Archive for T. Rex

Back To Black: Headphone LPs

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by 30daysout

Koss headphones and a porn star mustache got the chicks every time.

Way back in the dark ages (the 1970s) I’d heard that a few albums sounded really great on headphones. Well, my parents had a stereo but we didn’t have headphones. They cost about $12 apiece then, which in today’s dollars would likely be a monthly mortgage payment.

So I borrowed a couple of albums from my good friend Randy Fuller and took ‘em home to experience “true stereo.” My homemade headphones substitute was putting two stereo speakers on the floor facing each other then turning them out at about a 45 degree angle, just enough to slip a pillow and my stupid head in between.

With the volume set real low, it was a great substitute – until a little brother sneaked into the room and jacked it up to threshold of pain level. I still hate those guys.

Back in the day, one used to see magazine ads like this.

Anyway, with Record Store Day approaching, I thought I’d pull out a handful of my favorite “headphone” LPs and give ‘em a spin. These records were best listened to on those big clunky headphones, like the kind the Koss company used to make. You really got good spatial separation and a sense of true depth by listening to rock albums over headphones, and they were great soundtracks to some, ah, chemical stimulation. Or so I have been told.

For me, the granddaddy of all headphone LPs was Fragile by Yes (1971), which was one of the albums I borrowed from Randy back then. It was the group’s fourth album and the first with new keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and these prog-rockers really explored the studio space. “Long Distance Runaround” and “Roundabout” got a lot of radio airplay, but hearing those songs on AM radio really didn’t do them justice. The extended jam “Heart of the Sunrise” would usually send me into space or more accurately, a deep sleep.

The progressive rockers were great for headphone music: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973), Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues (1967) and In The Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson (1969) are classics. Randy likes Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977) for its crossing, slashing guitars and in 1976 I went for Rush and 2112, considered by many a headphones classic.

Randy remembers Quadrophenia by the Who (1973) as a nice headphone experience, and I always used to go for Electric Warrior by T. Rex (1971). And for some reason: Phoenix by Grand Funk Railroad (1972) got a lot of headphone mileage, but maybe I was just too lazy to take it off the turntable. And let’s not forget: Abbey Road by the Beatles (1969), Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney (1971) and Best of Spirit (1973), all favorites of mine.

Our memory wavelengths converge on one act who always sounded great in stereo: The Firesign Theatre. Not musicians, this was a comedy troupe whose medium was the stereo album. Their stuff is multi-tracked and brilliant, and you can listen to their setpieces over and over again just like a great rock song. Their very best albums – Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers (1970) and Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974) are rich experiences on headphones, but hands down their best for special effects and stereo is the futuristic I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus (1971).

Look at me, going on about all this stuff. I could talk about old records and music all day. And there’s a perfect day to do just that: Record Store Day, April 21 this year. Go out to your independent music store, grab up some special vinyl and see how many people are music freaks just like you and me.

MP3: “Long Distance Runaround” by Yes (from Fragile)

MP3: “Planet Queen” by T. Rex (from Electric Warrior)

MP3: “Flight Of The Phoenix” by Grand Funk Railroad (from Phoenix)

MP3: “A Passage To Bangkok” by Rush (from 2112)

MP3: “Sheep” by Pink Floyd (from Animals)

MP3: “The Breaking Of The President” by the Firesign Theatre (from I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus)

Sampler Daze: A Last Look at the Loss Leaders

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2009 by 30daysout

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When The 1969 Warner/Reprise Songbook appeared in early 1969, the liner notes said, by way of explanation, the sampler’s goal was “hopefully to win new friends for some very creative people.”  People like Jethro Tull, the Pentangle, Frank Zappa, Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, even Tiny Tim.  Warner Bros. Records, founded in 1958, was just beginning to hoist its freak flag, and in just a few years the label’s roster would be the cream of the crop.

And so the ride began: with L.A. street freak Wild Man Fischer’s “Songs For Sale” introducing “My Sunday Feeling” by Jethro Tull.  Eleven years later, the Warner Bros./Reprise Loss Leaders series ended on the sampler Troublemakers with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols snarling, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Well, no.  The 34 Loss Leaders samplers that appeared between 1969 and 1980 formed my musical tastes and exposed me to artists I would never have dreamed of seeking out, to people who may have been just a little too adventurous even for early-Seventies radio.  I remember calling up my local AM pop station and smugly asking the DJ to play some Zappa and the Mothers, or that flip side by the Beach Boys, only to get the response, “What?”  The Loss Leaders made me cooler than the disc jockey!

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