Record Store Day. The somewhat benevolent creation of the record industry in 2007 to enervate the then fledgling recovering vinyl industry. Records had been considered dead and buried by the end of the 80’s, and vinyl pressings had dwindled to near nil from their hey day. In 1978, over 340 million albums were purchased, the peak year of album buying in America. With the advent of CDs, twenty years later, 1998 saw LP sales drop to 1% of 1978’s sales figures at just over 3 million units. By 2006, vinyl LP sales had plunged to under a million-900,000 units sold for that year. (CDs had shifted an amazing 800 million units in 1998-nearly 1,000 CDs sold for each LP sold) Records were proclaimed dead in every industry paper, folks dumped their decades long curated collections into landfills and Salvation Army bins, and the chore of lugging around hundreds or thousands of pounds of vinyl was solved.
Or so it seemed. Indie labels had never really given up on vinyl, and the cooler indie stores still stocked records by bands that most had never heard of, and sales were moderate. Albums were now pressed in the thousands (sometimes as low as 1000) per release. 2007 saw the innovation of a single day created for the indie record stores that had kept the faith through the lean years. Severely limited editions of some enticing titles were offered for sale on a single day in April, and only independent stores were allowed to order them. Soon, the buzz spread. As years went on, folks began lining up in the early morning hours to grab some genuine treasures, or get tricked into buying repackaged turds that they knew better than to drop another 40 bucks on. (the dreadful double A side 45s from WB with the original vintage single on one side and a cover by a modern band as the B side gets singled out here). Regardless, some real rarities spat out, and it became almost de riguer to jump to eBay to see what the sold out items were fetching.
The past few record store days (now doubled to twice a year-Black Friday in November joins the original April date) have shown an industry short on imagination. Flickers came here and there, but a trend towards reissuing albums at $30 a pop that are easily found across town in a vintage used record store for five bucks? No thanks. Rarely is a truly groundbreaking and definitive rarity released under the guises of Record Store Day. Until this year, where lightning struck not once, but twice.
Hawkwind – Dark Matter (The Alternative Liberty/UA Years 1970-1974) 2 lp
This one escaped almost EVERYONE’S radar. Even Hawkfans online had little idea how important a release this one is for fans of early Hawkwind (considered the definitive era by most). Sourced from the 2011 3 CD compilation Parallel Universe (in and of itself the single definitive Hawkwind collection) Somehow folks didn’t realize how important the gems contained in here were. The plethora of Hawkwind compilations-similar to Stooges releases-have made fans immune to most Hawk comps. Too many are the same things over and over in a new sleeve and a new title. For those who thought that about this release, please take a closer look.
First, this one is easy to miss on the shelf. The band name and title are nearly invisible on the cryptic alien manhole cover. Last years RSD Hawkwind release (Best of the UA Years 1971-1974) sank without a trace with zero track information on a poorly designed cover. . (both record stores in my town still have two copies each of this a year later. Many US record fans sadly would now just flip past any Hawk RSD title ) With this in mind, my early morning arrival to score what I knew to be one of the RSD treasures of the decade turned out to be unnecessary-they had plenty. Bringing this home immediately, I could not believe what was contained within. Basically this had things NEVER heard before by Hawkfans (excepting those who had been wise enough to grab Parallel Universe). And what things these were! The debut lineup of Brock, Turner, Harrison, Lloyd-Langton and Ollis doing In Search of Space material? What?? The In Search of Space lineup doing early Do Re Mi style material? Reworked versions of Hawkwind Zoo material that sound nothing like that EP? Studio versions of songs we’d only heard live? What was going on here? Was this one of the biggest Hawkwind releases in their career?
Digging a little deeper, that is exactly what we have going on here. The 1969-1970 lineup is represented on three tracks, You Know You’re Only Dreaming (which ended up on In Search Of Space) is a completely different take on the song, with only the lyrics as the common thread. It almost heads into a sound not unlike King Crimson of the same 1970 era. A fairly unique sound Hawkwind didn’t really show again. The Reason Is from their debut album is a different take, slightly scarier if that’s possible. Be Yourself is a different mix, very close to the original. Still, side A is an eye opener for a Hawkwind collection, with the Dreaming track being the real treasure. I was already blown away.
