Momma’s Little Jewel

Mott

Glam rock certainly rolls on here at The Fault, doesn’t it?  Good Mott the Hoople albums are hard to come by – by ‘good’, I mean, of course, “All the Young Dudes” (pictured above), as well as the follow-up album, “Mott”.  And…that’s about it.  There are a couple good songs on the “Mott” follow up -appropriately titled “The Hoople”, but that’s it.  Diminishing returns after, and presumptive failures prior.  If you want your money’s worth, pick up Greatest Hits.  While not imaginatively named, it does feature most of the great tracks from Dudes, Mott, and Hoople.  I’ve seen copies of both Mott and The Hoople at local shops and passed on them, waiting for the crown jewel – that being Young Dudes.  I did recently stumble upon the Greatest Hits, and it was a bargain at 5 bucks…although, let’s look at the economics of scale here.  Music is time-sensitive, much more so than cost-sensitive.  Sure, the first LP ever pressed is going to cost an exorbitant amount of money to acquire, that should be a given.  But a CBS Records packaged greatest hits compilation from 1976 (with the majority of the music contained having been released in 1972 and 1973)? And on vinyl – used vinyl at that – shouldn’t be that hard to come by today.  And yet, this is the first time I’d seen a copy of Mott’s Greatest Hits on vinyl in years.  Mott only set the world on fire briefly, for a scant second – and that on the back of a David Bowie penned song (you know it, it’s “All The Young Dudes” – you did know Bowie wrote that, right?), so maybe it’s wrong of me to think there should be tons of used Mott records floating around.  I mean, it’s hard enough to find original Bowie pressings, and they pressed those things in the millions.

It’s really more the economics of time than anything related to price.  When you’ve spent as much time shopping for records as I have, you come to realize most pieces of original-pressed wax settle into one of two price points – under 20 dollars, 20-60, and anything over 60.  Much like the X.99 price tag, where marketers eventually realized people though, hey bargain, cause it was under XX dollars, 60 bucks seems to be the cutoff point for most ‘harder to find’ vinyl in decent shape.  And 60 is still too much.  But right now, it’s still partly a sellers market where vinyl is concerned, as any readers (there have to be a few) of this blog will realize from my many, many, probably too many, posts on the subject.  So, this is where the economics of time intersect with the economics of price.  I’m not young, by anyone’s standards – I’m your average middle aged guy, maybe a bit grumpier than most, certainly more bald than most!  So, we have our equation of TIME + PRICE.  Anything else?  Oh yeah, demand.  How many people are looking for Mott the Hoople’s hits on vinyl in the year of our something, 2018?  I suppose regardless of the demand, you still have to factor supply into this somewhere.  Sure, CBS (or whoever owns the rights to Mott’s catalog today) aren’t rolling copies of their Greatest Hits off the assembly line to the tune of thousands a day.  Why would they?  How many people are actually looking – or would actually be willing to pick up a copy, if they stumbled upon one?  This one might be a little tougher.  Sales = (Demand/Supply)*(Time+Price)?

I like data, I love analytics, but I’ve never been the guy who can figure out an equation like this off the top of my head.  These variables are very much of the ‘sliding scale’ variety – in terms of supply (how many copies were pressed, how many still exist, and how many are within a few miles of me – namely, in one of my local record shops), in terms of demand (Led Zeppelin pressings?  Demand.  Mott the Hoople pressings?  Demand, but of a lesser scale).  Time (how long since the record came out?  was it genre specific?  how many people still give enough of a crap to shell out money for it today?  who is it appealing to – middle aged guys, younger people, some odd intersection, or nobody?)  Intersecting with Time is Demand – for the further away from a production point you get, the harder the product is to acquire.  So, if the demand remains high (like with Zeppelin pressings), the time away from pressing (40+ years and counting for some Zeppelin releases) makes acquiring a copy harder, despite the high pressing count.  Add into this the fact that more people ‘want’ Zeppelin than ‘want’ Mott, and that has to, in some exponential way, factor into the equation.  Finally, but not really finally, we have price.  Price is dictated by supply, demand, and also, at least for something like records, time.  Again, Zeppelin is going to cost more than Mott.  But by how much and for how long?  So, I said price was the final element, but not really, because…cultural cache.  Who’s cool?  Is Zeppelin cool?  Still seem to be.  Is Mott cool?  Maybe to a few.

