Warren Zevon – Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon - Warren ZevonIt wasn’t a concept album, although it just as well could’ve been. 11 songs about the dark, seedy underbelly of Los Angeles and its inhabitants make up this eponymous album by Warren Zevon, his first release for a major label (although he released his first album, 1969’s Wanted Dead Or Alive prior to this). Not only does the album recall California lyrically, but the sidemen and guest vocalists read like a who’s who of the music scene in that area: Jackson Browne, Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Bonnie Raitt and Carl Wilson just to name a few.

The album starts off with “Frank And Jesse James”, a song about the various exploits the two brothers ran into and setting up the scene for the rest of the album. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” notes on Zevon’s wild lifestyle with a keen sense of irony. “The French Inhaler” tells the tale of a woman down on her luck while waiting for that one big break in Hollywood. “Mohammed’s Radio” talks about the impact music can have when there’s nothing else to turn to, with lyrics that eerily hit home even today (“You work all day/you still can’t pay/the price of gasoline and meat/alas, their lives are incomplete”).

The album closes with “Desperados Under The Eaves”, a stark look at the hopelessness that pervaded throughout the rest of the album. Here, Zevon delivers his immortal refrain: “And if California slides into the ocean/like the mystics and statistics say it will/then I predict this motel will be standing/until I pay my bill”. But while multiple harmonies sing “Look away down Gower Avenue…”, one feels that there may be a glimmer of hope, no matter how small, still left to discover in this forlorn urban landscape.

4 out of 4Although not well received upon release (it barely scratched the Top 200), Warren Zevon has since become known as one of Zevon’s finest outings as a songwriter. All the songs here are tightly written with nary a clunker or throwaway, containing copious amounts of Zevon’s trademark wit and humor. It remains catchy without being “radio-friendly”, and set the stage for his career as one of the best songwriters of his day. This album should not be missed.

Order this CD

  1. Frank And Jesse James (4:33)
  2. Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded (2:53)
  3. Backs Turned Looking Down The Path (2:27)
  4. Hasten Down The Wind (2:58)
  5. Poor Poor Pitiful Me (3:04)
  6. The French Inhaler (3:44)
  7. Mohammed’s Radio (3:40)
  8. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2:56)
  9. Carmelita (3:32)
  10. Join Me In L.A. (3:13)
  11. Desperados Under The Eaves (4:45)

Released by: Asylum
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 37:45

Isao Tomita – The Planets

Isao Tomita - The PlanetsAlso known as The Tomita Planets, this is Japanese synth whiz Isao Tomita’s rendition of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Tomita used no traditional acoustic instruments, but did lean somewhat on the traditional arrangement. Opening with a bit of vocoder-and-synth “babble” to set the mood, Tomita launches into an energetic “Mars, The Bringer Of War” which appropriately now sounds like it belongs to the space age.

The same treatment is delivered on the other pieces in the suite, with “Venus: The Bringer Of Peace” and “Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity” getting an especially spacey treatment; the synth work on “Mercury: The Winged Messenger” dates it a bit, but for something recorded over 30 years ago, the whole thing still manages to sound futuristic. In places you might even catch a hint of the synthesized “whistle” sound which Tomita also used on what is arguably his most famous recording, Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1”, also known as the theme song for Jack Horkheimer’s PBS stargazing show.

Of the outer planet pieces, “Saturn, Bringer of Old Age” and “Neptune, The Mystic” are the real highlights; “Saturn” ticks away like a time bomb with a synth “tick-tock” motif and flanged synths a la Jarre or Vangelis. “Neptune” has long been my favorite part of The Planets – I’ve always felt that it may be the most spiritual piece of music that anyone in the western world has ever composed (take that, Handel!) – so I was eager to see what Tomita would do with this particular segment. For the most part, “Neptune” sticks almost slavishly to the traditional arrangement, allowing enough wiggle room for some interesting changes in emphasis and “instrument” balance.

