Tag Archive: half price books


Sweet Baby James

I’ve referenced it before on this blog, but when I was a wee little boy mi madre had this big wood paneled console stereo that had a turntable, an 8-track player, and a radio.  And I used to love to stand and watch the records spin for hours at a time.  But I also loved the 8-track player because it had these red lights that would indicate which track was playing, and there was always this big mechanical thunk every time it switched tracks.  Sometimes that big thunk even happened mid-song.  Well, most of mi madre’s albums were on vinyl, but JT was on 8-track.  And I remember hearing “Fire and Rain” at a very young age, and realizing it was a great song even then.

Fast forward several years to my high school days, and scamming BMG for as many free CDs as possible.  JT’s Greatest Hits package was one of those free CDs, and it made the trip with me down to Olde Columbus Towne when I started college.  The Artistic One and I were rooming together in Lincoln Tower, and despite the fact that we were trying to be tragically hipster and listening to lots of Nine Inch Nails mixed with heavy doses of The Doors and the Beastie Boys, we would frequently put JT on the stereo when we wanted to hear something soothing.  I think the Artistic One’s parents had exposed him to JT in his youth as well, and it was something that took us both back to simpler times when all hell was breaking loose around us in the dorm.

Fast forward a few more years, and in my first year of teaching in Newark, Ohio (pronounced Nerk by the locals) and there was a large section of 70s pop tunes in the choral music library.  So I found an SATB arrangement of “Fire and Rain” and I started to teach it to the 8th grade choir.  Well, it had taken awhile to win these kids over, but they had genuinely grown to like me.  But they hated this song at first.  Like truly hated it.  But then I tried to explain to them that it had meant something to me when I was younger and they gave it a shot.  And then some urban legend developed that this song reminded me of an ex-girlfriend who had died, which was totally untrue, but it motivated the kids so I never completely denied it, and the kids got real good at it and it wound up on our spring concert.  Hey, whatever works, right?

So yeah, I make fun of JT a bit for being about the only dude in the whole California folk-singer/songwriter movement of the early 70s.  And it does seem like he shoes up for guest vocals on a lot of his ex-girlfriends records from that era (and apparently Carole King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” as a response to “Fire and Rain”).  But the truth is I dig JT, and especially this album of his, quite a bit.  He was discovered by the Beatles and was one of their first signings to the Apple music label, and if the Beatles dug it, it gots to be good, right?  I picked this album up at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue for $4.99.  The case was broken, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I switched it out, and now it sits proudly on my CD shelf.  If only I could find an 8-track copy…

Other lists: “Fire and Rain” is ranked #227 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  JT is ranked #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #84 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its initial ranking of #103 (we are still feeling the aftershocks of the meteoric rise of Kid A).

My favorite track: “Fire and Rain”

Honorable mention: “Sweet Baby James”

Quote: “People live from day to day, but they do not count the time.  They don’t see their days slippin’ by…and neither do I.”

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Fresh Cream

Wow.  Other than playing lead on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the White Album, this is Clapton’s first true appearance on the List.  As prolific as he’s been for the last 50 years, I’m kinda surprised it took this long to run into a Clapton album.  Of course, living here in the Capitol City, there are always rumors of Eric Clapton sightings.  Supposedly his most recent girlfriend-turned-wife is from around here, and it seems like everybody but me has seen him doing laundry in the German Village or taking in a local rock show at the former Thirsty Ear.  The more recent stories say he has a large house out in Dublin where he stays when they visit family, and apparently he fancies some sushi restaurant up on that side of town.  I don’t know if any of these stories are true or not, but it is a cool urban legend to have one of the most influential guitarists of all time hanging out in your city.  Although, I wonder when he visits he feels weird being only the second greatest guitarist in Central Ohio, after the great great Willie Phoenix, of course…

I kid.  I don’t mean to take anything away from Clapton.  He is one of the all time greats.  His playing is lyric and bluesy, and he doesn’t rely on any gimmicks or effects…he just plays.  This is Cream’s first album, and I went into it expecting some phat riff rock along the lines of “Sunshine of Your Love”, but instead its a mashup of psychedelic originals and blues covers.  And honestly, I don’t really dig the psychedelic stuff (it pales in comparison to the Beatles and the Doors and other masters of the genre), but the blues stuff is really great…covers of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, some of the best that ever was.  Cream was one of the first supergroups, but I’m not sure they had really gelled musically yet at this point.  Ginger Baker’s drumming is powerful, Jack Bruce’s bass playing is tight and his harmonica solos are bluesy, and of course Slowhand’s leads are nearly flawless, but somehow it feels as if they are all competing against each other rather than playing together as an ensemble.  I guess I’m just being critical…it’s definitely a good listen.   I picked this up for $6.99 at the Half Price Books out on Brice Road one day after work this last school year, and it was worth the price of admission.