This really could make someone’s head hurt. It makes mine hurt.  I’m going to figure out a way to put all of this into Tableau Software, if I can ever make sense of the equation.  I might be able to get ahold of initial sales figures (minus returns, so again, not a full picture).  Look, here’s the deal…if you want some glam that isn’t Bowie, Eno, Roxy Music, Lou Reed…find some Mott the Hoople, or at least the two albums I mentioned (or their Greatest Hits).  If you want to expand your glam library, you won’t be disappoint.  However, can someone tell me what a Hoople is?

The Ideal Copy

Wire_-_Mannequin_ad

Speaking of groups that don’t get enough credit or respect, let’s talk about Wire.  Going strong (on and off) since 1977, this band is the band that’s inspired all the bands you love.  Their first album, 1977’s Pink Flag, features a lot of short, sharp ‘punk’ tunes.  They took the pre-formatted punk angst and boiled it down to unique, 90-second snippets of aggression.  By the time of 1978’s Chairs Missing, they’d already tired of the short-song format, and the speed.  They slowed things down some, and brought in some artistic twists to the lyrics.  If you like The Cure’s first two albums, this is the blueprint for that sound.  By the time of 1979’s unheralded classic 154, they slowed things down even more, and brought in elements of dub and a burgeoning electronica influence.  It’s a fantastic album that rewards deep, extended listening.  It also features perhaps their only ‘classic’ song, in Map. Ref. 41N 93W.  They couldn’t even title their most overtly ‘pop’ song in any way people would be able to remember easily.

And then they broke up.  Or so everyone thought.  Wire has always been a band of extremes, and it became the ‘rock’ duo versus the ‘art’ duo.  So they split, and made a bunch of solo-and-collaboration albums that are fine on their own, but for the most part are missing that certain spark that some groups have only when they’re all operating together.  There was a posthumous live release called Document and Eyewitness that was released in 1981, which showed them playing songs that hadn’t been on any of their albums previously – this restless, relentless writing was a quality they would keep for ages.  I’ve seen Wire live 3 times now, and they rarely play ‘recognizable’ songs.  They keep plugging away with newness, forwardness – and that can make for an exasperating concert experience – certainly one different from every other group you’ve ever seen live.

And then they got back together.  The 80’s would see a new Wire as much aware of the decade’s new ideals as they were in the 70’s, with a new sound to match.  Wire returned in 1987 with The Ideal Copy, with a complete shift in the way they composed their songs.  This would continue with 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup…, and 1989’s ‘live’ album It’s Beginning To And Back Again, which, much like Document and Eyewitness, was not so much live songs as reworkings of old material in a live setting.  Then came 1990’s Manscape, a mostly electronic affair – even the ‘played’ instruments were fed through primitive MIDI equipment.  After that came The Drill, live versions of a single track (The Drill), their first song recorded as a group in the 80’s.  Each version is manipulated in such a way that you can’t put them together – you’d certainly have trouble recognizing each of the 8 versions as the same song.  Then their first, and only, drummer, Robert Gotobed, left the band.  They dropped a letter from their name and put out one album as Wir, now a trio.  The album was called The First Letter, because the graphics showed the W in the Wir as the number 3 turned on it’s side.  It’s even more electronic that Manscape, once again reflecting the dominant alternative sounds of the times.

Maybe that was too much, because then they broke up again.  They’d be back, different again, in 2003.  But that’s a discussion for another time…

Kickboxing In America

Dark

Sometimes I want to talk about things other than music.  Although, I don’t, not really.  However, sometimes, your day is too busy to think of something original to write about.  I wanted to write about Simple Minds, a band that is way better than most people remember (right up until about 1985, that is), a band that is still making music today, but given that i just read a decent article about them on Stereogum, I didn’t want to potentially parrot anything I’d just read.  Instead, let’s talk about television.

