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?

Slaughter’s Big Rip Off

slaughter

Records these days are a rip off.  I get that anything made in ‘limited’ quantities is going to have some sort of sliding cost structure associated with it, but it’s really about supply and demand.  And the worst example of supply without demand is Ebay.  I’m sure that Ebay has deals on certain things, but…wow, even their cd’s are overpriced.  I’m not sure if anyone realizes this, but you can get most cd’s for pennies on the dollar.  Records are a little harder to come by, but when the average cost on Ebay versus other seller sites (like Discogs) is 30-40% more per title, on average…who are these sellers?  If overhead isn’t a cost concern, then sure, leave your record on there forever, but…where’s the logic in that?  I thought the idea of selling something was to, you know, actually sell product.  One problem I can see is that, since shortly after it’s launch, Discogs became the official ‘price guide’ for record stores and online sellers.  Now, instead of pricing something to sell, nobody wants to go below the Discogs minimum listed price.  And Ebay sellers seem to take that and immediately add 20%.  But hey, if you need something now, this minute, I suppose that’s what Ebay is there for.  Otherwise, if you’re already into the hobby, or just getting into the hobby, be very careful with your dollars.  Here’s a nice post about cost aggregating.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash on Ebay, but when it comes to their vinyl pricing, yeah, I guess I am.  But that’s not down to the website, it’s down to the sellers operating there.

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?

Do You Want To Know What’s Going On Inside My Happy Head?

THE_MIGHTY_LEMON_DROPS_HAPPY+HEAD-296713

I wasn’t going to post anything today, as I didn’t think I had anything to say.  I then realized that I had an empty head, and an empty head is a happy head.  Ignorance is bliss, they do say.  Of course, I then realized that Happy Head is the name of an album and a song by the band The Mighty Lemon Drops.  The Drops were a mid-80’s psychedelic band in the vein of Echo & The Bunnymen or the Chameleons, and they seemed especially influenced by the 13th Floor Elevators.  They produced some fine tunes, especially their early indie releases and their lp World Without End.  After that they seemed creatively lost, with a redeeming song here or there but definitely diminishing returns.  I did see them live once, headlining a 3-act bill with the Ocean Blue and John Wesley Harding, and they put on a good performance.  Like many things though, they were hitting their mid-period weak point at the same time grunge broke mainstream.  Grunge sank a lot of listing ships.  I suggest seeking out their stuff on Youtube if you’re interested in hearing more.

I also realized that I probably have enough song titles and lyrics in my happy head that I could, conceivably, answer every question posed to me with a song-lyric response.  I could probably hold entire conversations made up of quotes from song lyrics.  Think of it as the musical equivalent of the ‘meow’ game from Super Troopers.

Enlighten Me

It’s time for awesome album cover Sunday here at The Fault.

The above covers are to the Echo & The Bunnymen album “Reverberation.”  If you don’t know the history, this is the album the band made after lead singer (and big grump) Ian McCulloch left for solo career waters, and also after drummer Pete DeFreitas died in a motorbike accident.  It’s derided by many as not being ‘Echo’ enough, and it probably was a bad idea to use the Echo & The Bunnymen name.  A better idea would have been to become a new group altogether, but it’s likely the record label probably wouldn’t have let that happen – no name recognition to promote.  Plus, there’s a longstanding history of bands replacing irreplaceable members and carrying on as if nothing would change (if you don’t know Squeeze by the Velvet Underground, well…that’s actually a good thing.  I do like the cover for that album as well, to me it encapsulates the pop art of the early 70’s).

And so in 1990, we got “Reverberation”.  I received my copy as a Christmas gift, which is probably the only way I would have listened to it.  To my surprise, I found that I really, really enjoyed it.  The instrumentation is Echo’s latent psychedelic flourishes taken to their natural conclusions, with lots of Indian instrumentation like Sitars, string sections, and tablas throughout.  There’s also production by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, so it holds its 60’s cards close to its proverbial vest.  New singer Noel Burke is fine, but his voice isn’t McCulloch’s.  His lyrics also become very cliched and thesaurus-thick with multiple listens, but overall, the album holds up in a way that some of the ‘real’ Echo & The Bunnymen albums fail to do.

What about the cover, you ask?  Oh yeah, so…if you observe, on the right, there’s a bunch of appropriately psychedelic swirly things going on, with some silver inlay, yeah?  You tilt the picture in a certain way, and a woman’s face appears in triptych, as seen on the left.  It took me a while to figure it out, and the effect is repeated on the inside, with the band becoming visible upon further inspection.  It’s a cool cover that rewards further inspection, as, I believe, does the music contained within.  When I feel like listening to some Echo, at least a few songs on this album get a spin when I’m feeling nostalgic.

It’s a Velvet Noose

TwistedSister

Heavy Metal is far down on my list of often-listened to genres of music.  Despite this, I recently watched a documentary on the band Twisted Sister called, appropriately enough, We Are Twisted F###ing Sister.  For those who don’t know (also for those who unfortunately do know) Twisted Sister had a brief flash of success in the mid-80’s playing what is now affectionately known as ‘hair metal’.  Hair metal was terrible.  Everyone had ‘big’ hair in the 80’s, and the metal bands weren’t immune to this.  Hair metal became a juggernaut that became more about looks (this was MTV’s heyday) than about the, you know, metal aspect of the music.  Hair metal became so commercialized that metal had to go completely underground for over a decade…in fact, metal might still be the ‘we don’t speak of that genre in this house’ style of music.

