The Outfield – “Play Deep” (1985)

It’s a bit odd that a band from the UK would name itself after a section of a baseball field, especially if they weren’t fans of the game to begin with.  The trio originally recorded a demo under the name The Baseball Boys, a reference to the baseball-themed gang in the movie The Warriors (1979), (♠) which makes a bit more sense, and despite recognizing the need for a better name they still ended up with something baseball related.  Why The Outfield in particular?  Well, according to an interview the band did with the Los Angeles Times in 1986 they simply came up with a list of 10 possible names to replace The Baseball Boys, and The Outfield was the one they liked the best.  As fans we’d like to think there was something more to it, but there it is.

The baseball theme continues with the name of The Outfield’s debut album, 1985s Play Deep.  While somewhat of an oversimplification, “playing deep” in the context of the outfield indicates that either (1) the batter at the plate has a reputation for hitting the ball far, and/or (2) that runners are in scoring position and the manager has decided he’s more concerned with preventing a ball from going over the fielders’ heads than he is with one of the baserunners scoring on a single to the outfield.  Does “play deep” have any meaning as it relates to the 10 songs on Play Deep?  I sincerely doubt it as none of the songs appear to have any ties to the game.  The Outfield flirt on and off with the baseball theme in later album titles as well, specifically Diamond Days (1989) and Extra Innings (Unreleased) (1999), plus the comps Playing the Field (1992) and Big Innings (1996), but I don’t think they ever recorded a song that had anything to do with the so-called National Pastime.  Come to think of it, there aren’t a lot of baseball songs out there with the notable exception of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and to a lesser extent Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and Meatloaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” (the latter is only metaphorically about baseball, though it does include Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto as the play-by-play guy, so bonus points). (♣)

By the time Play Deep came out and “Your Love” made an unsuccessful run for the top of the charts my baseball career, such as it was, had ended.  I played two seasons of Little League for the Fortune Personnel team (named after our corporate sponsor… capitalism digs its claws into you early in the US) in, I believe, 1982 and 1983.  And yes, I played in the outfield.  At the major league level the three outfield positions tend to have consistent profiles and abilities – the center fielder is fast and has a good arm; the right field needs a great arm to make the long throws to third base; and the left fielder… well… the left fielder can hit and is generally not known for his defense.  In fact sometimes he’s a defensive liability.  In the little leagues it’s even more noticeable.  See, when I played, the rule was that every player had to appear in at least two innings if they showed up for the game.  And left field is where you hid the suckiest kids, the ones who couldn’t catch or were slow or ambivalent about being there.  If memory serves, I believe that over the course of my baseball career there was only one game in which all my playing time was spent in left field.  Oh, and I couldn’t hit for shit either.

outfieldplaydeep

Two things strike me about Play Deep.  First, the harmonies are brilliant.  Second, these songs have a certain quality about them that just sounds like The Outfield.  I can’t place it, but there are other bands and performers like this as well.  Bruce Hornsby, for example, has this “thing” he does with the piano that seems to be on every one of his songs that, the second I hear it, I’m like, yup, that’s Bruce Hornsby.  In fact, I got to see Bruce perform once – he played the National Anthem on piano at, ironically, a Seattle Mariners baseball games years and years ago.  And guess what?  He made the National Anthem sound like a Bruce Hornsby song too.

There’s one thing that has always confounded me about “Your Love”.  I get it that the narrator is having a tryst with an old flame.  After all, right at the start we establish that his new lady is out of town.  Josie’s on a vacation far away…  But what I always wondered about is the line, You know I like my girls a little bit older.  Is this him telling the girl he’s inviting over that part of why he’s with Josie is because Josie is a little bit older, or is he still into his nameless ex because she’s a little bit older?  Somehow I feel like this is an important distinction.  One of these ladies is “older”, but which one?  I posed this question to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, and she looked at me like, “is this a serious question?”  It is.  But I suspect I’ll never know the answer.  Either way, he’s a dirtbag Josie, and you should leave him.

(♠)  “War-riors… come out to play-ay….”

(♣)  To be fair, there are others, especially if you want to go back to the 1940s and 50s.  There are also plenty of novelty songs dedicated to specific teams or players, and even songs by baseball players themselves, such as my personal favorite “Phillies Fever” (1976).    Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey & The Duke)” (1981) is a classic as well, with the added benefit that Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle), and The Duke (Duke Snider) were all outfielders.  See?  It all comes full circle.

Soundgarden – “Live From the Artists Den” (2019)

I pre-ordered the colored vinyl version of this release, and unfortunately production delays meant that while the black edition was in the stores earlier in the summer mine just arrived in the mail a few weeks ago.  This was kind of a bummer, but it is what it is, and now that it’s here and I can see the attention to detail and quality of the overall package, I have to say it was worth the wait.

Somehow despite living in the greater Seattle area (though never actually in Seattle) since 1984, I never saw Soundgarden live.  Clearly I have no excuse for this.  I was buying their records before anyone outside of Seattle even knew who they were and there were plenty of opportunities to catch them.  But such is life.  Fortunately there are some great live recordings out there, like Live From the Artists Den.

soundgardenliveartistsden

I love that they opened with a sludgy classic from their debut, the weighty “Incessant Mace”. Those first three Soundgarden LPs (and the assorted EPs and Sub Pop singles) are my favorite parts of their catalog.  One of the great things about Soundgarden live is that they don’t make an effort to sound polished – of course the songs are recognizable, but there’s a rawness as well, a sense that anything could happen at any time.  Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the vocals, with Cornell’s voice lacking the prettiness that came to define it on the band’s later albums.  This is aggressive Chris, singing like a caged animal.  This might be the one bummer I had on the collection as well, though, as he can’t (or maybe won’t) hit the high notes on one of my all-time-favorites “Jesus Christ Pose”.   Other than that, though, this one is solid from start to finish.