I watch TV, like most people do.  We don’t have cable here at The Fault, so we watch streaming platforms, mostly Netflix but sometimes Amazon as well, and the odd new release movie.  Yesterday we started watching a Netflix show called Dark, which deals with time travel and shifting perceptions associated with the same.  The wife and I are suckers for a well done time travel story, and this one has started out well.  It’s a -bit- hard to follow because it has a large cast of characters (in 2019 and 1986 versions) to keep straight, so it’s definitely a show that is best watched and not had on as background to something else like a mobile video game.  The show centers on a nuclear power plant, a series of caves, and some odd time shifts, but that’s all I know so far (and it’s all I’m going to give you.  Go watch it yourself.)  It is a German-produced show, but dubbed into English – I wish they had left the native German with subtitles – but I do understand that there are lazy viewers out there who don’t want to, like, read, maaahn.

We’ve not finished the first series yet, but we’re halfway through it and so far, so good.  Although I do think it’s one of those shows you may have to watch through a second time to catch all the nuances and missed clues, which, hey, there’s only so much time in the day, so I’m not all cool with that.  Still and all, it’s decent, and you could do worse – the first (and only) season of The Mist was a massive letdown, with only the last 2 episodes being decent enough to warrant the (ostensibly free) cost of admission.

OK, yeah, Simple Minds.  Screw up, a quick recap.  Their first album, Life In A Day, is pretty sterile and lacking in focus.  Their second album, Reel to Real Cacophony, is a good, experimental, post-punk album.  It’s their third album, Empires and Dance, that really kicks.  It’s electro-rock in a vein not dissimilar to PIL, only with more melodies present.  They followed this up with Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (an LP and EP recorded at the same time), which doubles down on the synthetics (a favorite here at The Fault) and electronic grooves.  The end of their ‘experimental’ period was also the start of their ‘pop’ period, 1984’s New Gold Dream.  It’s a perfect blend of pop and experimental, showing both sides of the band in perfect harmony.  After that they went pop, did some song to a John Hughes film (you know the one) and kind of got boring.  They’re still making music and they are touring, something I’d be – kind of – interested in, if I thought they’d be playing pre-1986 stuff only.  However, I doubt that’s the case so, in one of the instances where I wish I had access to a time machine, I’d go back and see them in their pre-pop, experimental (though unloved) glory.  That’s what a show like Dark’s possibilities could do for me – give me the ability to catch bands when I loved them, not when the general public decided which songs were good.

More Fun With Data

Top 10 Writers by Total Weeks at #1

As some of you know, I’m a bit of a data fanatic.  I like Tableau’s software because it takes your data and visualizes it in a variety of interesting ways.  In keeping with my project analyzing 40 years of American #1 songs, this chart looks at the Top 10 Songwriters that have the most time at the #1 position.  Mariah Carey is actually the most prolific writer, as seen on the chart above.  Let’s be fair, we all know the ‘change a word, earn a third’ rule in songwriting; what I’m trying to say is that Mariah may have written a verse here or there, but she wasn’t solely responsible for any of her songs.  Like many ‘pop’ artists, she employed many outside writers to help with the music and lyrics (I have that viz as well, and I’ll post that another day.)
Actually, if you look at this chart, a lot of the most prolific writers aren’t artists in their own right – Max Martin, Lukasz Gottwold (also known as Dr. Luke), James Harris III (also known as Jimmy Jam), who worked closely with Terry Lewis, Scott Storch – 5 of these Top 10 Writers aren’t performers in their own right, and thus are less well known to the average consumer of the music they produce.  And those ‘products’ are people like Taylor Swift, Janet Jackson, Katy Perry, etc.  You get the idea.  Apparently it takes a lot to bring a pop song to fruition.