Let’s not label critiques as generalizations though, we’re talking about Twisted Sister here.  There’s always more to any story, and this was an intriguing documentary about, primarily, the early years of Twisted Sister, before record label success came calling.  The band started in 1972 as a glam band a la Bowie, T. Rex, or Lou Reed.  Singer (and most recognizable member) Dee Snider joined in 1976, and shortly thereafter took control of all songwriting duties.  They kept the glam fashion look for years, even taking it to extreme lengths with straight-up dresses and halter tops.  The goal visually was to shock and even repulse, while the goal musically was to be tight, loud, and flashy.

That’s the thing most people forget.  1970’s glam was often loud, edgy, and flash.  It’s really of little surprise, to those who follow such things as musical evolutions, that the musical aspects would get louder, faster, and heavier.  Aside from Twisted Sister, Motley Crue were also ostensibly a Glam group while they were developing.  There were others, of lesser stature in the late 70’s, but eventually, the glam turned to metal, and I dropped off.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a good metal album is just what is needed, but I’ve always had issues with metal being so treble-heavy and lacking in backbeat.  That doesn’t mean the rhythm section of a metal band can’t play, to the contrary, they’re talented musicians, as are all those in metal bands.  I hold most people who can play metal in high regard, because to play accurately and at that speed takes knowledge and practice.  I digress.  What backbeat exists, in most recorded metal music, is usually buried deep in the mix somewhere.  Maybe that’s why I connected more with groups like Living Colour, who managed to balance the guitars with beats, or with groups like Iron Maiden, who were much more ‘Progressive Rock’ metal than ‘hard, fast, loud’ metal.  Metal is always best enjoyed at extreme volumes, in an enclosed space, with 500 or more of your closest friends.  I’m talking the live experience.

And that’s what the Twisted Sister documentary gives you, a ton of archival footage of them playing live.  I’ve heard their records (well, their first 3 at any rate) and they’re definitely metal, but the records sound thin and aggressive.  The glam elements have been completely stripped away, leaving only an angry, speed-infused attitude.  Glam always had a very tongue in cheek vibe to lyrics and delivery, something metal misinterpreted as unrequited sexual tension and anger.  It’s great if you’re a pubescent 14 year old boy with angst, maaaaan, but as a repeated listening experience, it doesn’t hold up.  Contrary to this recorded lack of punch, some of the documentary footage of Sister playing live makes me wish I could have been at some of their gigs.  For much of their pre-record contract life, they played a very small tri-state area of NY, NJ, and Connecticut.  Very rarely did they venture into Manhattan, instead focusing on Long Island and other NY ‘outskirts’.  Their music, by its nature, wasn’t cool, so staying in the suburbs and playing to bored (yet very loyal) teenagers five nights a week for ten years turned them into a ferocious, well-oiled live act.  They were one of the first rock bands to openly rail against disco music, even going so far as to play in clubs that had turned from discos into rock venues.  They were the first rock band to play the club 2001 Odyssey, which was where Travolta’s famous dance scene in Saturday Night Fever was filmed, and were even allowed to demolish the place as a testament to ‘out with the old, in with the new’, for which they will have my eternal gratitude.  As is well known to most, I hate disco.  Twisted Sister played to their fans, for their fans, and eventually, someone took notice.  Even if a record label hadn’t noticed, at their height, they were making roughly 10 grand a night, and were the biggest live draw in the rock clubs of the day.  But they were smart enough to know that, like disco before them, this new breed of rock they were playing had a limited shelf life.  As fans grow up and stylistic tastes change, the bands have to be ‘taken care of’ beyond having to play live (although live music is still where most musicians make their income).  The record contract is supposed to be the union card for dedicated, working musicians.  And despite most musicians being in a ‘union’, it hardly ever works out that way.

When they hit MTV with “We’re Not Gonna Take It“, from their album Stay Hungry, bands like Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and Motley Crue had already paved the way for loud, visual rock n roll.  TS, having kept their odd glam garments, fit in with the new visual channel perfectly.  So what happened?  Who knows.  Fate, as mentioned often on this very blog, is a fickle thing.  Those who liked their MTV hit might have aged out of teen-angst metal, or just found their follow-up album Come Out And Play lacking in the same metal vibe of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (I’m of the opinion that come out and play tried to keep the attitude but tried to water down the sound, to appeal to ‘new’ fans.  That rarely ever turns out well in the long term).  For whatever the reason, by the end of 1986, the ‘classic’ version of TS, after having endured a decade-plus of playing in clubs to the same loyal fan base, called it a day (although they didn’t officially announce this until early 1988).  Some bands have the management, the label backing, the writing chops, the live act, to sustain a long-term career.  Some aren’t meant to reach for the brass ring.  Some reach for it, and touch it for only a very brief instant before gravity brings them back to earth.  Twisted Sister were one such band, but one that’s still remembered today for, if nothing else, an odd, unique look and a loud, bratty attitude.  I think if more people had been able to see their live shows, who knows?  They might have had a longer career.  As is, they still tour occasionally (what old band doesn’t?), and maybe if they come to town again, I’ll be in the audience.  Maybe I’ll see you in the pit.