Thursday, December 13, 2012

Z is for Zebra

Looks like we made it! This took way too long; as a result, I'm abandoning the "DVDz from A to Z" series I was planning as a follow-up. I'm looking forward to finally posting some of the great stuff I keep talking about that sits in my Drafts folder: a piece about Estes model rockets, some new suggestions for inspirational movie clips at sporting events, and something titled "Calling All Nipples." Thanks for reading!

Dan Zanes - Cool Down Time
I've mentioned this fine record before, I believe. An album with well-written songs, expert musicianship, and smooth production, which distinguished it from 90% of the music I was listening to in 1995.

Frank Zappa - "Peaches en Regalia"
I'm listing this as a separate entity from Hot Rats because: 1) I traded in my Hot Rats CD for beer money in Providence, and 2) I'm a proud owner of the "Peaches en Regalia" CD3 issued by Ryko in 1987. This rare "mini-CD" release is one of the more valuable items in my collection, and I-- Well, looks like you can find it at just about any price you want at Discogs, eBay, Amazon, etc.

Either way, I love this song. They used to play it VH1's New Visions around 1986/87 all the time, along with lots of crappy "new age" and smooth jazz stuff. If you got lucky, you might catch a Lounge Lizards track or even Al Di Meola's "Sequencer" video, which was almost fair compensation for enduring hours of Spyro Gyra and Yellowjackets clips. 

Zebra - Zebra (1983)
If you threw up grew up on Long Island in the 70s/80s, you probably knew about Zebra. If you aren't familiar with the Cajun-cum-Commack trio, they were a cover band that finally got a deal and made a good record, then a not-so-good record, and then a record I've never heard, and apparently made one more that I just learned about. If I were actually a member of Zebra, I'd simply say, "OK, so we're just a derivative mixture of Led Zeppelin and Rush, but we're really fucking good at it!!! And since there's only three of us, we make shitloads of money playing the clubs!"

Someday will my son will wear this.
To be fair, I really loved my Zebra cassette. "When You Get There," "As I Said Before," and "Don't Walk Away" are as good as the bigger hits, and the bigger hits are really darn good. Watching the follow-up, No Tellin' Lies, hit the cut-out bins in real time was almost as depressing as actually listening to the album itself (except "Wait Until the Summer's Gone" and "Bears," I guess). At least they were on MTV for a while there.

*WAIT!!! Look at this incredible cruise concert on Zebra's site! Yes, U.K., Tangerine Dream, Saga, Carl Palmer, Nektar, and Zebra??!!! I feel seasick already...

John Zorn - Naked City (1989)
"Eh, excuse me... I believe this record should be categorized as an 'N' release, since Naked City was an actual band."
"Perhaps you're right (whoever you are), but in case you haven't noticed, the Zs are a bit lean in the artist department."

I'm certain that I've never successfully played this recording from start to finish when I wasn't alone. At least not that I can recall.

ZZ Top - Degüello (1979)
This is the ZZ Top record I've listened to more than any other. I used to crack myself up when I'd sneak "Manic Mechanic" onto a respectably indie rockish mix tape back when people still made mix tapes. Maybe we stopped making mix tapes because it was such a pain in the ass for people to fast forward past songs like "Manic Mechanic." I used to crack myself up thinking about the recipients of my mix tapes having to fast forward past songs like "Manic Mechanic." Again, I've listened to Degüello more than any other ZZ Top record.

ZZ Top - Eliminator (1983)
I'm told that I once declared that Eliminator "was the Kick of its time." This bizarre and ridiculous statement surely requires an explanation.

First, I was referring to the 1987 INXS album. This is immediately problematic, since 1983 and 1987 are chronological next-door neighbors by most standards; many older people would have difficulty making clear distinctions between the two "eras." But one can also argue that popular music in 1983 did sound different than popular music released in 1987, so let's move on.

If I meant that Eliminator and Kick each featured remarkable runs of hit singles that were unprecedented for their respective artists, then maybe I had a point. In hindsight (which is the only way I can interpret or understand many musical claims I made in the 90s), I was probably referring to the fact that both bands incorporated sequenced rhythm tracks to a greater degree than on previous recordings. I'm also pretty sure I was riffing on some slurred comments another friend once made about Kick, but that's beside the point. I stand by what I said.

I love when something I say seemed really stupid at the time, but actually turns out to be only a little stupid.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Y is for Yanni

"I complete you..."
Yanni - Live at the Acropolis (1994)
This clearly goes down as one of the Seven Wonders of World Music. God! I used to love watching this and Tribute on PBS on a slow night. Like an elite few artists (Zeppelin, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kris Humphries...), Yanni is at once sublime and absurd, mighty and mortal, profound and fucking stupid. Features the brilliant percussionist and music therapist Kalani.

