Thursday, April 30, 2009

George Harrison - You

(Apple, 1975)

For over a decade, I had walked these dusky streets happily a-whistling my way towards the grave, all the while under the impression that the only thing I cared for on Extra Texture was goof-off closing track “His Name is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen).” So imagine the total jaw-drop pants-wet eye-poppery this week when I, older and mellower, played the album and found myself LOVING ALMOST ALL OF IT. Stuff’s solid! Occasionally SUPER-DUPER, even! And “You,” the single, is absolutely ducky in its explosive wall-of-sound gallop, with lush sonics perhaps present because the backing track was salvaged from a scotched 1971 Ronnie Spector session. But no matter, it’s an excellent Harrison song regardless of its origins, and that heavenly, organ-heavy middle section is about as great a moment as he ever managed on disc – overall, it’s a brighter, poppier tweaking of the All Things Must Pass template, and that’s a template-tweak to make any non-nut sit up and mull applause. The barrelhouse-meets-soul ballad B-side, “World of Stone,” features piano that’s alternately tinkled and pounded, and that, along with burbling organ and brief snatches of an anthemic chorus vocal, results in a vaguely McCartney-esque track that underlines how much more musical effort Harrison is expending this time around. Again: Good stuff. Both songs appear on the LP in identical form, and the near-uniformly strong material around them (“The Answer’s at the End,” “This Guitar,” “Can’t Stop Thinking About You”) makes Extra Texture, despite the puzzlingly lukewarm critical consensus, a George-train well worth riding.

Also, that rotted apple core that takes the place of the famously appetizing Granny Smith logo on the vinyl’s label is a pretty nifty joke on Harrison’s part, what with Apple degenerating into decades of lawsuit-hell at the time and all. Wotta cut-up, that guy!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

George Harrison - Dark Horse

(Apple, 1975)

As you’d better damn well remember, I mentioned in my previous review that Harrison’s label flip-flopped the release of the two American Dark Horse singles for the overseas markets, and also crossed up their B-sides. So now we have before us, straight outta Ol’ Blighty, the titular track backed by sax-shellacked alb loser “Hari’s On Tour (Express),” conveniently issued as a 7” well after the LP had semi-stiffed. The picture sleeve is nearly identical to the one that came out in the States, and the labels are custom-printed with images of George’s eyes on one side, and future wife Olivia’s on the other… a harmless little poke at John and Yoko?

Monday, April 27, 2009

George Harrison - Ding Dong, Ding Dong

(Apple, 1974)

In Europe, Apple released “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” as the first single from Dark Horse rather than, as was the case in America, the title track. This calculated switcheroo sadly resulted in no big excitement on the charts, and no big excitement in terms of the actual records pressed – just that the B-sides were swapped and “Ding Dong” thus got saddled here with the worthless “I Don’t Care Anymore.” So who cares, right? RIGHT! Unless, of course, you happen to have a bizarre compulsion that drives you to spend large chunks of your paycheck on unique international ex-Beatle picture sleeves… LIKE I DO! As such, this Belgian edition is a bit of a doozy, its festive, psychedelic-hangover layout a colorful improvement over its staid American counterpart. Yes ma’am, it’s always a groovy New Year when this one’s a-spinnin’!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

George Harrison - Ding Dong, Ding Dong

(Apple, 1974)

“Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” George’s stab at a holiday single, is a winner, a sonically-exciting track that runs laps around the rest of the limp Dark Horse LP. The saxes, clanging bells, and backing vocals bring a lushness that gives the song the feel of his earliest solo work, but the sing-songy lyrics add a breezy fun that that material tended to lack. Easily as strong as Lennon’s “Happy Xmas,” and far better than McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” this one has mysteriously slipped through the cracks when it comes to seasonal radio play; it’d be nice to see/hear it resurrected in coming years, as it deserves better than to be forgotten. The instrumental “Hari’s On Tour (Express),” on the other hand, might have made sense from a promotional standpoint when the single came out (as Harrison was, in fact, on tour at the time), but its boring, sleek sax ’n’ roll bullshit sounds uncomfortably like the sort of faceless blat the Saturday Night Live house band might churn out, and is hardly a credit to George’s solo career. Bury it deep.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

George Harrison - Dark Horse

(Apple, 1974)

