Sherlock Holmes Box Sets (1970s)

Every generation has their version of “Back when I was your age we didn’t have [fill in the blank]”.  With the pace of technological advancement over the past 20 years we’ve now reached the point where the shifts aren’t generational, but sub-generational, as both the pace of innovation and speed of adoption continue to accelerate.  It won’t be long until high school sophomores will wax poetic to incoming freshmen about how much easier the new class has it, because a year ago X, which is suddenly ubiquitous, didn’t exist.

I often think about this in the context of entertainment.  I was born in the early 1970s.  At that point, pretty much every household had a television, if not more than one, and the primary TV was most likely color.  Radio was certainly everywhere as well, but generally when it came to “shows” people meant what was on TV.  In most markets you were limited to a handful of channels – the three major networks, PBS, and maybe a swap meet calibre local access channel was about all we had.  If you wanted to see the new episode of Happy Days or Three’s Company you had to make a point of being in front of your set at the scheduled date and time.  Yes, VCRs existed in the 1970s, but who could afford one?  I recently saw an add in a 1977 magazine listing VCRs at $1,000, and blank tapes at $100, both of which sound outrageous today.  But when you factor in inflation… wow!  That 1977 VCR would be the equivalent of about $4,200 in today’s money, with the blank tape costing another $420 (I believe my father was earning $12,000 per year in 1977).  And since you couldn’t even buy movies on VHS at that point, could you really justify spending that kind of money?  And even if you did, for what? So you could catch Sanford and Son a day after it aired?

By the early 1980s my family had cable and a VCR, and enough indie video rental stores were around that you could at least see movies like Deathstalker and Easy Rider.  An ever growing number of cable channels and syndication meant you could catch up on at least some old shows, but it probably wasn’t for another 25 years that things like TiVo made recording shows easier.  And now even that seems quaint in the era of streaming.  More and more people I know are dropping cable completely and doing everything via streaming services, and people are as likely to watch shows on tablets or phones as they are televisions.

So I’m of the last generation that remembers a time before cable and VCRs, while the generation after mine will recall their life before streaming.  But if we go one generation older than me, folks who grew up in the 1950s, most people didn’t have television, and even if you did the few channels that existed didn’t even broadcast all day.  In fact, if you were telling someone about a “show” you were looking forward to that night, it was probably a radio show.  And likely not one that played music but some kind of radio theater.  While I know what it means to have to tune in at a specific day and time to catch your show, the idea of sitting in front of the radio to listen to it seems as foreign to me as having your schedule dictated by TV does to a teenager today.

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I got three boxes of free records from someone at work the other day, and included were three box sets of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, all of which I believe were released on vinyl in the 1970s.  One, The Hound Of The Baskervilles & The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, consists of the sound from two Sherlock Holmes movies, which you can more or less follow but definitely includes passages where the action is purely visual and you’re left scratching your head.  The other two, though, Sherlock Holmes Tales From Baker Street and More Sherlock Holmes Adventures, are comprised of radio show episodes from the 1940s and 50s, each about 25 minutes in length.  It’s a trip listening to these and thinking about the role they played – this was the cutting edge of delivering entertainment directly into the home.  And they’re kind of fun to play in the evening while you’re chilling out with a cocktail.

You can actually find these from time to time and fairly reasonably priced.  So long as the vinyl is in good shape, one of these boxes will give you a good three hours or so of entertainment and a way to travel back in time… even if you can play them any time you want.

Barry Manilow – “Live” (1977)

barrymanilowliveIf you say “Barry Manilow’s music sucks”, people don’t expect you to expound upon that with a reason.  They’ll probably just nod in general agreement.  Manilow is there alongside Kenny G and Nickelback in being performers that it is perfectly acceptable to hate simply on general principle, as if their existence in the world is all the proof needed to support one’s disdain.  But you know what else these artists have in common?  All of them have sold an insane amount of albums – Nickelback over 50 million, and Kenny and Barry 75 million… each.  Yes,  Nickelback, Kenny G, and Barry Manilow have sold more albums than there are people in the UK, France, and Germany… combined.  If album sales were people they would be the seventh most populated country in the world, nestled between Brazil and Nigeria.