3 out of 4Overall, Tomita’s rendition of The Planets is interesting, a fascinating listen, but I can’t help but feel that there one could go further “out there” with arrangements and instrumentation, further afield from the orchestral arrangements that we’re all so used to. Other interpretations by folks like Rick Wakeman and Jeff (Musucal Version of War Of The Worlds) Wayne have also failed to break out of the orbit of the orchestral Planets. I know that there’s only so far one can go without actually changing the music itself, but within that limitation, I don’t think all the possibilities have been fully explored. Tomita does a good job, but The Planets could probably stand up to more intense, offbeat exploration.

Order this CD

  1. Mars: The Bringer Of War (10:58)
  2. Venus: The Bringer Of Peace (9:20)
  3. Mercury: The Winged Messenger (4:37)
  4. Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity (9:22)
  5. Saturn: The Bringer Of Old Age (8:41)
  6. Uranus: The Magician (2:14)
  7. Neptune: The Mystic (6:49)

Released by: RCA Victor
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 52:01

Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

The very first album by the team of Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson and their various and sundry cohorts, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe – the album – was originally intended to be known as The Alan Parsons Project. It was only when radio DJs needed an artist/band name to latch onto, and a second album was in the works, that the Project became the name of this new musical entity. One gets the impression, though, that for those involved, Tales remains the favorite project, despite the wider success of later Project albums like I Robot and Eye In The Sky. With no studio pressure to highlight a specific vocalist even if their voice wasn’t right for the song, with no precedent or road map for what they were doing, there was no real boundary for Parsons and Woolfson to adhere to while making Tales. Their first album may well remain the best expression of what the two were trying to do. Part prog rock, part film-score-for-a-movie-that-never-was, there hasn’t been anything like Tales since.

The 1987 disc, which had already been digitally remastered 20 years ago, doesn’t seem to be noticeably remastered any further except to make it louder. (A tangent here: I sometimes wonder if cranking up the audio level and risking signal-flattening compression isn’t the real essence of a lot of modern-day “remastering”. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but it’s something I wonder about.) Everything still sounds good.

The first bonus track is a series of excerpts from the album’s vocal songs featuring guide vocal tracks by Eric Woolfson. Recorded to give the songs’ actual guest vocalists an idea of how to approach a given song, what these guide vocals may demonstrate most effectively is that Woolfson doesn’t have a voice for every occasion; “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” just aren’t for his voice. “The Cask Of Amontillado” and “To One In Paradise” fare better with Woolfson vocals, but ultimately other people sang them on the finished recordings, and sang them better. Also interesting is how closely the backing tracks resemble the final recordings – there are only minor differences.

The complete reel of Orson Welles’ spoken-word introductions, interstitial pieces (not all of which were used) and the copy for the radio spots advertising Tales is included, and it’s an interesting listen. There just aren’t too many voices like Welles’ anymore, and the finished radio spot is included in its full glory on the 1976 disc. To the ears of the iPod generation, phrases like “a record album that will live in your memory forever” are either meaningless or ironically humorous; to the ears of someone like me who actually bought this album on vinyl once long ago, it brings a bit of a sad smile.

Even further afield than the radio spot is a section of sound effects, placed within the context of one movement of “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which has the listener walk through a sinister creaky door…and into a busy airport terminal full of sea lions and sheep. The liner notes are pretty clear that this was never meant for prime time, but was assembled by the producers for their own amusement at the time.

The first disc wraps with “GBH Mix: Unreleased Experiments”, revealing bits and pieces of what I suspect are several abandoned songs, including one that would’ve set “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” to music. There’s an incredible disparity between the handful of musical ideas here, and while the liner notes claim that the ragtime-esque portion that opens this track was a step on the road to “Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether”, I’m just not hearing it. Very strange stuff.

The 1976 disc presents Tales as it was originally released in 1976, minus the Orson Welles narrations and the various retouches and remixes done for the 1987 remastered edition. Again, this edition of Tales had already been remastered and re-released (by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, no less, in a limited edition that became a top-dollar collectible like many of MFSL’s re-releases), so it sounds as good as the more recent version.

The first bonus track accompanying the 1976 album is an early, early, early demo of “The Raven”, lacking fully formed lyrics or just about any of the production signatures that would come to be sonically associated with the Project – primarily because the demo pre-dates Parsons’ involvement. About 5/6 of the melody of “The Raven” as finally released is there, but the lyrics are barely recognizable, a bit ranting, and aren’t helped by Woolfson’s strained attempt at hard-biting rock vocals.

