The Who – “Who’s Next” (1971)

Back in the 1980s when as a teen I was getting heavily into rock music there were three monolithic pillars of English hard rock, three unassailable bands who would appear on any of those Top XXX lists that rock radio stations loved to put out.  The Beatles were not one of them in that they were more pop and frankly seemed to exist on another plane entirely, one that ran the gamut from suits with thin ties to freaky acid trips, from strawberry fields to marmalade skies.  But in the world of hard rock those big three were Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and The Who.

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Establishing your identity as a rocker was only the first step to creating your teenage identity.  From there you had to pick a camp.  I was always a Zeppelin guy, start to finish.  Yes the Stones had lots of great songs that I liked a lot, but I honestly don’t think I ever owned a Stones album other than the Hot Rocks greatest hits collection.  I was definitely more of a singles fan when it came to the Stones as opposed to how I consumed the mighty mothership, in album sized pieces.  Then there was The Who.  For whatever reason I never “got” The Who.  Which doesn’t make any sense at all, because they’re a great band and at the time they were all over rock radio (Who’s Next felt ancient when I was in high school… but it was only about 15 years old at the time.  How is it possible it’s 48 now?!?!).  But for whatever reason I never connected with them.  I did, however, own a copy of Who’s Next on CD, which I’m pretty sure I bought because I absolutely loved “Behind Blue Eyes”.

The big collection of freebies I got a few weeks back included about a half dozen records by The Who, so I have the opportunity to address my ignorance.  I listened to Tommy the other day for the first time all the way through and it was… well, when I texted my buddy Travis that I was spinning it for the first time ever his response was, “It’s… ambitious…”  And it is, but it’s also a bit much for me.  So for round two I decided to hit up old faithful, Who’s Next.

Damn this album sounds great.  There’s a richness to the vocals I don’t think I ever truly heard before, the recording providing a sense of depth that you don’t hear very often.  The musical palette is full but not overwhelming – you’re not being hit with a wall of noise and feedback, which gives everything a bit of space and allows you to concentrate on specific sonic elements if you want to.  And the songs… this is one of those albums that in and of itself is almost a “Best Of” – “Baba O’Riley”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are all bonafide classics, but even the next tier of “Love Ain’t For Keeping”, “Going Mobile”, and “Song Is Over” would qualify as three of the best five songs for any other band not called The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, or Rolling Stones (♠).  Who’s Next is one of those albums that if you’re a rock fan you’ll know every song, even if you’ve never listened to the album – it’s like it comes to you through osmosis.

I have a newfound respect for The Who after sitting down and just listening to Who’s Next.  And it’s not just the quality of the songs – the record sounds amazing.  This box of free stuff has been full of turn-back-the-clock surprises.  I can’t want to see what’s next.

(♠)  Clearly this is an exaggeration.  So sue me.

Bob Welch – “French Kiss” (1977)

bobwelchfrenchkissWhy am I sitting here listening to Bob Welch on a Saturday morning, with the entire weekend and a big stack of records in front of me?  This is a good question.  French Kiss is one of the records from my recent load of free stuff, and I kept it purely for the sentimental impact of the 1970s AM radio classic “Sentimental Lady”, which I can remember hearing as a kid.  And since I’m neurotic, I feel compelled to listen to all of any record that I decide to buy and/or keep.  Hence Welch is on the turntable in the other room as I burn CDs to my iTunes down the hall.

Is French Kiss good?  Well, it’s not bad… and I do like it a bit.  There’s sort of this weird rock-disco fusion happening that’s enjoyable, even if it tries too hard at times (I’m looking at you, “Mystery Train”).  Musically it’s solid, as well it should be given some of the “backing” musicians like, oh, you know, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie (Welch was a member of Fleetwood Mac in the early 1970s).

The more bluesy “Outskirts” is solid, a track that moves in a different direction than the rest of French Kiss, though the chorus has more than a little of the “Sentimental Lady” cadence in it.  A fun trip down memory lane.

Somke – “Somke EP” Cassette (2019)

somkeThere’s a new label in Reykjavik called Eyewitness Records.  It was founded in 2018 by electronic musician Ívar Sævarsson as a means to release his own material as well as that of other less traditional techno artists, and so far this year Eyewitness has put out three limited edition cassettes.  Copenhagen-based Somke was the first non-Sævarsson artist on the label, with a seven-song EP of synthy dance beats and mild chiptune influences.  “Facelift” is my personal favorite, its brisk tempo overlaid with bleeps and bloops, though the darker and more laser-like “Golden Circle” certainly gives it a run for its money.