Side B kicks off with another unheard song, the instrumental Hog Farm. This contains riffs from the much later Hawklords album of 1978 and is something out of left field for a Hawkwind fan-completely unheard until today. The transition to the In Search of Space line up has happened, and vocalist/poet Robert Calvert has entered, and guitarist Lloyd-Langton has exited, with Dave Anderson from Amon Duul 2 now on bass. Rumblings of Brainstorm and Master of the Universe scuttle in and out of the jamming. Sweet Mistress of Pain (Kiss of the Velvet Whip) is another song from the same session from May 1971. Originally taken from the rare pre Hawkwind EP ‘Hawkwind Zoo’ from early 1969, this version has been pumped up several levels. Calvert carries this one along vocally, and the newly injected instrumental power makes one wonder why the band didn’t up the ante and just keep the melody and replace the puerile lyrics with something a bit more star/drug/cosmic oriented. (lyrics to this song are the low point in Brock’s canon, probably why this song never surfaced) Alas, this was a missed chance to create a truly classic Hawkwind song-still this version is heady. Seven by Seven, made famous on Space Ritual only had a studio version as the B side to the Silver Machine 45. This one here is a different version of the studio version and contains different lyrics. Again, this side is a strong argument as to why Hawkwind is a uniquely amazing musical experience. Brock and Turner are twin masters here; psychedelic voles burrowing into the deepest folds of your brain, and you are helpless in the sincerest sense of the word. The expansive wah wah use by Brock on guitar and Turner on sax create the essence of the Hawkwind sound-pounding bass and drums underneath, psychedelic warpings of guitar and sax, and wooshing chaotic underlay. This is the primordial heart of Hawkwind that perhaps even some of their hard core fans don’t know exists. The sound of In Search of Space has expanded to a more refined primordial puddle of brain bubbles than the studio album could quite aspire to.
Side three starts with another never before heard song, an outtake from Do Re Mi called Take What You Can-a fairly easy going standard Hawkwind type tune, it soon veers off into an instrumental section that features newly minted Lemmy endeavoring to tear holes in the universe before retreating back to home base and dwindling to a gentle two chord segue straight from Space Ritual (the song ends with the segue fading out). Elements of Master of the Universe are clearly evident in the riffing here. The rest of the side is taken up by the full studio version of Brainbox Pollution from August of 1973. Although this song is not unfamiliar to most Hawkfreaks, this version is. Stretched out to full length from the single edit that everyone knows, everything that makes Hawkwind special is contained in here (despite lacking the ‘horn of destiny’ call in the riff). Honestly, this version of the song would be what I’d consider what you’d come up with if you distilled the Hawkwind ethos into a single song. Side three has upped the ante, I can no longer believe that stuff of this quality has been undercover for so long-every song here would stand easily with the classics of the Hawkwind oeuvre.
Side four contains the unheard studio version of the B side It’s So Easy. (the more common version is a live one). A studio version of You Better Believe It (the Hall of the Mountain Grill version was likewise live) with the lyric ‘it’s so easy’ shows why the previous song was likely shelved from the album. Both come from the same January 1974 studio session. It’s So Easy ends with a sublime denouement you never hear from them, almost Grateful Dead-like in elegiac subtlety. A different take on Wind of Change closes out side four, a very Pink Floyd guitar attack that bring the proceedings to an end like watching the most sublime beach sunset close out a lysergic soaked day of adventure.
But make no mistake, these are powerful anthems to sheer lunacy, real howl at the moon kind of shit. The kind of stuff they don’t make anymore. This album already is insanely essential-a landmark of space rock. Nik Turner, who usually flies under the radar musically is shown to be a huge part of the sound–his carefully modulated and wah wah inflected sax sound like nothing on this earth, and provide a twisted musical continuity to most of the pieces. Brock’s likewise heavy wah use throughout most of this helps the call and response between two alien beings manning instruments not of this earth. It is not hyperbole to state that this is perhaps the best Hawkwind album since Space Ritual–the surfacing of a long lost treasure trove of relics we didn’t suspect existed, finally released a full forty plus years after being recorded. Pass the word on to your friends and Hawkfriends: “if you don’t have this album, you are missing a HUGE part of Hawkwind.”
The Residents- The Warner Brothers Album
The Holy Grail of Residents Lore Sees the Light of Day!
The second treasure of RSD 2018 is a doozy, something we were told we would never ever hear-the nearly mythical Warner Bros. Album that gave the band their name. But first, maybe we need a little background on this band.
The Residents are best known as the eyeball wearing quartet from perhaps San Francisco who make some of the most uncommercial, sanity threatening and mutation inducing music this side of a lunatic asylum orchestra. They had been kicking around the psychedelic scene as early as 1967, and though many collectives explored similar paths, none had the vision (or perhaps lack thereof), diligence, dedication to destroying established musical traditions and mores and the ability to excise the word ‘no’ from their vocabulary like the Residents. Getting sued by the Beatles label for their first album cover got them a smidgen of infamy (a trick later borrowed by conceptual cousins Negativland). They had to change the album cover.