Challenge someone on their feelings about Nickel-Barry-G with the above and chances are the response will be something along the lines of, “just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good” and/or “most people have crap taste in music”.  But is this true?  I mean really true.  If the goal of art is to reach people, these guys are doing it about as well as anyone ever has.  You can absolutely dislike their music; that’s personal taste.  If you want to say Nickelback songs are formulaic, fine.  But a lot of people love them.  Chuck Klosterman tackled this in a Grantland article in 2012 way more articulately and entertainingly than I ever could, but the one thing that always stuck with me was his description of the band’s sold out show at Madison Square Garden.  “More surprising is the degree to which the security staff at MSG clearly loves this music; you don’t often see ushers singing along with the band that’s onstage, but that’s what was happening here. They knew every word to every chorus.”

Now I too at times in my life have been a hater of things, including Barry Manilow and Nickelback.  But as I’ve gotten older I find it just makes less and less sense to be this way.  I mean, who cares? (♠)  Maybe you’re a very casual music fan who buys one or two albums a year, and whenever Kenny G puts out a new CD, you buy it.  And you enjoy it.  That’s fantastic.  Find some music you like and listen to it.  And if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.  Generally speaking you can avoid it.  And if you happen to hear “Rockstar” or “Copacabana”, it’s four minutes of your life.  You’ll probably survive.

As for Live, we snagged a clean copy of this double album from the dollar bin down at Ranch Records on our recent trip to Bend, Oregon.  Unfortunately it came out a year before “Copacabana”, so it does not include the story of Tony, Lola, and an unfortunate shooting.  But we do get “Looks Like We Made It”, “I Write the Songs”, and a medley of jingles that Manilow was involved in (KFC, McDonalds, State Farm Insurance…).  Frankly it sounds like it was a fun show.  And for a buck I’m glad to have a copy and become a citizen of Nickel-Barry-G-land.

(♠) That being said, the funniest thing I ever heard someone say at a show was back in 2009 and involved Nickelback.  A woman was with her group of 5-6 friends (all guys) and talking shit about everything and everyone for hours, just being annoyingly pretentious.  I can’t remember the band that hit the stage at the time, but her dismissive response within 20 seconds of them starting their set was “these guys are the Nickelback of techno”.  “Nickelback of Techno” is still a phrase Holly and I use to describe all kinds of things to this day.  Anything generic can be dubbed the Nickelback of Techno.

George Abdo and His Flames of Araby Orchestra – “The Art of Belly Dancing” (1973)

bellydancingListening to The Art of Belly Dancing, I feel like I should be in some pungent Turkish bar, the kind of place that somehow manages to stay dark even when the sun is at it’s highest, the mingled smells of sweat, strong coffee, and filterless cigarette smoke hanging at about chest height in the completely still air.  Oh man, I think I just gave myself a flashback to 1987 when I was 15 and just at the start of a six-week trip to France.  When it became clear that the chaperones couldn’t care in the slightest if we smoked, a few of us headed to the bar car on the train and nervously asked the young guy working there if he had any smokes for sale.  Mais oui.  Awesome!  Marlboro Reds, please.  Non.  Oh, OK.  Camels then.  Non.  Umm… Gitanes.  Gitanes?  He reached behind him and turned  back around with a blue pack of cigs in what seemed to us an oddly fancy package that was wider and flatter than what we were used to.  I feel like the dancer on the front was embossed in gold.  Can that be right?  Oui, Gitanes.  So Gitanes it was.  And when we opened them it was immediately, “What the…. where are the filters???”  This, friends, is how I was introduced to filterless cigarettes, a habit that lasted only as long as we still that pack of Gitanes and couldn’t find a better cigarette anywhere else (so a few weeks).