Other lists: Eric Clapton is ranked #2 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists and #55 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.  Ginger Baker is #3 on the recent list of the 100 Greatest Drummers, and the band Cream is #67 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists (to my knowledge, Rolling Stone has not done a list of bass players yet…nobody loves the bass player).

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original position at #101.

My favourite track: “Spoonful” (which was not actually on the original U.S. album release)

Honourable mention: “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”

Quote: “Sweet wine, hay making, sunshine day breaking.  We can wait till tomorrow.  Car speed, road calling, bird freed, leaf falling.  We can bide time.”

This Year's Model

“Yes he was alright, the song went on forever.” — Z. Stardust

So it’s been awhile.  Four months actually.  New job.  Grad school.  Life.  It all adds up.  But my new year’s resolution is to get back to posting.  So here we go again.  Still a little sad over the passing of the Man Who Fell To Earth a couple days ago.  But the show goes on and here we are with a British rocker who I’m sure was influenced by Bowie, Elvis Costello.  Well, some Bowie, and a lot of Buddy Holly’s personal style, and of course Elvis Presley’s first name (I suppose if my birth name was Declan Patrick MacManus, I would think about changing it too).  So the leader of the new wave is a combination of several different influences.  My first Elvis Costello album was actually given to me by ma soeur about 20 years ago…it was a CD copy of “My Aim Is True”.  I listened to it a few times, but it really wasn’t my thing at the time.  Then, when I was teaching middle school, I remember doing a unit on Costelllo in general music when he was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.  The kids hated it.  But I picked up a greatest hits album at Used Kids so I could play “Radio, Radio” in class.  And about that time it started to notice how much airplay he got, and still gets, on the local independent alternative radio station here in the Bus, CD101@102.5.

As such, I guess I would consider Costello to be one of the fathers of alternative rock.  And for that reason I dig his place in music history.  However, this album, which I picked up for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue, is a little too new wave for my taste.  It’s the over use of synthesizers that bugs me most, which I suppose is hypocritical of me since “Radio, Radio” and its big synthesizer hook is my favorite song on the album.  And “Pump It Up” also works with the synthesizer over a very strong “My Sharonaesque” beat (actually, I think “Pump It Up” came first, so maybe “My Sharona” is “Pump It Upesque”…and what about that Escape Club song from the late 80s “Wild, Wild West”, which pretty much rips off “Pump It Up”).  Anyhow, I wish this album were a bit punkier and more guitar driven.  But I suppose if the new wave had never happened in the 80s, alternative rock would never have happened in the 90s, and then we’d all be a bunch of angry metal heads waiting for the next Disturbed album to come out, and who really wants to be that person?

Other Lists: Elvis Costello is #80 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favourite track: “Radio, Radio” (I am still going to count it even though it was only on the American release of the album)

Honourable mention: “Pump It Up”

Quote: “I wanna bit the hand that feeds me.  I wanna bite that hand so badly.”

#80: “Imagine” by John Lennon

Imagine

“Things were different then.  All is different now.  I tried to explain.  Somehow.”, EV, Hard to Imagine (1993)ish

Edward Louis Severson III recently covered the song “Imagine” at a solo show and in doing so he called it “the most powerful song ever written.”  He’s 100% right.  Beautiful, yet controversial, the song “Imagine” is John Lennon’s masterwork.  One of the rare pop songs that truly makes a person think, “Imagine” offers a glimpse of what the world could be if the human race could ever remove the barriers the separate us (specifically: religion, politics, and material possessions).  Sure, it’s a utopian ideal, but it never fails to make me wonder if I could live without those things, let alone whether the rest of the human race could live without them.  And that is the ultimate power of the song for me…it’s more than just a vision, more than just a dream…it’s a challenge to be a better person.  To be a little nicer.  To be a bit more open to others.  To respect diverse cultures and people.  To be less judgmental.  A powerful song indeed, and it’s all wrapped up in a perfect little 3 minute pop tune with a beautiful melody and a simple piano accompaniment.

