic depression sometimes interrupted the band’s momentum. Crane’s Hammond style was hugely influential, though, and even though his band slid down to prog’s second tier when it failed to find stability or sustained popularity, he was one of the architects of the genre. Palmer, for his part, left almost immediately after recorded the band’s debut to join ELP and never looked back. Graham also left, leaving Crane to assemble a completely new band for the group’s second album, which we’ll hear from on the next volume.

7. Web: Love You 5:35 

From the Polydor LP I Spider

Like plenty of prog bands, Web began in more of a blues mold, and actually had an African American singer, John Watson, for its first two LPs. They had hints of prog in their early sound, but it was after Watson and the band’s original bassist left that keyboardist Dave Lawson joined and they became a full-fledged prog act. “Love You” opens in a sort of prog-folk vein, but rather quickly turns in a doomy jazz-rock direction more along the lines of Colosseum. They’d take that direction further on their final album, for which they added a saxophonist and changed their name to Samurai. Lawson later wound up playing in Greenslade with Colosseum keyboardist Dave Greenslade.

8. Cressida: Depression 5:02 

From the Vertigo LP Cressida

Cressida released two albums of accessible, pop-oriented prog around the turn of the 70s before splitting. They’re often compared to the Moody Blues, mostly because singer Angus Cullen sounds a lot like Justin Hayward, but I don’t think the comparison is all that strong beyond the vocal similarity. Cressida keyboardist Peter Jennings used the organ rather than the Mellotron, and you can hear how loud and overdriven John Heyworth’s solo is on “Depression,” a sound that rarely reared its head on Moodies albums. Nonetheless, Cressida were a Vertigo band, and Vertigo rarely gave adequate promotion to its releases, so they never made much in the way of commercial inroads, and by 1972, most of the members had been absorbed into other bands.

9. Gracious!: Heaven 8:08 

From the Vertigo LP Gracious!

Sometimes the exclamation mark appears to be a part of this band’s name and other times it doesn’t. Either way, the two albums they made earn the mark; both are great examples of a minor prog band making inspired music. By the time they cut their debut, Gracious had a long history, having formed in 1964 at Catholic school under the name Satan’s Disciples. The recorded an unreleased concept album in 1968 about the four seasons, but it was after playing a show with King Crimson in 1969 that they found the sound we remember them by—keyboardist Martin Kitcat fell in love with Crimson’s Mellotron, and that was that. “Heaven” seems to recall the bands Catholic school roots, with majestic organ passages and choir-ish harmonies. One of the things I like most about this band is that they weren’t virtuosos and didn’t attempt to play as though they were. Alan Cowderoy’s sparing lead guitar parts are economical and melodic, without a hint that he’s getting beyond himself. If they’d found their way to a label that could have better promoted them, Gracious may have made a much bigger impact. As it was, they made one more album and were split up before it even came out.

10. Van Der Graaf Generator: White Hammer 8:16

From the Charisma LP The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other

Back on Volume 4, we heard Peter Hammill’s unique approach to love songs; this time, it’s his singular way with political content. Between 1969 and 1970, VdGG’s flute player, Dave Peach, left and was replaced by David Jackson, who also played sax and adopted a heavy sound on the instrument that nicely complemented Hugh Banton’s organ. Jackson gets in a raving freakout during the intense, heavy coda of “White Hammer.” For Hammill’s part, his lyrics are gleefully esoteric, referencing the Malleus Maleficarum (literally, “Hammer of the Witches”), a 1487 German treatise that seeks to prove the existence of witches and witchcraft, holding it up as an example of how a charismatically conveyed idea can lead to ruin and the destruction of innocents. Witches, wizards, demons, gnomes, fairies, ogres, and a host of other fantasy archetypes all made appearances in prog songs, but not quite like this. On Volume 5, we heard Affinity tackle witches in a much more straightforward way, following along with their recipe; here Hammill is talking as much about the real people who were needlessly executed as witches under righteous pretenses as he is about the possibility of magic.

11. Hawkwind: Hurry On Sundown 5:01 

From the Liberty LP Hawkwind

Hawkwind was an odd duck in the UK prog pond, sounding largely more of a piece with the German bands of the same era—they are in some ways the definitive UK space rock band. They also produced a handful of songs that helped define underground rock in the post-psych, pre-punk interim, and “Hurry On Sundown” is one of them. A lot of the band’s songs were built on hypnotic rhythms and a chord or two, but this one is unique for the way it doesn’t bother to dress up that dead simple structure with a lot of psychedelic guitar and electronic effects. There’s a little bit of guitar at the beginning that seems designed to mimic a sitar, and even some bluesy harmonica, but for the most part, Dave Brock’s lyrics about “looking into your mind’s eye” are left unadorned. These guys were far from your typical prog band, and you’ll hardly ever hear any kind of solo on their albums, but they captured the spirit of the age in their own way, and we’ll hear from them again later.