Who was actually in the Residents? No one knew. This was a more closely guarded secret than what Kiss looked like under their makeup. Unlike Kiss, few actually cared. Their debut registered minuscule sales. It was an unsettling maelstrom of music concrete, childish sing a longs, advanced modern classical riffs, homemade instruments and intentional mistakes that were the underpinning to some vocals that would disturb even Captain Beefheart. The band stayed the course for an album arc that everyone should dabble their little toes into:
The above five albums set a benchmark for weirdness that is hard to top. In fact, it’s never been topped. But as twisted as these releases are, nothing compares to the early years of the band. And so our tale begins:
Our heroes are ensconced somewhere in California. The sixties are coming to an end. This loose collective who now might include Philip Lithman (better known as Snakefinger) as a guest guitarist on top of Homer Flynn, Hardy Fox, Jay Clem and John Kennedy. (though all four claim they are managers of the Cryptic Corporation, not actual musicians) They start making serious music. Seriously damaged that is. Tapes slow down, instruments are primitively recorded: is it a kazoo? A fuzzed violin? a cat being tortured? No one knew. One never discussed item is that there was another early member of the band (often referred to as N. Senada- a pseudonym), someone classically trained on piano and composition. He became disenchanted with formal collegiate musical training and conservatory approaches, and decided to hitch his star to these acid soaked performance artists with pretty much zero musical talent. Perhaps he recognized flickers of Harry Partch, John Cage, Edgar Varese and Stockhausen in their childish dada clinking and clanking (and occasional transmission throwing out gears at 60 mph) But both factions were willing to make it a go, and the genesis of the Warner Bros. album was created. They recorded into 1971, hand painted the optimistically titled tape cover (see above) and mailed it to Hal Halverstadt, the guy at Warners who signed Captain Beefheart. (hey, if this guy signed Beefheart, he’ll LOVE us!) songlist below:
- Strawberry Fields Forever (Lennon-McCartney)
- The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany
- Baby Skeletons & Dogs
- Bop Bop (Shoo Bop Bop)
- Stuffed Genital
- Every Day I Masturbate on A Merican Fag
- Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy, Can’t You See that it’s True?
- Baby Skeletons & Dogs (Reprise)
- The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise)
- Love & Peace
- The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise 2)
- Black Velvet Original
- The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise 3)
- Christmas Morning Foto
- The Mad Sawmill of Copenhagen, Germany (Reprise 4)
- In the Still of the Night
- Maggie’s Farm (B. Dylan)
- Snot and Feces: Live at the Grunt Festival
- Sweet Meat
- Oh Yeah Uhh Bop Shoo Bop
- Ohm is Where the Art Is
- Concerto in R Flat Minor
- Sell American
- Love Theme from a Major Motion Picture
- Prelude for Accordion, Sousaphone and French Horn
- Oh God You’re a Pie in the Sky
- Short Circuit Comes to Town
- Marching Toward AEIOU Blues
- In the Still of the Night Again
- Oh Mommy, Oh Daddy, Can’t You See that it’s True Again
- Art the White Elephant
- Psychedelic and Orgasmic Finale
Unfortunately, Hal was not blown away. But with no information to go on, he was forced to mail the tape back to the return address c/o “Residents” since they had not included any names. Thus, the band was born.
But no one had ever actually heard the album outside their guarded inner circle. It went from history to legend to myth. A single play was allowed on the radio. KBOO in Portland Oregon broadcast the album once in 1977 during a tribute to the Residents. Many Residents fans (myself included) had a multi generation copy of this weirdness on cassette. But nobody thought we’d get to hear it ever again. That was certain.
How this thing got tabbed for a RSD release is beyond me. Nobody, even the most clued in and knowledgeable employees in any store I spoke with had heard of this holy grail of Residents history. I managed to grab the last copy in the 8 am scrum by the RSD release bin. By reaching through four people. Luckily I knew this one was all black, and took a chance by grabbing a jet black single lp–gawwdammmm that is it!!! That afternoon, this puppy was grabbing over $100 on eBay. Too many people found out too late what an important release this was, perhaps one of the most important releases in the whole history of Record Store Day. This record will crack your cranium open, plant little seeds of madness, then haphazardly super glue you back together. Below is a compendium of the ‘songs’ on this set of proto madness for your consumption. Country, blues, current pop music, children’s melodies, monsters under your bed and kitchen utensils get deconstructed, reassembled and collide nicely:
Addendum: Early 80’s, the band split in half at the conclusion of the Mole show tour. I seemed to be the only one to notice the band had dropped from a quartet to a duo. The band steadfastly refused to acknowledge anything of the sort. (Clues from the hard to find “Mole Comics’ printed at the time are very clear that two of the members are not happy at all cruising this mess around Europe). They returned for a 1985 tour with two members, Snakefinger and female dancers in eyeball heads. I’m pretty sure no members of the Residents had boobs. Oddly, one of my long term acquaintances managed to get a job in the periphery of the Cryptic Corporation. I confronted him one day:
‘why doesn’t the band admit they split in half and that two members disappeared in 1983?”
him: “I know nothing about that”
me: ‘mmm hmmm, I’m pretty sure in 1985 in concert in Boston I saw members in leotards with boobs dance and not play a single note.’
me: ‘I’ll take that as a confirmation’
So maybe it’s not news, but Jay Clem and John Kennedy scampered away at the end of 1982. Some of you might have figured it out, some of you might not have even thought to ask, but the Residents have been a duo since then, and in recent years, down to just Homer. (who in a recent cabaret style performance admitted he had recorded most of Donkey for the huge animated film Shrek, then gotten bounced by Eddie Murphy. The vicissitudes of stardom will smack you down, won’t they.)
Two definitive albums. Two acid soaked bands from opposite sides of the world who recorded these treasures at roughly the same time, and had the results sit unheard for 47 years. Sometimes they get it right, eh?