Get Thy Bearings

Being somewhat antiquated on the technology tip I find myself just now getting my head wrapped around the process of making mix c.d.'s.  I pretty much have it together, though I still miss the hands on feel of a done in real time mix tape because it allows much more freedom for in the moment inspiration.  With c.d.'s I either have to plot the whole thing out in advance or just import a bunch of stuff and then slowly arrange it. Overall the process feels a lot more sterile and I can't stick, say a little part from a record, like the my sweet Satan bit from ´Stairway to Heaven' spun backwards (it's really there kids!) or the stage patter from Kiss Alive II in between songs. But I'm not here to gripe about the good old days or the bad new ones.  It's great to have a seemingly more permanent and readably useable (amazing how few folks have tape decks these days) artifact in the mix c.d..  What I want to do is run through a recent mix c.d. made for my friend Matthew that I'm particularly pleased with. I don't want to get caught up in definitions of what qualifies as folk rock, after all it hardly matters, but I should mention that this compilation was partly inspired by my recent reading of Richie Unterberger's Turn! Turn! Turn!: The 1960's Folk-Rock Revolution.  The book isn't great, I find Unterberger's prose style rather boring, but it's a solid and well researched history of the development of the genre.  So without further ado here tis'!

1) The Left Banke- Walk Away Renee
- Baroque pop is the term that those who traded in the marketing schemes of the day used to describe the sound of the Left Banke.  Whatever you want to call the genre, this is simply one of the most beautiful pop songs of all time. There's a short film from the mid-60's that utilizes this song as the soundtrack, but the name of both the film and filmmaker are unfortunately lost to me.  I saw the film as part of a retrospective on American Avant-Garde Film from the 1950's and 60's.  If anybody knows the name, please get in touch.

2) Jackie De Shannon- Needles and Pins
- De Shannon was an underrated songwriter and quite a fine singer to boot.  She made a number of proto folk rock recordings prior to her big hit ´Put a Little Love in Your Heart'.  She didn't write Needles and Pins  though, it was written by the great Jack Nitzche and the not nearly as great Sonny Bono.  I dig the Searchers cover of this song, but De Shannon's got a gutsier voice that ultimately makes this the version of choice.  The Ramones also did a credible cover.

3) The Beatles- No Reply
- John Lennon, the best pop/rock singer ever in my humble.  One of the best writers as well, as this, the opener from Beatles for Sale clearly demonstrates.  Their album cuts were stronger than most bands singles.  And once more for the record: not liking something because it's popular is as silly as liking something because it is popular.   Anybody interested in song craftsmanship can learn a lot by sitting down and figuring out the changes to almost any Beatles song.  It ain't usually a I IV V affair to be sure.

4) The Byrds
- Set You Free This Time- This track is probably my favorite Gene Clark song.  Clark was the strongest writer in the Byrds, but sadly left the band after their first two albums and the groundbreaking Eight Miles High single.  We can only wonder what might have been?

5) The Buffalo Springfield- Do I Have To Come Right Out and Say It
- Another case of what might have been if only the volatile and talented members of this band could have stuck it out a little longer, instead we got CSN and Poco, but then again we also got Neil Young's solo career, one of the saving graces of 1970's commercial rock music.  This is one of Neil's songs (the strongest writer in Buffalo Springfield) sung very sweetly by Richie Furay, who reportedly made the girls swoon on the regular.  It works so well that it's hard to imagine Neil's voice delivering these sentiments as convincingly.  Their first album is THE one to get.

6) Bobby Dylan- It Takes a Lot to Laugh but it Takes a Train to Cry
- If you've heard the earlier unremarkable versions of this song you know that this is one of Dylan's most amazing hat tricks, taking a half baked song with little melody and somehow, with his ultra sympathetic session men, turning the song into a totally magnetic slow blues number.  His lyrics are often at their most compelling when he drops the word play and writes in a simple straight ahead fashion:
Don't the moon look good mama, shining through the trees
Don't the brakemen look good mama, flagging down
the Double E
Don't the sun look good going down over the sea
But don't my gal look fine when she's coming after me
Course you also need to hear the way he drags out the words ´coming after me!'

7) Donovan- Get Thy Bearings
- Good God, the drums on this are just massive, hip-hop years ahead of the curve.  Mickie Most produced some great and thoroughly modern sounding records (at least in terms of drums sounds). This is more of a groove than a song, but what a groove!  Leitch gets loose like only a Scotsman can over a fat drum break, stand up bass, a little acoustic guitar and some nice jazzy horns.

8) The Godz
- Neet Street- This is from Godz III and illustrates the low-fi folk side of the Godz, as opposed the noisy crazy a fuck side.  Neet Street is silly and utterly euphoric, with its vocal imitation of a jew's harp and the great slide into a shakey falsetto on lines like ´to be loving as easy as a one, two, threesy'. These guys would be huge today, or at least receive as much as acclaim (hype) as whatever the latest anti-folk or whatever its called, platter from N.Y.