Yes, we’ve all heard the “Dark Hoarse” joke that’s been made for over 30 years about George’s shredded vocal chords during these sessions. Ho ho ho. The real problem with the Dark Horse album, though, is not Harrison’s voice, it’s the fact that he was writing lousy songs with dull arrangements and lazy lyrics. Aside from the two singles and maybe the sarcastic cover of “Bye Bye Love,” it represents an alarming drop-off from the first two LPs. I remain convinced that the guy’s songs work best when shaped and ultra-produced by big-shots, whether George Martin, Phil Spector, or Jeff Lynne; this self-produced mess sounds thin and unexciting, with generally poor quality control in the songwriting department. At least the title track, released as the album’s first single in America, is an effective, groovy blend of flutes (!!), electric piano, and acoustic guitar. A unique and catchy record that is startling for – but not derailed by – Harrison’s gravelly croak. The B-side, “I Don’t Care Anymore,” can reasonably be read as an accurate indication of where George’s head was at this point, as he phones in a sproingy acoustic throwaway (opening line: “OK, here we go, fellas, got a B-side to make!”) that pretty much insults the consumer rather than adding any value to the disc. Probably not too surprising that this B has never made it onto a CD.

Friday, April 24, 2009

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord

(Apple, 1974)

There isn’t too much information out there about this particular edition, but it seems that in 1974 Apple decided to reissue “My Sweet Lord” in the UK (backed by its original British B-side, “What is Life”), adding an attractive picture sleeve that swipes the All Things Must Pass cover shot. Those clever limeys recognized that the hot-rocking “What is Life” is certainly a better candidate for radio play than lengthy American B-side “Isn’t it a Pity,” so the British release is, on paper at least, a stronger commercial proposition. The original issue was indeed a #1 in the UK, but it doesn’t look like Apple manged to get any chart action this time around. Oh well; 35 years later, the bigger concern for collector jerks everywhere is digging up a copy of that exciting
– and tough to find – sleeve. I got mine… Tasty!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

George Harrison - Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)

(Apple, 1973)

I’m in a truly SWELL mood tonight, so I’m tempted to let this single off easy… but I just CAN’T, O reader, CAN’T, because that would be cheating YOU of the precious thing I deal in most: TRUTH!! Yep, I’m afraid that George’s lead single from Living in the Material World is a semi-bore that stands as an ominous neon finger-point towards the soft-rock mediocrity that is the bulk of his next decade’s work. But: Taken on its own terms, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” is a fairly beautiful song with a top-notch melody and some fine piano and guitar interplay; however, it’s ultimately laid back in a way that’s far more “California” than “George Harrison,” which is a bit unsettling in an atmospheric sense… when and WHY did we trade Spectorian overkill for a sleepy hammock next to Don Henley? Yech! On the other side, “Miss O’Dell” is a lazy, rootin’-tootin’, laugh-filled toss-off that doesn’t need to be heard more than once or twice, yet it justifies its existence here by acting as an effective counterweight to the spiritual super-solemnity of the A.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

George Harrison - Bangla Desh

(Apple 1971)

George Harrison, sitting all a-bearded atop the commercial heap, was feeling his oats around this time, so he decided to flex his celebrity muscle for a good cause and rush out a benefit single in aid of the refugees from Bangla Desh. This was apparently quite a politically-minded period for ex-Beatles: within the next few months, John Lennon would release “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” Paul McCartney would release “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” and Ringo Starr would release… well, he’d release “Back Off Boogaloo.” Which is a terrific song! Anyway. Phil Spector and an army of hotshots (Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, others) once again apply the massive All Things Must Pass sound, which manifests itself here as a tasteful funkiness – much like a slower “Wah-Wah” – that rides some punchy dual-drumming while guitars, sax, and piano trade off brief solos. The live version from The Concert For Bangla Desh speeds things up considerably and makes for an interesting companion piece as it emphasizes “rock” over the intensity/urgency of the message-heavy studio recording. “Deep Blue” has the general feel of “For You Blue,” but with downer lyrics that are easily missed thanks to the song’s easy-going acoustic shuffle. As a non-album single, both tracks on “Bangla Desh” are semi-obscurities; the sadly neglected A-side has since only shown up on the Best of George Harrison compilation/travesty, while the B finally got released on CD as a bonus track on the recent reissue of Living in the Material World.