The rest of the album is pretty great too.  The yin to Plastic Ono Band‘s yang, Imagine offers the same honest, and at times scathing, look at the world, but sugar coats it in the pop music sensibilities John mastered when he was a part of that other band with which he was once associated.  The result is much less stark than Plastic Ono Band, even if the message is largely the same.  All in all, it’s an attack on the establishment, with John eviscerating business men on “Crippled Inside”, the military on “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”, politicians on “Gimme Some Truth”, and Paul McCartney on “How Do You Sleep?”.  Yet, despite the anger, he still finds time for some honest self-reflection on “Jealous Guy”, “It’s So Hard”, and “How?”, and at the end he is even able to show just a glimpse of happiness in “Oh Yoko!” (and yes, despite her, ahem, eccentricities, Yoko made John happy [most of the time]…and she also inspired him to take his artistry to a whole new level in his solo career).  Top to bottom, the album is a masterpiece, and second in my mind only to Plastic Ono Band in the John Lennon catalogue.  Actually, these two albums were the highwater mark in John’s solo output, as sadly his next several albums were largely forgettable, but that is a story for another time and page…

As much as I like this record, I only picked it up a couple of years ago.  I was heading home from a road trip to the great northern coast and I found it for $7.99 (minus my 10% discount for being a beacon of truth to the underprivileged youth of America) at the Half Price Books in Mentor.  Actually, that Half Price Books always seems to have a great selection of John Lennon albums (I’ve picked up Shaved Fish and Live in New York City there, among other titles).  Why?  Because Northeast Ohio people get it.  Well, most of them do.  Or at least a few.  Anyhow, this album has been in my rotation ever since, along with the rest of the John Lennon catalogue.  I’ve pretty much decided he was the most important musical artist ever, and I will always thank mi madre for spinning Double Fantasy non-stop when I was a kid and the Whiskey Saint for spinning this album and Plastic Ono Band and the Great Ranch in Trumbull Township during my formative years.  As a lyricist, Lennon’s only peer is Bob Dylan.  As a vocalist, he ranks up there with both the great rock and rollers and the great balladeers.  And as a political activist, he did more for the good of the human race than any other artist I can think of (even you, Bono).  Power to the people, right on.  Lennon was the real deal, and obviously it’s a tragedy that his life was cut so short.  For the past year I’ve put together a collection of every solo album, live album, and compilation album (there are a ridiculous number of these), and even the few books he wrote.  The Princess says I am obsessed, but my goal is to make a page dedicated to Lennon on this blog sometime in the near future.  Anyway, it’s something to look forward to, I hope 🙂

Other lists:  “Imagine” is #3 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the very first post on this blog (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) for a list of John Lennon’s other RS accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album also dropped four spots from its original position at #76 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favourite track: “Imagine”

Honourable mention: “Gimme Some Truth”

Quote 1: “I don’t wanna be a soldier mama, I don’t wanna die.”

Quote 2: “I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.  All I want is the truth.”

Quote 3: “Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

 

 

Led Zeppelin II

So 3 out of the last 11 albums have been Zeppelin records.  That’s a pretty good run.  So far I think only the Beatles, Dylan, and the Stones have as many records on the list.  Good company.  And it’s a good thing I dig Zep.  After writing about the first Led Zeppelin album, I went on a Zep spree and picked up all of their classic albums.  This was one I found at one of the local Half Price Books (I think it was the Lane Avenue store) for $6.99 (minus my 10% discount for inspiring the youth of America).  And it’s probably right up there with Zep I as my two favorite Zeppelin albums.  I think Jimmy Page was at his bluesiest when Zep first started, and I just love the dirty electric blues guitar riffs on this record, especially on “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker”.  And even though Robert Plant seemed busy writing sleazy innuendos on just about every song, he takes a break from the sexual metaphors to throw in his first Tolkien reference when he tries unsuccessfully to rescue a girl from Gollum in the “darkest depths of Mordor” in the song “Ramble On”.

Page and Plant also managed to write a pretty tender ballad in the song “Thank You”.  That was a song I actually discovered through Tori Amos back in college when I was going through a Tori phase mostly thanks to the Drama Queen.  The Tori version was on her “Crucify” single, which also featured stellar covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the Stones’ “Angie”.  When Tori covers a song, she completely reworks it (another incredible Tori cover is her version of “Losing My Religion” on the Higher Learning soundtrack), but on “Thank You” she is surprisingly faithful to the original.  And speaking of covers, on the With the Lights Out boxset (which is honestly a mostly terrible compilation), there is a cover of “Heartbreaker” done by a very young Nirvana as a request at a party happened to be playing.  You can tell Cobain doesn’t really know the song, but he goes to town on the riff, and you can hear where he started to develop that fat guitar sound that he perfected on Nevermind.  The influence of Zeppelin, baby…it’s everywhere!