The next unreleased track, an Eric Woolfson demo called “Edgar”, is something that the record company strongly urged (i.e., in no uncertain terms) Woolfson to leave off the album, and for once, the suits were right on the money here. While the rest of Tales is derived from Poe’s actual works, “Edgar” would’ve been a piece of conceptual cotton candy amidst the Grand Guignol, something better suited to Woolfson’s stage musical work than to this album. It’s hard for me to really explain why this song doesn’t work, except to say this: instead of being based on one of Poe’s works, “Edgar” is obviously about Poe, and as such it does the musical equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. It’s so lightweight and fluffy that it would’ve been at odds with virtually the entire rest of the album. It’s interesting to hear it as a kind of deleted scene, but yeah, this had no place on this album.

Bringing things to a close is a vintage interview, dating back to Tales‘ original release, with Parsons and Woolfson, discussing – among other things – who came up with the idea of a Poe-centric album, how many musicians (and therefore how much money) were involved. File this one under “interesting time capsule” along with the Orson Welles voice-overs.

4 out of 4With the silly-going-on-insane prices commanded by the Mobile Fidelity re-release of the original Tales, this 2-CD set is easily worth the price of admission to hear both versions of the album, and the selection of bonus material is enlightening. As much as I admire Eric Woolfson’s songwriting chops, “Edgar” and some of “GBH Mix”‘s more bizarre segments make it very clear that Woolfson needed someone to help organize his sonic ideas and restrain some of his more frivolous music hall moments that might’ve been fine on stage but would’ve sabotaged a progressive rock album. Perhaps more than any of the other remasters, Tales makes it clear why we now know this musical entity as the Alan Parsons Project.

Order this CD

    1987 Version

  1. A Dream Within A Dream (4:13)
  2. The Raven (3:57)
  3. The Tell-Tale Heart (4:39)
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado (4:33)
  5. (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:21)
    The Fall Of The House Of Usher
  6. I. Prelude (7:01)
  7. II. Arrival (2:39)
  8. III. Intermezzo (0:59)
  9. IV. Pavane (4:36)
  10. V. Fall (0:51)
  11. To One In Paradise (4:54)
  12. Eric’s Guide Vocal Medley (9:14)
  13. Orson Welles Dialogue (3:08)
  14. Sea Lions In The Departure Lounge: Sound Effects And Experiments (2:38)
  15. GBH Mix: Unreleased Experiments (5:22)
    1976 Version

  1. A Dream Within A Dream (3:41)
  2. The Raven (3:58)
  3. The Tell-Tale Heart (4:42)
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado (4:28)
  5. (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:19)
    The Fall Of The House Of Usher
  6. I. Prelude (5:52)
  7. II. Arrival (2:41)
  8. III. Intermezzo (1:03)
  9. IV. Pavane (4:34)
  10. V. Fall (0:52)
  11. To One In Paradise (4:40)
  12. The Raven (Original Demo) (3:27)
  13. Edgar (Demo Of An Unreleased Track) (3:04)
  14. Orson Welles Radio Spot (1:03)
  15. Interview With Alan Parsons And Eric Woolfson (1976) (8:33)

Released by: Island
Release date: 2007
1987 disc total running time: 63:05
1976 disc total running time: 56:57

Logan’s Run – music by Jerry Goldsmith

Logan's Run soundtrackJerry Goldsmith’s music for Logan’s Run may prove to be just about the only element of the movie that had stood the test of time while still winning almost unanimous praise. Granted, I’m quite the fan of the movie itself, but it’s hard to deny that Goldsmith may have done a better job of painting the film’s emotional curve than the director did.

There are essentially two components to the score: a three-note theme for the futuristic city dome, and a more expansive melody for Logan’s burgeoning romance with Jessica. While the love theme may be more pleasant on a pure listening level, I find that it’s that city theme which I focus on, on an intellectual and structural level. Goldsmith puts those three notes through so many different permutations that it’s fascinating – in rapid-fire succession, the three notes form the electronic sound that opens the movie, as well as the orchestral figure that eventually overshadows it. But it’s also at the heart of the Carousel music, the nursery music, everything. Both structurally and musically, it’s pure genius.