Monday, April 20, 2009

George Harrison - What Is Life

(Apple, 1971)

Odd as it seems, Apple only pulled two American singles from the monster All Things Must Pass, with “What Is Life” dribbling out about three months after the album’s release. Once again we get LP tracks on both sides, so there probably wasn’t much incentive for shoppers to pick this one up, given that the album had already sold a zillion copies by this point. Regardless, it’s a great choice for a single, as the rip-rarin’ and horn-blarin’ pop-rock of the A-side (one of my favorite George Harrison songs, and a perfect example of just how DENSE the production was on these sessions) features what’s probably solo Harrison’s best guitar riff over pounding, ultra-reverbed drums. “Apple Scruffs” on the B – with just voice, guitar, harmonica, and some percussive tapping – sounds like something that would have fit well on Let It Be, or perhaps, minus the backing vocals, as an especially lighthearted throwaway on a late-’60s Dylan record.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord

(Apple, 1970)

It’s been a beautiful spring Sunday in New York City, so I suppose there’s no better time to hunker down inside and start reviewing George Harrison’s singles discography. Humph. Well: His first solo release, “My Sweet Lord,” had old Beardo kicking worldwide chart-ass right out of the gate, and while yes, sure, he did rip off “He’s So Fine,” let he among us who has not pinched a Chiffons’ song throw the first stone (I, for example, was recently surprised and saddened to learn that I’d unconsciously incorporated the melody of “One Fine Day” into my eight-minute charity single honoring the lives and sound legal reasoning of American greats Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury). Working with the ever over-the-top Phil Spector (friend to the ladies of this world), George’s records never sounded better than they did in these early days: his guitar playing is in top form, and the massed superstar instrumentalists backing him give these songs a fullness that I’ve never heard matched elsewhere. Seriously, this stuff sounds FANTASTIC, topping even production-colossuses like Abbey Road. It also helps that the songwriting, while a little heavy, is excellent, as Harrison uses relatively simple, repetitive lyrics to great effect on the prayer/mantra that is “My Sweet Lord,” and on the extended McCartney-esque bummer “Isn’t It a Pity.” Throw in a snazzy picture sleeve, and you’ve got yourself a double A-sided winner (yep, with two unsliced apples on the labels!). But why buy the single when the full All Things Must Pass LP, from which both songs are taken, is just as solid? Solo Beatle records rarely got much better than this material.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Francis Harold And The Holograms - The Eagle Can't Fly With One Wing

(Going Underground, 2008)

Degenerate Arizonans give us the sludgy horror of Flipper shoved through blown-out, Pissed Jeans-style speakers at screaming volumes. Incredible spazz-sludge with hilariously weird and well-written give-a-fug lyrics (“The eagle is a bird of bad moral character”??? “Two faggots one cunt”????), these guys are obviously smarter and dirtier and funnier than most amped noizerock doodz, especially on the trebly mess/blur of a B-side. The entire single is tense, ridiculous, and fun; I’d love to see ’em live and you’d love to buy their record. YES YOU WOULD.

Say, before you leave this review for your exciting life of work and marijuana, let me ask you: do you like observational humor? Because I sure do! So check this out: Why can’t people on the internet spell “definitely” correctly? Really! What’s the score there? Is idiocy so rampant? Come on, dumbasses; get it right some day soon on the spelling front and I’ll give you a patronizing pat on your misshapen noggin! You’re so cute! …Or could be.

Neil Hamburger - Hamburger Remembers Nixon

(I Don’t Feel A Thing, 2002)

On previous Neil Hamburger records, the joke has typically been the FAILURE or the PERVERSION of the joke itself. But on this commemorative single (sold in patriotic red, white, and blue vinyl editions at the Phoenix Greyhound Park on July 4, 2002), the joke is the utter LACK of any joke, as Hamburger gives a straight reading of excerpts from four famous Richard Nixon speeches over solemn background music. Even long-term fans who wink and giggle smugly at the comedian’s pathetic, sad-sack crowd-baiting / crowd-screwing will likely find themselves annoyed and confused by this one, and for that reason it is perhaps the ULTIMATE Neil Hamburger record. If a guy can make you shell out for – and LAUGH with – multiple intentionally lousy albums and singles, and he can then take it to the next level by pissing YOU off… well, that’s what you grudgingly gotta call true sand and true genius, friends.