Yazoo - "Don't Go" (1982)
"Holy shit, that sounds kinda like Keith Emerson! Whoa, that's definitely not Greg Lake singing! Jeez, these drums sound much tighter than Carl Palmer's and don't seem to be fluctuating in tempo! This is definitely not E.L.P.!" -me, in 1982

Yello - "Bostich" (1980/1981)
I didn't exactly know about this seminal cut by Boris, Carlos, and Dieter back when it was released, but I recall being fully aware of the influence (both direct and indirect) that European electronic music seemed to be exerting on the development of hip hop. I also loved going to Baskin-Robbins.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - "Computer Game" (1979)
That makes three electro/synthpop tracks in a row! So I used to take lessons at the L.I. Drum Center, and the first guy I had was all about chops and pretty much nothing else. I told him I didn't want to do paradiddles every week, and I was immediately reassigned to the "weird" guy they had on staff. My new instructor was awesome-- we bonded on Allmans, Jeff Beck, and Tangerine Dream (true!). Soon he started inviting me to jazz fusion shows in Queens (?), adding that we could see some friends of his before the show. I'm pretty sure he was into Sri Chinmoy, but... Oh yeah! He was really into Yellow Magic Orchestra too. Cool dude.

Too bad I drunk-dialed him on my birthday in 1993 (along with my grandmother and at least two girls much closer to my age) and slurred about my Tama kit that I was still playing and my Zildjians and record deals and all sorts of bullshit. Embarassing and ill-advised.

Yes - The Yes Album (1971)
scenario #1
THEM: "Fragile is the best Yes album ever made."
ME: "Well... The Yes Album is pretty darn good, too! In fact, I'll argue that it's more consistent than Fragile. Not a weak song on there, although "Perpetual Change" mostly succeeds due to one of the more insane moments in the group's entire catalog near the six-minute mark. "Starship Trooper" might be my favorite Yessong ever, you dig?! The triumphant "Würm" rises like a slow-motion psychedelic leviathan from the Atlantic, leaving Led Zep and CSNY treading in their respective acoustic tidepools. And of course, "Your Move" is one of the great singles of the early 70s."

scenario #2
THEM: "The Yes Album is the best Yes album ever made."
ME: "What are you, fucking crazy??!!!"

Yes - Fragile (1972)
If The Yes Album is pleasant, ambitious psychedelia, then its successor Fragile is a rocky trip on some speedy but strong acid Fragile is a bit more challenging than its predecessor, which is somewhat ironic considering its popularity. It's insane that we used to hear "Roundabout" all the time on the radio, right?! Fragile is certainly the best sounding Yes record (unless you're a friend or relative of Trevor Rabin), and I'd say the most daring as well (unless you consider how in the world they dared to release something as lousy as Tormato). I can listen to "Long Distance Runaround" at any imaginable moment under any possible circumstances and love it dearly. While "LDR" is supremely visionary in the halls of prog, "Heart of the Sunrise" has very, very few peers when it comes to sheer musicianship. Only three examples are coming to mind at the moment, and only one isn't by Rush or Al Di Meola.

Too bad most of the rest of the cuts stink. The bass guitar and guitar "showcase" tracks are the only ones I'll even consider listening to, so just put on the second side and cut your losses.

Yo La Tengo - President Yo La Tengo (1989)
This was the first thing I bought by the hobos from Hoboken, and boy did I like it. I liked their next record too, but it seemed just a little bit boring compared to the one before it. I liked their next record too, but it seemed just a little bit boring compared to the one before it. I liked their next record too, but it seemed just a little bit boring compared to the one before it... You get the idea.

As their records became more and more boring, my behavior at their shows became more and more outrageous. I've been thrown out of at least three Yo La shows, all in different clubs for different reasons: 1) throwing up on bar and trying to order another drink right away, 2) falsely lumped in with group of people that were heckling James McNew, and 3) extreme intoxication. Hey! I've also seen them lots of other times and behaved like a perfect gentleman, so back off.

Neil Young - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
Somehow this was never one of my favorite Neil albums, even though I'd consider nearly every song it contains to be among my favorites. I'm an asshole.

Neil Young - After the Gold Rush (1970)
This is the one that really blew my mind. I still believe that the entire album is from outer space, with the exception of "Southern Man." I added the exception when I introduced my theory at a party years ago, knowing that wisdom on the fringes usually needs to be reeled in a bit for the masses. Point is, the album is extraordinary.

Neil Young - Tonight's the Night (1975)
One of the first Neil records I owned. Honestly never thought it was that depressing until I was old enough to puke from drinking, and even then I could still rock out to it. OK, I've never danced to "Tired Eyes," but I've sure as hell boogied down to the likes of "Lookout Joe" a few times. Just a few tracks shy of a freaking party album.
Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
This has always been my favorite, start to finish. "Thrasher," "Pocahontas," "Sail Away," and "Powderfinger" are every bit as important to me as protein, baseball, prescription drugs, and crossword puzzles. Can't count the number of times I reached for this one when nothing at all sounds interesting.

Neil Young - Ragged Glory (1990)
I was crawling in the swamps of grunge when this baby dropped, and it was damn fine to finally remember how to walk again. Neil and crew had good songs, took their time without wasting it, and had fun. One of the best album intros ever.

YoungBloodZ - "85" (1999)
Lord, did I groove to this joint when it came out... The whole "Southern rap" thing was either totally happening (for most of us) or totally played out already (for Southern hipsters), but who gives a shit?! This song was IT for me, even more than Outkast. Funny, since Big Boi delivers the bomb verse of the whole tune, somehow avoiding a single downbeat for the duration. Spacejace, you still out there? You know you loved this one!