12. Rare Bird: Hammerhead 3:32

From the Charisma LP As Your Mind Flies By

We’ve already heard one example of Rare Bird’s particularly soulful take on early prog on Volume 3; “Hammerhead” is another example of the same, showcasing the band’s heavier side. This band was never subtle about the politics of its music, and “Hammerhead” is as bald an anti-war song as you’ll find, though they run their message through a heaping helping of flowery language to convey it. The band’s dual keyboard attack was still in effect at this point, and the way Graham Field and Dave Kaffinetti interact, setting buzzing organ against piano, or combining two distinct organ tones, is always interesting. This is borne out much more thoroughly on “Flight,” the twenty-minute track that occupies side two of the LP. Field left after this album, and the band’s sound changed significantly with the addition of guitars.

13. Quatermass: One Blind Mice 3:22 

From Harvest 1C 006-92383

Where Rare Bird addressed its lack of guitar by having two keyboardists, Quatermass, named for a BBC science fiction franchise, made due with just one, building a power trio sound around Peter Robinson’s overdriven organ and John Gustafson’s proto-hard rock vocals. Drummer Mick Underwood had played in Episode Six with Deep Purple’s Roger Glover and Ian Gillan, and Gustafson played in a later version of that group after Quatermass quickly dissolved in the wake of its lone album. That album is one of the finest examples of the blurry intersection between early prog and early hard rock, and in that respect, it’s a great companion to Deep Purple In Rock, the album Underwood’s former bandmates released that year—play this back-to-back with “Speed King” and you’ve got most of the continuum of the two genres as it stood in 1970.

14. The Human Beast: Maybe Someday 6:24 

From the Decca LP Volume One

The Human Beast were a trio from Edinburgh, and Volume One is a good album of late psych/early prog that’s unafraid to back off on the volume and let things breathe. This Incredible String Band cover lies at the heart of the album and is the album’s best track, in part because the songwriting is stronger than the group’s originals. It has a nicely desolate atmosphere, but the biggest treat is Gillies Buchan’s wah-soaked lead guitar playing—so many of these nth-tier prog bands features at least one guy who could play beautifully, and that’s one of the things that makes exploring the genre fun. The Human Beast broke up up after this album’s release and never made a Volume Two.

U.K. Prog, Volume 6: 1970b Wizarding

The companion to Volume Five, Volume Six rounds out the year 1970. Download the mix here.

1. King Crimson: Cirkus 6:29

2. Czar: Cecelia 8:21

3. The Ghost: In Heaven 3:23

4. Aardvark: Very Nice of You to Call 3:40

5. Fairport Convention: Sloth 12:18

6. Atomic Rooster: Friday 13th 3:35

7. Web: Love You 5:35

8. Cressida: Depression 5:02

9. Gracious!: Heaven 8:08

10. Van Der Graaf Generator: White Hammer 8:16

 11. Hawkwind: Hurry On Sundown 5:01  

12. Rare Bird: Hammerhead 3:32

13. Quatermass: One Blind Mice 3:22

14. The Human Beast: Maybe Someday 6:24

Volume One: Mix.  Notes
Volume Two: Mix.  Notes
Volume Three: Mix.  Notes 

Volume Four: Mix.  Notes.   
Volume Five: Mix.  Notes

UK Prog, Volume 5: 1970a The Hard Stuff

And away we go into the 70s. Honestly, the titles of these volume are afterthoughts, but I think “The Hard Stuff” works on a couple of levels. We’re getting into some of the music that real prog junkies value most highly, for instance, but in a much more real sense, the music is getting more complicated and requiring more skill to play effectively. This volume also explores a bit of the nexus between early prog and early hard rock, something I’ll be devoting an auxiliary volume to later. Download the mix here.

1. Emerson Lake & Palmer: The Barbarian 4:32
2. Curved Air: Vivaldi 7:33
3. T.2.: In Circles 8:38
4. East of Eden: Leaping Beauties for Rudy 7:02
5. Argent: Be Free 3:49
6. Skin Alley: Take Me to Your Leader’s Daughter 8:57
7. Yes: Astral Traveler 5:57
8. Beggar’s Opera: Passacaglia 7:10
9. The Move: Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited 7:42
10. Egg: Fugue in D Minor 2:50
11. Affinity: Three Sisters 5:00
12. Clear Blue Sky: Journey to the Inside of the Sun: a) Sweet Leaf 8:04
13. Titus Groan: Liverpool 6:04

Volume One: Mix.  Notes
Volume Two: Mix.  Notes
Volume Three: Mix.  Notes 
Volume Four: Mix.  Notes.  