“Tokyo Flashback” Compilation (1991 / 2017)

tokyoflashbackOriginally released on CD back in 1991, the eight song Japanese psych comp Tokyo Flashback got the vinyl treatment in 2017.  A double LP with a gatefold jacket and slipcase, it carries all the hallmarks of high quality Japanese production, the printing flawless, the materials beautiful.  The one complaint with the physical product, however, is how snuggly the gatefold fits into the slipcase – others have also remarked about how difficult it is to remove the jacket to get at the records, and I can attest to this from personal experience, with my slipcase suffering from a corner ding from when I dropped it while trying to separate the two.  Such is life.

Japanese artists have carved out some special musical niches, and one of these is psych. I first got turned onto this scene thanks to Julian Cope’s 2007 book Japrocksampler, which introduced me to artists like Les Rallizes Denudes and Flower Travellin’ Band, and later after seeing a live performance by the insanely intense Bo Ningen.  And while it’s not music I want to listen to all the time, I’m completely fascinated by the crushing sonic wall these performers unleash.  And Tokyo Flashback provides plenty of fuzz and feedback and jamming, more than enough to make my brain feel like a scrambled egg.

The Godz – “Nothing Is Sacred” (1979)

The Book of Revelation speaks of four horsemen who will usher in the end of days, the so-called Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They will bring pestilence, war, famine, and death, and kill a quarter of the world’s population.

thegodzsacred

The Godz as they appear on the cover of their second album, Nothing Is Sacred, seem to embody this same image.  Instead of horses they ride motorcycles (Bon Jovi’s “steel horse”…), and instead of pestilence, war, famine, and death they look to bring black leather, Miller High Life, Jack Daniels, and probably something that you can clear up with a course of penicillin.  And by all accounts the image they portrayed on their album covers was legit – they had a reputation for fighting and driving fast and pistol-packing.  Their core fanbase included actual bikers.  They would not hesitate to throw down.

There are already some great articles on the band online, most notably HERE, so I’m not going to rehash a lot of that because it’s already been told way better and in way more detail elsewhere.  They were a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll band, one that always seemed on the cusp of breaking but never quite getting there.  They toured with Kiss, Judas Priest, Cheap Trick, and even Metallica.  The one consistent member was bassist Eric Moore, who passed away earlier this year the day before he was going to perform with the band at their Godzfest event.

So what about Nothing Is Sacred?  Well, it’s rock, pure and simple.  Nothing fancy.  I’m not sure why they felt the need to misspell every song title on side A (“Gotta Muv”, “I’ll Bi Yer Luv”, “Luv Kage”…), but whatever.  It’s the kind of rock you could play in a country bar and get away with it.  Even when they sneak some synths in like they do on “I’ll Bi Yer Luv” it still sounds rock (and the vocals on that track have an eerie similarity to The Cult’s Ian Astbury).  The band’s attitude is exemplified in the lyrics of “Luv Kage”, a song that opens with the singer recounting that he and his lady had an agreement that they could have other things going on the side, but now she’s reneging on the deal and he finds himself in misery in a love cage.  It is, quite frankly, insane, less like a song and more like the kind of drunken argument that eventually ends when someone is taken to jail for domestic violence.  And in case you still weren’t clear, on “Snakin'” we’re explicitly told the three things the band is good at:

  • Pleasing the ladies
  • Getting really high
  • Rock ‘n’ roll

Do I like Nothing Is Sacred?  I mean, I don’t dislike it.  I don’t see it making it into heavy rotation or anything, but sometimes you’re just looking for something basic and honest, and this would fit the bill.

Mudhoney – “Morning In America” (2019)

This one came as a surprise – announced out of the blue in early August and on my front porch by September 14, like some kind of musical ninja.  Pretty much all of the info I can find online about Morning In America is what Sub Pop communicated when announcing it.  The seven songs were recorded during the Digital Garbage sessions.  One is an alternate version, three are outtakes, and the other three are songs that have appeared on various singles and/or limited edition releases (one of these, “Ensam I Natt” is a Leather Nun cover).

America hates itself.
America hates itself.
America would rather be someplace else.

— “Morning In America”

mudhoneymorning

Morning In America is definitely in the same vein as Digital Garbage, a disappointment-laden description of today’s America.  Now, certainly not everyone in America is disappointed by how things have gone over the last few years.  The racists seem to revel in being able to be out in the open with their views.  Personally I was surprised to see so many of them crawl out of the woodwork, and while it’s disappointing, at least now we know who they are since they don’t seem to feel the need to hide anymore.  Mark Arm casts his venomous net wide, covering the racists and ignorant, the liars and the corporate thieves, the zealots and the image-obsessed, while the sludgy and fuzz-drenched music carries the emotional content in viscous waves.

My heart is breaking,
My mind is racing,
And now I’m bracing
For the terrible things to come.
— “Vortex of Lies”

Sonically Morning In America is at times oppressive (“Morning In America”), but at others triumphant (“Let’s Kill Yourself Live Again”, a different version of “Kill Yourself Live”), though I suspect the latter is more ironic than literal.  After all, the song is about the perceived importance of portraying the perfect digital image, regardless of what your real life is like.  The only time the music doesn’t feel like an integral component of the overall message is on the cover, “Ensam I Natt” (“So Lonely Tonight”), a refreshingly straight-forward punk song reminiscent of Mudhoney’s early career (Mudhoney, like Green River before them, always pick great songs to cover and do them justice).

The Loser edition comes on white marbled vinyl and includes a download card.  If you want a sample, you can stream “One Bad Actor” for free over at the Sub Pop website.