9) The Jefferson Airplane- My Best Friend-
Pretty much across the board I prefer 60's LA bands to their San Fran counterparts, but having recently listened to Surrealistic Pillow for the first time in ages I was reminded that there was a lot of nice semi-folky stuff on that album. Here the Airplane sounds like some divine combination of the Lovin' Spoonful and the Mammas and Pappas.  Also on the album is a haunting song called Today, which Black Sheep sampled for Similak Child, ahh hip-hop, but this here is folk rock dad!

10) The Lovin' Spoonful- Full Measure-
Pure feel good music in the best, read least Hollywood, meaning of those words.  Only a beautiful old crank like Nick Tosches could hate the Lovin' Spoonful.

11) Love- No Matter What You Do
- See a piece I wrote for Tangents titled Pop Art Politicians for how strongly I feel about the first Love album. I think I made a mistake in choosing the mono version over the stereo here, as the Byrdsy guitars come through stronger in the stereo version.  Just suffer Matthew.

12) Nico- I'll Keep it with Mine
- Nico covering Dylan on her debut lp Chelsea Girl.  It's strange now to think of the Velvets and the Factory crowd speeding their paranoid brains out and cultivating hatred for Dylan and his own equally as ruthless and bitchy amphetamine paranoia crew.  I mean two nice Jewish boys like Dylan and Reed should have been sharing loxs and cream cheese on rye, preferably prepared by Phil Spector.  Anyway the two have a mutual admiration society going these days, so all's well that ends.

13) Simon and Garfunkle
- Punky's Dilemma- I'm not a huge S&G fan but I can dig their overall sound in little doses.  This isn't a particularly strong song, but its finger snaps and corn flakes kind of prepares the way for our next track.

14) Syd Barrett
- Gigolo Aunt- No one did acid damaged folk like Syd, I guess cause he invented it.  If you know where he lives, leave him alone.

15) Donovan- Hi, It's Been a Long Time
- Leitch gets a little nasty with a lady here, though nowhere near the ´irresistible rancor' of prime Dylan.  Still it's a bit unusual to here Donovan doing a little of his own put down on some poor earth mama witness ´hi its been a few years you're looking down, dragged as any hippie should be in our hippie town.'

16) Buffalo Springfield- Flying on the Ground is Wrong
- If you say so Neil. At least three of Young's contributions to the first Springfield album seem to catalogue bad trips he'd taken.  Poor guy was also known to have epileptic seizures on stage before he got on medication.

17) The Beatles- Tell Me What You See
- Ahhh, it's just so good, particularly the electric piano over the heavily panned drum break.
Just suffer Alistair.

18) The Left Banke- She May Call You Up Tonight-
 Another perfect pop song, with a twist on the usual relationship song. In this one a guy is shook cause he's been telling lies in order to keep the girl he likes away from his buddy and he's afraid that she's gonna get the truth from the source.  Oh the tangled web we weave.

19) Tim Buckley- Buzzin' Fly (live)-
I find the majority of Buckley's material pretty intolerable as his vocal histrionics wear on my nerves, but I like most of the Happy Sad album and this live rendition of what I guess is the closest he ever had to a hit, is quite nice.

20) Bob Dylan- Tom Thumb Blues-
Bobby Neuwirth supposedly came up with the opening line.  This might be my favorite Dylan tune and the piano playing on this and the whole Highway 61 Revisited album is just so right on.  I met Bobby Neuwirth at a SXSW Film screening of Don't Look Back.  He was nice, but when I tried to talk to him about Tom Wilson and the Velvets he just wanted to go on about Wilson putting that electric backing on Sound of Silence, which I guess is cool but you know nothing compared to White Light White Heat, not to mention his work with Dylan.  Anyway Tom Wilson is a neglected figure in the history of music, even if he just allowed things to happen in the studio naturally, what things did happen due to his laissez faire attitude!

21) The Them- It's All Over Now, Baby Blue-
The electric piano from this was sampled by Beck on his Odelay album, I think the song was called Jackass.  It's a sublime part that gives chills and as always there's great vocal by Van Morrison.  This, along with Solomon Burke's cover of Maggie's Farm, is in the upper echelon of Dylan covers, up there, where the air is rarified. Unterberger's book loses points by the way by not raving about Burke's take on Maggie Farms

22) Neil Young- The Losing End-
From Neil's second and perhaps best album, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.  Listen to his phrasing in this one, its rather unique.  'It's so hard to make love pay, when you're on the losing end, and I feel that way again'.

23) Fred Neil- That's the Bag I'm In (live)-
Best known as the composer of Everybody's Talkin' and the Dolphins.  Neil was blessed with a deep rich voice, so where most would go up for notes, he goes down to an even lower register.  John Sebastian has pointed to the casual conversational feel of Fred Neil's lyrics as something that he himself aspired to.  The story goes that Fred wrote this one quickly in a car on the way to his publisher in order to get some money to score.  My favorite line ´they'll probably drop the atom bomb the day my ship comes in, you just can't win, cause that's the bag I'm in'

24) The Byrds- She Don't Care About Time-
Another great Gene Clark tune.  McGuinn's guitar solo quotes Bach's ´Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' to lovely effect.  Along with the Velvets, the Byrds were easily the greatest American band of the 1960's.

© 2003William Crain