Once the movie reaches its halfway point, the electronics disappear as Logan and Jessica leave the city behind and venture into the outside world. The city theme still follows them, though, now accompanying pursuing Sandman (and Logan’s former friend) Francis in the form of a low menacing orchestral reading of the same theme. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit – the characters’ first glimpse of the outside world is treated with one of the most beautiful pieces of music Jerry Goldsmith ever wrote. It’s that good.

The complete score is heard here, in chronological order, including cues that were shortened or left out altogether due to trims that had to be made to reduce the movie’s nudity to a level where it would get a PG rating and not an R. Also included is a pop instrumental version of the love theme, though I was around when this movie first came out, and I certainly don’t recall hearing that hitting the radio airwaves at the time.

That’s the CD – but the CD is only half the package. This is the first disc I’ve bought from Film Score Monthly Magazine’s ever-growing selection of limited-edition soundtrack CDs, and as impressed as I’ve always been with the magazine itself, the CDs may well be even better. The detailed liner notes that accompany the CD do a fantastic job of putting the film and its music in context, and then goes through the score track-by-track, cue-by-cue, offering detailed analysis of each piece of music and its place in the complete score. Thematic elements and development, rhythm and structure are all analyzed in depth, but not to a degree that the layman can’t follow along. I was almost hesitant to offer any analysis of the score in this review at all, for fear that I’d wind up parroting the liner notes, but if anything, those notes helped draw my attention to the nuances in Goldsmith’s work all the more. If this is indicative of Film Score Monthly’s other CD offerings (and, judging by the fact that releases of other soundtracks such as The Omega Man and The Towering Inferno have already sold out, I’d guess that it is), I’ll be visiting their store more often and I heartily encourage you to do 4 out of 4the same.

In short, the music from Logan’s Run is a treat, and the added bonus material is a nice, deep dish of tasty, tasty gravy that heightened my enjoyment of the music quite a bit. Highly recommended!

Order this CD

  1. The Dome / The City / Nursery (3:05)
  2. Flameout (3:23)
  3. Fatal Games (2:26)
  4. On The Circuit (3:49)
  5. The Assignment / Lost Years (5:59)
  6. She’ll Do It / Let Me Help (2:41)
  7. Crazy Ideas (2:38)
  8. A Little Muscle (2:22)
  9. Terminated In Cathedral (1:28)
  10. Intensive Care (3:00)
  11. Love Shop (3:43)
  12. They’re Watching / Doc Is Dead (2:45)
  13. The Key / Box (4:22)
  14. Ice Sculpture (3:35)
  15. The Sun (2:15)
  16. The Monument (8:12)
  17. The Truth (2:03)
  18. You’re Renewed (2:58)
  19. The Journey Back / The Beach (1:36)
  20. Return To The City / Apprehensions (2:30)
  21. The Interrogation (3:58)
  22. End Of The City (2:23)
  23. Love Theme from Logan’s Run (2:27)

Released by: Film Score Monthly
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 74:18

Argent – The Argent Anthology: Greatest Hits

The Argent Anthology: Greatest HitsFormed by former Zombies frontman Rod Argent (and named after himself), Argent is one of those bands who carved its niche in rock history with a tiny handful of hits. Two of those songs, “Time Of The Season” and “Hold Your Head Up”, are common reference points for fans and musicians on the modern-day power pop scene. The latter of those two is a true pop anthem, and that song alone is worth the price of the entire CD (which I suppose is easy enough for me to say, since it’s really a bit of a budget release). Argent’s music is heavy on the electric organ fetish that a lot of early 1970s power pop seemed to have, as well as many a funky bass line. Sometimes that works, and other times it doesn’t. I love “Hold Your Head Up”, and even though I’ve heard “Time Of The Season” so many times that I’m positively sick of it, I’ll give it points for being an excellent arrangement and decent song. I don’t remember “Tragedy” getting a great deal of airplay, Rating: 3 out of 4but it’s probably my favorite of the lesser-known songs in the collection.