Other lists: “Whole Lotta Love” is #75, “Heartbreaker” is #328, and “Ramble On” is #440 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the entry for Led Zeppelin I for Zep’s other honors and accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped 4 spots from its original position at #75 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favourite track: “Whole Lotta Love”

Honourable mention: “Ramble On”

Quote: “Got no time for spreadin’ roots, now it’s time to be gone.  And though our health we drank a thousand times, it’s time to ramble on.”

Legend

Ah, Marley Man.  I was excited when I found this at the Half-Price Books in Upper Arlington (UA…where all the Rastafarians in Columbus hang out…they get their ganga from the Chef-O-Nette gang) for $6.99 minus my 10% educator discount.  Actually, they had three copies, and two had the Island Records label and the other had the Tuff Gong label (still distributed by Island Records) which I believe was Marley’s own record label, so I of course I bought the Tuff Gong one (it was in better shape too :)).  Anyway, this is the first “Greatest Hits” package on the list.  There have been three compilation records so far (Elvis Presley “Sunrise”, Robert Johnson “The Complete Recordings”, and Muddy Waters “Anthology”), but this is the first true greatest hits record.  And in a way, I think its kind of cheating to put a greatest hits package on a list like this (there are more to come with Al Green and CCR), but at the same time, all the songs on this CD are truly great, and most were in fact hits, so I guess its okay.  Actually, I’m not really familiar with Bob Marley’s other work, and these are the Bob Marley songs I truly know…the same Bob Marley songs every frat boy and sorority girl learns in college (right, bro?) and every fake Rasta-man can sing along with at the skate-board park.

So there is this Irish band I like a lot, Seanchai and the Unity Squad, that plays a sort of Celtic/hip-hop/reggae mix.  It’s a weird mix, but most of the time it works.  Actually, they aren’t really Irish, they are from Brooklyn, but Seanchai (aka Chris Byrne) was a founding member of Black 47 before branching off and founding the Unity Squad.  They have a female co-lead singer, Rachel Fitzgerald, who likes to incorporate Marley’s “Redemption Song” into one of her songs, “Bogside Girl”, and it’s a pretty stunning moment when she performs it live.  And more than just that, the Unity Squad has in a small way continued to carry the torch for Marley’s main message of peace and understanding, even if they are a group of unlikely torch bearers.

Another experience I had with Bob Marley’s music was back in college on my way back from New Orleans.  Three of my good friends from the music department and I had gone down to the Crescent City for the Sugar Bowl game between Ohio State and Florida State.  And despite the outcome of the football game, we had a pretty amazing time on that trip.  So on the way home, we decided to stop off in Meridian Mississippi for the night, and right next to our motel, on a road that curved slightly down and around under a hill, was a bar called the Hidaway Lounce (actually, I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be the “Hideaway Lounge”, but it was spelled wrong on the marqee).  So we went in for a drink in our Ohio State t-shirts, and the locals took and instant disliking to us.  Well, not the sweet lady behind the bar (“Were you boys at the Sugah Bowl or the Supah Bowl?”), but the local rednecks playing foosball (“Around here we play with a firm wrist”) certainly did not care for us.  So once we were kicked off the foosball table, we went over to the jukebox and played “Get Up Stand Up”….message sent and received.  I guess they are still a little bitter about the Civil War down there (“Not only did Mississippi wait 150 years after Lincoln [to ratify the amendment abolishing slavery], they waited 6 months after Lincoln the Movie!” — Seth Myers, SNL), and after that it was strongly suggested that we leave their establishment (although Striffarino did manage to leave a present for them on their roof).  Ah, good times.