ANYWAY… back to that bar.  Damn it’s hot!  How can it be so damn hot wen I’m sitting in the shade?  It shouldn’t be possible.  It’s the kind of place that Bogey, or James Bond, or Dr. Indiana Jones should walk into, causing every to look up from their newspapers (without moving their heads) to case the new guy.  Or maybe Matthew McConaughey’s character in Sahara, who seems like he’d be the most fun to have a drink with.  But what’s that sound faintly off in the distance?  It sounds like… it is… it’s “Raks Musri”, the clicking of the castanets providing a beat above the percussion.  The pace speeds and slows, alternating between ecstasy and simmering desire.  Songs with vocals like “Meenie Yaba” remind me if the Persian-infused beats of Syrian artist Omar Souleman; these are the prototypes, the early models that created the base framework that would come to define passionate popular music.  “Ranks Pharonic” is another classic, feeling more like something that would welcome in spring than leave you feeling lonely while sitting in that Turkish bar in the middle of the day smoking your Gitanes.

But hang on friends.  This isn’t a record intended to titillate or set a romantic mood.  Au contraire, mon frère.  This is educational.  You can see it right there on the front jacket:  “Dance Instructions Enclosed”.  And in fact they are, glossy inner sheet that provides photos and descriptions of eight belly dancing poses (and also a post-paid postcard you can send to Monitor Records to learn more about what they have for sale; remember kids, no internet in 1973…).  So you can’t try to hide this behind the counter at the store – it’s instructional, dammit!

Certainly this falls into the category I often see at record stores and shows known as Exotica.  Take Persian music and combine with the seeming campiness of the idea of a belly dancing tutorial (though I suspect that no camp nor snark was originally intended) and you can takel a record you might not have been able to get a quarter for maybe ten years ago and charge $5 or $`10 for it, probably because someone will buy it as a joke.  But to be clear, this album is completely earnest.  It’s most definitely not a joke.  The performers are legit and so is the sound quality.  So don’t be afraid to pick up a copy and give it a serious listen.

Record Shopping – Copenhagen, Denmark Style

We arrived in Copenhagen after four days in Berlin, which means that by time we got here my record bag was already pretty full.  As a result of that and our limited amount of time in the city I only made it to a few shops.

Beat Bop Pladeforretning
Peder Hvitfeldts Stræde 14, 1173 København

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Beat Bop is Michael Denner’s record shop, he of guitar virtuoso fame for his work with Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, and Volbeat.  As such you’d probably expect the shop to be dedicated to punk and metal. and while it has some of both, the biggest section may in fact be the one in the back room devoted to jazz.  I didn’t spend a ton of time here, but was pleased to see a lot of interesting 1980s European releases in the punk/new wave section, things I’ve never seen before in the US.  It’s a confined space, even with there being two rooms, so you probably won’t need a ton of time here.  I was primarily focused on trying to find Danish records, and in the end came away with a copy of Alien Force’s 1986 rocker Pain And Pleasure, which seemed like the perfect thing to take away from Beat Bop.

One piece of advice – Beat Bop only takes cash, though Michael was open to currency other than Danish Krone, including Euro.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dorma 21
Oehlenschlægersgade 70, 1663 København

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After Beat Bop we took a bit of a walk down to the meat packing district to visit Dorma 21, a tiny space that specializes 100% in various electronica subgenres.  Small but well stocked, every single record features a hand-written sticker tag on it with basic info, and 12″ releases generally ran the equivalent of $15-17 US.  The guy working there was very helpful and when I asked for some local stuff pointed me towards two house records by Desos, which I spun on one of the two listening stations and fell for immediately.  In a completely opposite scenario than Beat Bop, Dorma 21 actually prefers you pay in plastic, and it was all I could do not to fill up my entire bag with records here – if it wasn’t for the lack of space in my record bag I’d have easily dropped a few hundred dollars here.  A can’t miss for the electronica enthusiast.

Route 66
Fælledvej 3, 2200 København

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Route 66 focuses on new vinyl – I don’t think I saw anything used packed into its bins and wall displays.  The focus is primarily on rock, and as our trip was winding down I didn’t have any expectations about picking up anything here.  Then I remembered – hey, there are Europe-only Record Store Day releases, and Route 66 had about six bins of RSD titles.  And what did I find?  Prügelknaben:  Prygl På Vinyl, DK Punk 1979-86, a limited edition release of 500 copies.  Any opportunity to get some early punk from a country we’re visiting is a win, even if it’s a re-release

 

Copenhagen actually has quite a few shops, so don’t take this to be any kind of thorough review of the vinyl scene there.  We even walked by a few that didn’t show up on any of the research I’d done prior to the trip, so I suspect more and more are popping up all the time.

