Back over at The Cultural Gutter for a Frolic Afield. Where is All You Angels? stared out as a jokey celebration of my favorite music video, Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys.” Things quickly spun out of control into an exploration of William S. Burroughs, LGBT rights, the mundanity of queer cinema, dayglo jockstraps, north Florida summers, and what a counter-culture loses when it wins its biggest battle. Also, we try to decipher just what the hell anyone was thinking when they made Arena.
When it comes to music, I have little nostalgia for vinyl. I much more prefer the internet equivalent of crate digging to the old school variety, where, along with the limits of physical space you had unlimited opportunities to inhale large quantities of dust. It has to be admitted, however, that those physical limits did provide an obsessive like myself with something of a shield against the wages of his own worst impulses. On the internet, you see, the rabbit holes are bottomless. Nevertheless, my endless plummeting down said holes still on occasion proves worthwhile, leading to a discovery that forces me to gawp in renewed awe at the digital world’s capacity to be an infinite Alexandria of obscurities.
Reparata and the Delrons were a girl group that spent a long career plumbing the lower echelons of the American pop charts – a fact that even a cursory listen to any survey of their many singles renders somewhat unbelievable. Like fellow East-coasters the Shangri-las, their early repertoire was heavy on teenage melodrama and heartbreak. But as the 60s wore on, and the girl group sound fell out of fashion, they branched out, and as a result ended up covering an intriguing spectrum of contemporary pop sounds, in the process recording a healthy number of shoulda-been hits and unrecognized classics.
Burt Bacharach’s soundtrack is probably the least maligned aspect of producer Charles Feldman’s 1967 film version of Casino Royale. For connoisseurs of cinematic disaster, the problems that beset that production are well familiar. Kaufman, who held the movie rights to Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, intended to make a canonical James Bond film, but upon failing to secure the cooperation of Eon Productions, decided instead to mount a spoof on a grand scale. The film’s star, Peter Sellers, was fired halfway through production, requiring that the remainder of the already loosely structured film be written and shot around his absence. On top of that, multiple directors were engaged, each delivering a “chapter” of the film marked by their own individual sensibility. The result has been railed against as a shamefully self-indulgent work of anti-cinema, a triumph of – not style over substance – but style as substance.
In 199..ummm, like 1993 maybe? 1994? No idea. But way back then, when I was high on Ongaku Otaku and Hijokaidan and CCCC, I decided to record my own experimental noise album. I had no real musical equipment, talent, or skill, but what I did have was a clunky 386 computer with some sort of DOS-based sound recording software, a bunch of old electronics, and a lot of VHS tapes. Using a lot of pretty advanced, high-tech recording and mixing techniques — like holding a mic up to a TV or playing two sound sources at the same time and holding a mic up to them (Realistic brand, if memory serves) — I managed to get a pretty big tangle of sonic mania dumped onto what was a pretty big hard drive back in those days, like easily three megs.
Francoise Hardy may have been the most stereotypically French of the Yē-Yē girls: Aloof, sophisticated and beautifully melancholy. Nevertheless, her sound was one that was largely made in England – or, at least, by English hands, among them producer and arranger Charles Blackwell, the songwriting and production team of Tommy Brown and Micky Jones, and sometime co-writer Pierre Tubbs. By 1968, with Hardy now overseeing her own Asparagus label, the artist chose to give free reign to this facet of her work by recording a trio of albums en anglais, all of which have been lovingly compiled into Ace International’s single cd set Midnight Blues.
Musicians like Lee Hazlewood rode an interesting wave during the late 60s, when midlife addled moms and dads, eager not to be left behind by the caprices of a youth driven culture, started to raid their children’s record collections. This opened the opportunity for the creation of an adult oriented version of those troublesome youngsters’ music, a sort of easy listening psychedelia exemplified by Hazlewood collaborations with Nancy Sinatra like “Some Velvet Morning” and “Sand”. Also exemplary of this sound is the Hazlewood produced 1968 album by Honey Ltd., which, thanks to Light in the Attic records, is only now receiving its first wide release.
At the height of the Yeh Yeh Girl craze, literally dozens upon dozens of teenage girls filed through the recording studios of Western Europe and, from there, onto the airwaves. For every true artiste like Francoise Hardy, I suspect there were many more who were compelled by external forces such as svengalis and stage parents. Yet, as the brief and quite odd career of Clothilde demonstrates, the results in those cases were not always as manufactured sounding as that might imply.
60s garage rock is my preferred late night listening, offering a pleasurable chill deeper than that provided by the usual combination of challenged fidelity and ennobling obscurity that I find in other vintage recordings. It truly seems like something was haunting the garages of suburban America during the mid-60s, as if white teenagers, unable to pull off the perceived sexual menace of the black bluesmen they sought to emulate, instead turned to more accessible models, such as those found in B Movies and horror comics. As examples, there was the night stalking, vampiric image of groups like the Count Five and the Shadows of Knight, the Standells’ smirking shout-out to the Boston Strangler in “Dirty Water”, and David Aguilar growling like a ghoulish master of ceremonies over the hellish abyss of reverb and indecipherable backing vocals that was The Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”. And then, of course, there was The Sonics’ “Psycho”, a proto-shock rocker that was also one of the most unaffectedly savage punk singles of its, or any, era.
When I first moved to New York some fifteen years ago, I spent a lot of time (and even more money) buying records at Mondo Kim’s on St. Marks and Other Music on East 4th. Among the things I stumbled across at those shops and got addicted to was music released by a label called Sublime Frequencies, which plumbed the most obscure corners of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa for classic and contemporary pop music. Being the fiend I am for old music from Asia, it was a foregone conclusion that collections of 50s-80s pop music from places like Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and so forth were going to delight me. But what was even more interesting than those were the collections of music from countries that have been traditionally off-limits to most Americans — Myanmar, Shan Province, North Korea — or are struggling to emerge from decades of oppression and violence, like Cambodia. So I thought, even though we want to take the full Sublime Frequencies tour, we’d start in those mysterious, forbidden corners of Asia.