The Argent Anthology is a nice collection, but it points up a couple of things: sometimes the one- or two-hit wonders happen because the band in question is a one-sound wonder. But few pull that off as well as Rod Argent and company did.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Hold Your Head Up (6:17)
  2. Liar (3:14)
  3. Pleasure (4:54)
  4. God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You (6:45)
  5. It’s Only Money Part I (4:06)
  6. Thunder And Lightning (5:09)
  7. Tragedy (4:48)
  8. Time Of The Season (6:37)

Released by: Epic
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 41:50

Electric Light Orchestra – Live At Winterland, 1976

Electric Light Orchestra - Live At Winterland, 1976This classic concert recording, only recently given its own CD release, certainly humbles me a bit. Some time back, in my review of ELO Part II’s One Night live album, I asserted my belief that the original ELO – limited by the number of musicians and the technology available to them at the time – could never hold a candle to ELO Part II on stage. Now, after hearing this concert recording from the early stages of ELO’s superstardom – well over a year before Out Of The Blue was released, and not long after the album containing “Strange Magic” and “Evil Woman” debuted – I have to admit that this isn’t necessarily true.

Jeff Lynne and company seemed to be in tune and in the spirit for a great performance at this 1976 gig, and since it falls so early in the band’s career, it highlights some of their best early material, including a medley of several tunes from 1974’s excellent Eldorado album. Material from the very first album also appears here, something that would fall by the wayside in only a couple of years as crowds began to request nothing but recent hits; “10538 Overture” is combined with the Move’s “Do Ya” (remember, this concert took place before “Do Ya” resurfaced on A New World Record) for a hard rock medley. “Fire On High”, “Poker” and “Nightrider” – all from what was, at the time, ELO’s most recent album – are also handled wonderfully on stage. I did notice that bassist/backup singer Kelly Groucutt took the lead with the vocals a 4 out of 4number of times, something that he didn’t get to do again until the band broke up and reformed.

So I suppose I have to retract my earlier statement about the original ELO on stage. The band’s enthusiasm for their material here easily outshines any technological limitations that could have hindered anyone’s enjoyment of the music, and it’s a must-have for any serious ELO fans.

Order this CD

  1. Fire On High (5:28)
  2. Poker (4:02)
  3. Nightrider (4:37)
  4. Showdown (4:43)
  5. Eldorado Suite (13:14)
  6. Strange Magic (5:07)
  7. Medley: 10538 Overture / Do Ya (5:27)
  8. Evil Woman (4:39)
  9. Ma-Ma-Ma Belle (6:37)
  10. Roll Over Beethoven (6:38)

Released by: Eagle / Edel
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 60:34

Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record

Electric Light Orchestra - A New World RecordIt all started here. This was the first ELO album – in fact, the first rock album – ever given to me; my older brother introduced me to this one on 8-track when I was around five or six years old, and it pretty much set the pattern. Having only heard some of my mother’s easy listening records and the only album I truly had to my own name – John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack – I immediately gravitated toward this rock music that sounded like it had a heavy-duty soundtrack incorporated into it, and I have favored that kind of music since. That could, in fact, best describe the kind of music I love the most – something that, if it never has been played by any sort of classical instrument, sounds like it could easily translate to that medium and sound majestic. Where this album specifically is concerned, though, it contains one of my favorite rock songs of all time, “Mission (A World Record)”, a very unusual, dark piece of music with mournful lyrics that seem to be sung from the vantage point 5 out of 4 starsof aliens observing life on Earth. Most people will be more familiar with this album’s singles, “Telephone Line”, “Livin’ Thing”, “Rockaria!” (another favorite, a humorous hard rocker that pays tribute to several classical composers) and “Do Ya”. This is my favorite ELO release from the 70s, and my favorite rock album, period. I just haven’t heard it get much better than this.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Tightrope (5:03)
  2. Telephone Line (4:38)
  3. Rockaria! (3:12)
  4. Mission (A World Record) (4:26)
  5. So Fine (3:55)
  6. Livin’ Thing (3:31)
  7. Above The Clouds (2:17)
  8. Do Ya (3:44)
  9. Shangri-La (5:34)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 36:20