Finally, if I am going to reminisce about good times spent with Bob Marley’s music, I have to mention Black Cloud’s wedding.  Well, mostly good times.  Several years ago, Black Cloud decided to tie the knot down in the Sunshine State where he now resides.  Honored to be asked to be a groomsman, I flew down from my comfy Ohio apartment to the sweltering Florida sunshine.  However, since the shadow of the Black Cloud is never far away, the airline lost my luggage on both the way down and on the way back.  This was somewhat vexing, since my suitcase contained the kakis and the bowling shirt I was supposed to wear on the beach at the wedding.  Fortunately, the airline managed to get me the suitcase a mere 12 hours after I landed, so the disaster was averted.  At any rate, the wedding theme was “One Love”, as apparently Black Cloud had become a huge Marley fan (when he was just an Ohio boy he was a Parrothead…I guess Flada did have a positive effect on him).  In fact, Black Cloud is such a huge Marley fan now that he named his own progeny after Marley (so in retrospect, it’s definitely a good thing that he and his wife resolved the massive argument they got into at the wedding reception!).

Other lists: “No Woman No Cry” ranks #37 (actually, it is the studio version, but the write-up admits that the live version from this album is better), “Redemption Song” is #66, “Get Up Stand Up” is #302, and “I Shot the Sheriff” is #450 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.  Bob Marley is #11 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists and is #19 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers.

My favorite track: “Redemption Song”

Honorable mention: “Three Little Birds”

Quote 1: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery…none but ourselves can free our minds”

Quote 2: “If you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth”

Quote 3: “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”

Dark Side of the Moon

 

So kinda like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd is another band that I missed the boat on.  I guess I was just too busy rocking out to the Doors and the White Album in college while everyone else was “experimenting” with Pink Floyd.  Actually, I remember mon frere being a big Pink Floyd fan when I was a kid, and I think he actually went into Cleveland to see the show where they floated the giant pink pig into the stadium.  And I cannot forget Lighting 101 playing his Pink Floyd mix en route on the Crazy Pittsburgh Trip Version 1.0 (more on that when I get to a Metallica entry), with special emphasis on his favorite song, “Money”, which was really fitting since all of us except for the Elusive One worked at Mickey D’s Evil Empire.  Other than that, my only other Pink Floyd experience has been the wave of irony I feel, considering my chosen profession, every time I hear “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”.

At any rate, I had never owned a Pink Floyd album until I picked this up for $6.99 (minus my 10% teacher discount) at the Half-Price Books on High Street (did I mention I love irony?) back in  early winter after a traditional Saturday morning breakfast with the Princess.  And listening to it, I realize that despite its status as the quintessential space rock album, it is really blues rock at its core.  However, it’s blues rock elevated to almost a symphonic level.  The beauty of quality symphonic music is that it evokes images in the listener’s head, and this record certainly qualifies under that standard.  The careful craftsmanship of each song and the running connection of each song to the next elevate this record to a level of true artistry.  Add in the incredible musicianship of the band members, who showcase the ability to build and swell, ebb and flow, and who imbue each track, instrumental or otherwise, with emotion, and you can see why this album has been elevated to the status of a master work.

Of course, there has been much talk over the years about “The Dark Side of the Rainbow”.  I had never done it before, so I rented “The Wizard of Oz” and watched it while I listened to this record.  I think I got the sync right (I started it right after the MGM lion’s third roar), and while at times certain elements of the music do align in an uncanny way with the film (the alarm clocks when Miss Gultch arives and the transition from side A to side B right as the movie goes from black and white to technicolor), for the most part it’s just a more pleasant way to watch the film than enduring the original soundtrack.  Now, I must admit, I’ve never been a big fan of “The Wizard of Oz”.  They used to show it once a year on network television when I was very young, and mi madre would always make a big deal about watching it, but I think it gave me nightmares (those flying monkees are trippy, man) and I just never really dug it.  And I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen it in about 25 years or so, but I was impressed by how iconic it actually is, because even with Pink Floyd playing loudly in my ear andwatching with the sound on the TV turned off and the subtitles on, I could still hear the melody of every song and I remembered pretty much exactly how each scene plays out (always gotta watch out for those poppy fields, my dear).  But yeah, “The Dark Side of the Rainbow” thing seems entirely coincidental.  But it was fun nonetheless.

Other lists: Pink Floyd ranks #51 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, and David Gilmour ranks #14 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  And not surprisingly, this album ranks #3 on the newly created list of the 40 Greatest Stoner Albums.

My favourite track: “Us and Them”

Honourable mention: “The Great Gig in the Sky” (I have a feeling Thom Yorke has listened to this track quite a few times)

Quote: “Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.  You are young and life is long an their is time to kill today.  But then one day you find ten years have got behind you…no one told you when to run…you missed the starting gun.”