My Personal 5-10-15-20 Journey

Pitchfork has a cool feature that seems to be alternately called “Music of His/Her Life” and “5-10-15-20”.  The basic premise is the subject talks about what music they were listening to and influenced by as their life progressed, using five year age intervals.  This got me thinking about my own personal 5-10-15-20, so I figured what the hell, I’ll put it out on the blog.  While I focus primarily on albums on Life in the Vinyl Lane, it’s as much about my relationship with music as it is about music itself, so why not.

5 (1976) – The Amazing Spider-Man

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I don’t have any memories of music being played in our Philadelphia townhouse.  That’s not to say there wasn’t any – I just don’t remember it.  We had one of those record player/cassette/8-track combos and the record player allowed you to stack multiple records on it at once.  It would play the side of the first one and when it hit the runout the arm would automatically pick up and move back to its resting position, then the next record hovering over it would drop on top of the first one, and the arm would move back over atodrop on the first track.  During the holidays mom would stack up Christmas records on that spindle, playing all the A sides, then flipping the entire stack over and playing all the B sides.  That was our holiday soundtrack for years and years.

As for me, I do remember having a few of these comic book / 7″ record combos that I’d play on a little portable record player in my room.  I think this Spider-Man was one that I had – it came out in 1974 so the time is right.  If I had any music, I don’t remember it.

10 (1981) – Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer

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I was tempted to fudge a bit here and push this out to 1983, because that’s when I started actually choosing the music I wanted to listen to.  But I wasn’t there yet in 1981.  My dad was a big Neil Diamond fan though – and I mean big.  By 1981 he was just coming through a rough patch and Diamond’s music spoke to him.  We even saw Neil in concert in Columbia, South Carolina right around this time – I’m pretty sure it would have been 1981 or 1982, and it was the first concert I ever went to.  His connection with Diamond was something I didn’t get, and it wasn’t until I became much older and went through my own mid-life struggles that I came to understand the powerful way Diamond speaks to that experience.  I never got into him per se, but when I went back to vinyl I eventually picked up a copy of The Jazz Singer, and now I get it.

15 (1986) – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

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By the mid-1980s my tastes were firmly entrenched in rock and hair metal, but it wasn’t until 1986 that I discovered that band that would become and remain my all-time favorite – Led Zeppelin.  I still recall the situation.  I was down in the “Sophomore Pit”, a section of the basement of my high school where all sophomores had their lockers.  I was talking to some friends about music, and I believe I was talking crap about some of their current favorites like U2 and Dire Straits.  At some point someone mentioned Zeppelin and I said I didn’t know them.  It was one of those needle scratching off the record moments and derailed the whole conversation.  Because these were my friends they cut me a little slack, but made it clear that I needed to rectify this situation immediately.

Our school at that time was located across the street from the big Bellevue Square Mall, so as soon as the day ended I headed over to Musicland and found a copy of Led Zeppelin I in one of those huge bins of discounted cassettes that used to be in the front of the store.  I liked it, didn’t love it, but I went back a few days later and picked up Led Zeppelin II from the same bin.  And my life changed forever.  That tape, and later a CD replacement, became the soundtrack of the next few years.  I ravenously consumed their entire catalog, and that led me deeper into the world of classic rock that came to define more and more of my musical life.

20 (1991) – Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

badmotorfinger

I’d been into Soundgarden since 1987s Screaming Life EP.  Being that I lived in the Seattle area I was lucky enough to be exposed to a ton of what later became the great grunge bands.  There was a lot of talk in the late 1980s that the Seattle scene was going to break nationally and among my friends there were three bands we figured to be the likely candidates – Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Tad.  Honestly Nirvana was barely on my radar at that point, though I did have the “Sliver” 7″.  My personal favorite was Soundgarden.