Or that’s what ‘they’ would have you believe.  Because within the Top 10 above is one Barry Gibb.  Don’t get me wrong, Barry Gibb wrote (and produced) songs for other artists – quite a few, or else he wouldn’t have managed to be as prominent in the Top 10 as he is in the chart above.  But, as a member of the Bee Gees (his band) in the 70’s, the only other writers were his brothers Robin (represented here) and Maurice.  So, if modern pop music makes you think it takes a ‘factory’ to produce a hit single, look to an earlier post of mine about the Bee Gees and their run of #1 singles.  They wrote them without outside help, and still managed to leave a lasting impression upon the pop charts.  So, the next time you hear a #1 single, search out who the real talent behind the creation is.  Is it the singer, the group, or some outside ‘consultant’ hired to make a hit single?  If it’s the latter, doesn’t that take all the fun out of the process?

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

TheNewYorker_PrinceTributeCover16

It’s been raining non-stop for 3 or 4 days.  This is Seattle, I understand that we receive quite a bit of rainfall every year, but when you don’t get any breathing space between bouts of rain, you start to get a little down.  Cabin fever definitely sets in.  The dog looks at you sideways because he hasn’t been on a proper walk in a while.  The drivers, always terrible here, become even worse, if that is at all possible.  Somehow, it’s always possible.  You would think that in a city accustomed to rain, the drivers would be able to navigate the watery streets like ducks in a pond.  Nope.  Not even close.  Slowed driving, hazard lights blinking, lane straddling…pretty much every idiot maneuver you can think of, Seattleites are guilty of when it rains (of course, they’re guilty when it’s sunny out as well, and don’t even get me started on how they act when it snows).

There are a lot of songs written about the rain.  There are a fair amount of songs written about other weather phenomena, like snow, but that is usually associated with a time of year – Christmas.  Likewise, there are lots of songs written about the sun.  And here’s where we get into a nice dichotomy – ‘sun’ songs seem to be about hope and potential, whereas many ‘rain’ songs are about depression, indecision, disappointment.  Rain seems to be universally associated with negative connotations, and yet, without it, we wouldn’t have our nice green, leafy landscapes, enough water to consume, and an entire industry devoted to specialized rainwear.  Confronting the uncomfortable conditions of rain gives you the strength to deal with what’s around the corner, both physically and spiritually, which, I imagine, is why the concept of rain is used as a metaphor for overcoming difficult situations.

You know where this is leading, it’s time to talk about my favorite songs that deal with rain.  Let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, Prince wrote the BEST song about rain (which would be, of course, ‘Purple Rain’).  This 8-plus minute mostly live performance is sublime in the way it deals with a crumbling relationship and the hope for a brighter tomorrow – with or without rain.  Other good ‘rain’ songs include both ‘The Rain Song’ and ‘Fool In The Rain’ by Led Zeppelin.  The prior is wistful while the second is once again situated in the ‘oddly hopeful’ category of rain songs.  Eurythmics ‘Here Comes the Rain Again’ is a decent representation of their early, more synthetic sounds.  Creedence has a great entry with ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’, the grunge generation gets a couple shout outs with Garbage’s ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ and Blind Melon’s ‘No Rain.’  If you like disco, I suppose ‘It’s Raining Men’ by The Weather Girls uses a nice metaphor about rain to make a point about hooking up.  The Beatles had ‘Rain’, and The Beta Band had ‘Dry the Rain.’  There are more, way more, and my favorites are probably not indicative of what you like.  But no matter what, when it rains, and rains constantly, if you’re anything at all like me, your mind probably tends to drift towards songs about the rain.

There are no Jones’, and I pay no rent

men

Most days, I’ll wake up with a song (or songs) stuck in my head.  This morning, it was Men At Work.  They had 5 top 10 US hit singles in the span of a year – that’s impressive.  For me, what’s impressive about them is that I really enjoy their more melancholy less rock songs.  If you took all the uptempo stuff out of their debut album Business As Usual, you’d still have a really great album, especially the last 3 songs, which, when taken as a whole, are as great a closing triptych as I’ve heard on vinyl.  There are only a few groups where I enjoy their slower, more introspective stuff more than their faster-harder stuff, with Men At Work being one, and Suede and Depeche Mode being two others that quickly come to mind.

I just heard that Mark E. Smith, curmudgeon and leader of legendary UK band The Fall has died.  He was only 60, but he lived hard, and he’s probably grousing up in heaven right now.  Futures and Pasts, Futures and Pasts.