Danceable?  Hell yes.  So get yourself over to Amazon and order some glowsticks, then head over to the Eyewitness Records Bandcamp page HERE and get yourself some Somke.

Gary Wright – “The Dream Weaver” (1975)

In 1989 I traveled all the way across the country, from Seattle to Pittsburgh, to attend college.  Like so many incoming freshman I was excited about this first opportunity to be “on my own”, and also like so many of them I quickly discovered it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it was going to be.  Fortunately for me I found an accepting group of guys who took me in when I was at my most lost and vulnerable, and while I didn’t stick it out in Pittsburgh they were the only reason I maintained my sanity for those six months.

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There were, of course, parties, because this was college.  And one thing I’ll always remember is that at some point, as the party was winding down and there were just a few people left, someone would insist on playing Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver”.  And it was always the perfect thing to play in that late night/early morning alcohol haze.  Sometimes we sang, sometimes we listened and swayed back and forth, Gary’s voice transporting us to somewhere that wasn’t on this plane of existence.  As stupid as it may sound, it’s one of the memories from that time I will cherish forever.

The Dream Weaver was in one of the boxes of freebies I got the other day and I knew instantly that I had to clean it up and play it.  Needless to say I started it on side B because “Dream Weaver” opens that side.  But as that finished I realized I had no idea of what to expect next – I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard another Gary Wright song!  “Much Higher” is pretty cool, and overall there’s a sort of futuristic-funk feel to things.  And “Love Is Alive” is a stone-cold jam.  I’ve got to say, The Dream Weaver is pretty solid top to bottom.

Pink Floyd – “Wish You Were Here” (1975 / 1980) Half-Speed Mastered

I have way too many albums in my “To Listen To” pile.  In fact there’s so much that it is no longer one pile but instead has spread into multiple places like an infestation.  A few dozen in the Flipbin dedicated to new arrivals, another 40 or so on various Ikea shelves, and two stacks of CDs and cassettes on the dining room table.  It’s an embarrassment of riches, and quite frankly it stresses me out.  I don’t plan on writing about everything, but it’s still a lot to get through!

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A few weeks back I got three big boxes of stuff from someone at work who was going to give them to Goodwill.  There turned out to be some fun stuff in there.  I’d never gotten into The Who, but now I have a half dozen of their albums to play.  Everything from Black Sabbath to Nancy Sinatra, Flock of Seagulls to Sherlock Holmes mystery box sets.  But perhaps the most intriguing gem was this 1980 half-speed mastered version of Pink Floyd’s 1975 classic Wish You Were Here.  I’ve heard this album a hundred times or more over the years, though always on CD.  I’m very familiar with it, including its minutiae, so I’m wondering how this version will sound.  The half-speed mastering process is supposed to render a more accurate recording and CBS also invested in higher end vinyl for these pressings.  The question is, will I be able to tell the difference?  Will it live up to the hype?  I have a great starting point, because this copy is pristine and fresh from a cleaning on the Okki Nokki.

Wish You Were Here is a perfect choice for this kind of high-end treatment.  Lots of quiet parts, slow builds, and isolated instruments and vocals.  And I have to say, this thing sounds tremendous. (♠)  The sonics are bright, especially the vocals on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, and the saxophone section on that same track is out of this world.  The most noticeable parts are the quietest – the sound is coming at you from a truly quiet background with no hiss or residual noise.  The intro to “Welcome To The Machine” captures this perfectly, as does the transition from “Have A Cigar” to “Wish You Were Here”.  If anything sells me on how much of an effect this is having on me it’s that I’m not singing along, something I always do when I listen to Wish You Were Here.  I’m not staying quiet because my singing sucks (although it does, massively), but because I want to hear the vocals as clearly as possible.  There’s a subtlety to the harmonizing that frankly I’ve missed over all these years, a hint of low end that provides a base for the parts that soar.  You also hear a rawness to the vocals on “Wish You Were Here” that make you feel like you’re in the room with the musicians.  And the synths… well I’m sure you can guess that the synths are like having the instrument output plugged directly into your brain, like you’re actually living inside Blade Runner.

It looks like this 1980 version typically sells in the $70-100 range, with recorded sales as high as $150.  Is it worth it?  Well… dammit, it might be.  It’s definitely one of the very best sounding records I have on my shelves.  If you’re a major fan of Wish You Were Here I have a hard time believing that there’s a better sounding version than this one, and if you have a stereo that’s good enough to take advantage of the fidelity, you’ll love the listening experience.

(♠)  I’m playing it on a Rega P6 turntable, through a Rega Brio amp and using Rega bookshelf speakers.