When Badmotorfinger came out in 1991 I was blown away at how fantastic it was, and I’m not talking about “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”, but instead songs like “Slaves & Bulldozers”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, and “Room A Thousand Years Wide”.  I even had a Soundgarden t-shirt that I practically wore out.  But.  It was also clear to me that this was the end of grunge, despite the fact that Nevermind came out the same year and finally brought the genre to the mainstream.  Badmotorfinger is many things, but grunge is not one of them.  But this style of darker rock held a strong appeal to me and shaped my appreciation for bands like Alice In Chains, White Zombie, and Godsmack.

25 (1996) – Sammy Davis Jr. – I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise

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I wasn’t buying much music in the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason I told my dad I’d like some CDs for Christmas, specifically some of the old crooners that he was fond of.  One of those CDs he bought me was the newly released I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise.  I played the hell out of that in my car as I drove around the Eastside doing sales calls. The first four tracks are pure magic – “Lush Life”, “A Stranger In Town”, “What Kind of Fool Am I”, and “Once In a Lifetime” – and I can probably still sing all four of them word-for-word.  I tried getting deeper into Sammy’s catalog, but I always found myself coming back to this CD.  I still play those first songs in the car sometimes and still get goose bumps at the smoothness of Sammy’s voice.

30 (2001) – Sugar Ray – Sugar Ray

sugarraysugarrayI’m still amazed at how much people will say they hate Sugar Ray.  They were like Nickelback before it was popular to hate Nickelback.  I got turned onto Floored (1997) and Holly and I both fell for the band, so much so that we’ve now seen them live a half dozen times in three different states.  In fact they are the first band that we traveled out of state specifically for the purpose of seeing them play, heading down to Lake Tahoe to catch both shows they did on back-to-back nights.  I was a big enough fan that I actually burned my own personal Best Of Sugar Ray CD for my car (remember kids, this was before iPods were a thing and smartphones were still something out of a sci-fi movie).  And you know what?  I still like them.  If they did a reunion show with the original band I’d strongly consider going to see them.  This was probably the start of me realizing that I didn’t need to care what people thought of the music I liked – I could like what I wanted and didn’t have to explain it to anyone.  That may sound obvious, but it was seriously liberating to someone like me who had come to define themselves by the kind of music I listened to and, just as importantly, didn’t listen to (even if I secretly liked it).

35 (2006) –  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – So Far

csnysofar

Much as my dad hit his tough patch and leaned on The Jazz Singer, I hit mine in my mid-30s and gravitated towards So Far.  It’s the one period in my life that when I look back on it I feel like I simply don’t even know the person that I was at the time.  Somehow I made it through without making any truly terrible decisions and with my relationships and career still intact. Frankly it could have gone either way.

There was something in the harmonizing of CSNY that drew me back to this album, one I’d probably owned since high school.  The songs are beautiful and heartfelt, and I suppose there’s an undercurrent of sadness that appealed to me at that time in my life as well.  I actually find it hard to listen to these songs now – as much as they helped me then, they’re too stark a reminder of a period I’d just assume not dwell on.

40 (2011) – Agent Fresco – A Long Time Listening

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I first experienced Agent Fresco at Iceland Airwaves in 2010 and was immediately a super-fan.  Their debut LP A Long Time Listening came out the same year an I played the hell out of it for the next couple of years. This was the start of my love affair with Icelandic music, and Agent Fresco were ground zero.

I’ve pointed a lot of people to this album over the years, and most of them took to it.  It’s a record of tremendous beauty, but also significant personal pain.  Sometimes it’s almost too hard to listen to, but it really depends on your frame of mind at the time.

45 (2016) – The Kills – Ash & Ice

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2016 was the year of the female artist.  Four of my top five albums were by women or female bands – The Kills, Dream Wife, Iiris, and Kælan Mikla.  It ushered in an era of appreciation for women in music that I’m still in today.

Alison Mosshart is a fantastic front-woman and I pretty much love every project she’s involved with – Discount, The Kills, The Dead Weather.  She owns the stage, and also has the capacity to show both unwavering confidence and vulnerability depending on the need of the song.  And as for Jamie Hince, there may not be a better guitarist out there today.

 

So there it is, a sort of musical life story.  It seems weird to think about it in this way, but it was also an interesting trip down memory lane, looking back to specific periods, both the good and the not-so-good.  What would your list look like?