Elias Hulk: “Nightmare” (Unchained, 1970)

As I’ve been gathering tracks for my upcoming UK prog rock mix series, I’ve been going through my heavy psych obscurities to see which ones might fit on one of the early volumes that explore the transition from psych to prog. This is one that didn’t make the prog mix cut, but I still love it in all its sloppy, nasty glory.

Elias Hulk were a short-lived quintet from Bournemouth, England, and their one LP, Unchained, actually shows a fair amount of range (it also sports a truly hideous, disturbing Incredible Hulk-referencing album cover). There’s one track called “Free” that features some really nice, spooky slide guitar, for instance. It’s the headlong garage-punk maelstrom of “Nightmare” that really stands out to me, though.

The way this thunders along with everything bleeding into the red, vocalist Peter Thorpe wailing about the “asylum of the self,” and that sort of charmingly amateurish drum break section in the middle works like some sort of checklist of what I’m looking for in heavy psych and early hard rock. Believe it or not, on other tracks, Thorpe sounds a little like the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward. 

Stuff like this is getting me excited about putting together this prog overview—I hope at least a few people enjoy it as much as I do. 

First Five On The Shuffle 2

Dennis Wilson: “Love Remember Me” (Bambu (The Caribou Sessions), 1978)

I’ve had Bambu hanging around on my hard drive for a long time but have never listened to it. So this is the first bit of it I’ve heard, and I guess I can see the potential of this material, but in execution, it’s pretty rough. There’s something innately powerful about the big, repeated chorus with all its layers—the phrase “love comes tumbling down on you” could be read a lot of ways, but Wilson’s fried lead vocal makes me think he’s either headed to a dark place or already there. It could have done without the bombastic lead guitar, certainly. It’s hard to reconcile this Dennis Wilson with the quite surfer and beach bum that he was in the 60s. He was the only surfer in the group when they formed, but died at 39, drowning while diving to find things he’d thrown off his boat. This is one of those recordings that just feels a little too close to someone’s personal deterioration for me to listen to comfortably.

The Louvin Brothers: “Don’t Laugh” (Handpicked Songs 1955-1962, 1955) 

Dennis Wilson’s life had its share of strife (I didn’t mention the chapter starring Charles Manson above), and strife was also familiar to the Louvin Brothers. Charlie passed away last year after a long, productive and pretty stable life, but the other Louvin Brother, Ira, was the complete opposite, a drunk who died in a car accident in 1965 after being married to four women, one of whom shot him after becoming fed up with his abuse. Together, they made some really great music, and “Don’t Laugh” is a really fine song. Recorded in 1955, it wasn’t released until 1968; my mp3 is from Light in the Attic’s recent Louvins compilation, and it was chosen for the set by the Byrds’ Chris Hillman.

Cortijo y Su Nuevo Combo: “Tum-Bin” (Champions, 1975)

Rafael Cortijo was a Puerto Rican percussionist about whom I know very little aside from his origins and the fact that he lived from 1928 to 1982. Oh, and that this is a bright and fleet-footed song with great horns and a totally infectious rhythm. My mp3 has “salsa” as the genre, but I think a more correct tag would be bomba, though I’m not really an expert on Puerto Rican styles and could be wrong—it’s just that salsa’s more of a catch-all term than a true genre designation. Anyway, that’s hand-wringing. This is hip-shaking.

Pink Floyd: “The Amazing Pudding” (Broadcasting From Europa 1 bootleg, 1970)

Ah, yes, “The Amazing Pudding.” This is really just another title for the “Atom Heart Mother Suite,” and is usually applied to versions played only by the four-piece band, without the choir and the horn section. Generally, I like these versions more than the orchestral/choral ones, because one of the best things about Pink Floyd in the late 60s and early 70s was their improvisatory inventiveness and the way they made the same six or seven pieces of music into something different each night. They always sound hamstrung playing with that orchestra and choir, but these four-piece versions of that piece of music open right up. This is one of the very best recordings of “The Amazing Pudding,” taped for radio broadcast in France at the Theatre Champs-Elysees in Paris on January 23rd, 1970. I love what Rick Wright does with those ponderous horn parts when he transposes them to the organ. Incidentally, the Broadcasting from Europa 1 bootleg also includes an orchestral version of the suite and is worth tracking down (it’s available on quite a few blogs).

The Ventures: “Western Union” (Super Psychedelics, 1967) 

After sixteen minutes of Pink Floyd’s monumental take on psychedelia, I get a little bit of whiplash taking in the Ventures’ bouncy idea of the same thing. Really, this just signals that the Ventures were groping for a way forward as psychedelia passed them by. Which is not to say it doesn’t have its brightly colored charms, because it does (really, it’s like a sonic equivalent of a Runts dispenser). The Ventures were past their prime when they recorded this, they were still a good band,and this is fun stuff to have around.

Hear these tracks here.