And wait! What if you recognize all of this and STILL enjoy the record, enjoy getting spit on, like I apparently do…? Dunno. But that’s some real mess.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Neil Hamburger - Pays Tribute to Diana, Princess Of Wales

(Planet Pimp, 1997)

Rough day for ME. I was traveling out of Boston on one of those cheap Chinese buses late last night, and it broke down – possibly burning – in the eternal hell-state that is Connecticut. A replacement bus arrived several hours later, and I reached New York well after 5:00am, which pretty much made Monday a wash, as I spent most of it in bed. Still, I reckon that shitride was a whole lot better than the ride Princess Diana took on August 31, 1997, because at least I didn’t get ENDED on those dark ’n’ speedy roads. But if I had, would Neil Hamburger pay tribute to me, as he did to Di on this moving 7”? Maybe! After all, I do own one of the greatest collectibles of all time: a Frank Sinatra Trilogy LP signed by Neil himself… and if THAT doesn’t launch me into the commemorative-single star-o-sphere , I dunno WHAT does.

But enough about me. FOR NOW.

This one starts off with some mock-respectful Diana-centric jokes (“Did you hear the one about the paparazzi with a heart of gold? Yeah, he stole it from Princess Diana as she lay dying.”) that become less and less directly relevant as the set proceeds, finally degenerating into a tasteless reprise of the “Zipper Lips” routine. The whole thing’s a batch of solid and clever setup/punchline jokes that strikes a successfully awkward balance between natural-feeling and Hamburger-style shoehorning in order to hew to the overall theme. The “solemn” B-side – which, according to the sleeve, should be played “at least once a day” — is an extended “moment of silence” that doubles as a tribute to Sonny Bono when played at 78RPM. Feel free to use the enclosed tissue when listening to this side; there will be no other way to stop them dead-celeb-inspired tears from fallin’.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Neil Hamburger - Interview Neil Hamburger

(Drag City, 1996)

I’ve collected a few of these “open-ended interviews” through the years – offhand, I know that I own such recordings by luminaries ranging from the Beatles to Burt Reynolds – and I’ve always wondered how pathetic and ridiculous a DJ needs to be in order to actually conduct one of these phony conversations. Seems like real rock-bottom absurdity. Is there ANY way to maintain your pride after going on the air, reading from a label-provided script, and then pretending to react to pre-recorded answers? Sad and bizarre. So I guess that makes this vinyl micro-genre a natural fit for Neil Hamburger, who sent out promo copies of this 7”-plus-script package to radio stations in support of his America’s Funnyman album. There are a few witty responses/jokes from Neil, but most of the laughs exist in his tweaking of the format, as the record’s dead air bears little relation to the length of time you, the DJ, actually need in order to read the provided questions; as Neil gives insanely vague responses that make the interview semi-applicable to every possible city; and, best of all, as his spoken bits offer dirty anatomical innuendo when heard minus the script. Overall, a worthwhile obscurity that fits snugly into the larger Hamburger/Amarillo trash-mythos.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Neil Hamburger - Bartender, The Laugh's On Me!!!!

(Planet Pimp, 1995)

Comedian Neil Hamburger hits his stride on this one, locking into the bumbling, idiot-wiseguy mode of the classic America’s Funnyman album, his tortured punchlines happily tending toward the topical as he discusses race, Rush Limbaugh, and the O.J. Simpson trial in front of a hostile Modesto crowd. Further linking this recording to that LP, there’s even an extended, visual-gag cigarette joke that makes absolutely no sense on disk (and of course generates considerable canned laughter), which serves as a fine warm-up for the famed and equally nonsensical “X-Rated Hot Dog Vendor” bit soon to come. Technical malfunctions add to the yuks, with the final joke ending in over a minute of painfully shrill microphone feedback. One of his best records, and a perfect stylistic companion to the Funnyman alb – DEMAND a reissue today!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Neil Hamburger - Looking For Laughs

(Amarillo, 1994)

As it turns out, I am alive. Took a week off from reviews in order to “PARTY MY ASS OFF,” but now that April Fool’s Week is over, I’m buckling down again and focusing on these 7”s of mine. And what better way to follow up a week of hilarity than with a humorous laffdisc filled with LOL-style ha-ha? So: funnyman NEIL HAMBURGER!!

Present-day fans might be surprised by the tenor of this rare debut single, as early Hamburger records were more about showcasing an earnest, unfunny hack-comedian than the pathetic, beaten-down loser of recent years. Awful puns, inappropriate AIDS jokes, and lame observational humor, all delivered with idiotic chipperness, provide the bulk of the humor, rather than today’s familiar gruff anger, heavy sighs, and hoarse “fuck you”s. The B-side of “Looking for Laughs” is a softball celeb interview with the Golding Institute’s Ryan Kerr, discussing the making of, uh, “Looking for Laughs.” What makes this one a winner – and I apologize for ruining the joke – is that we find out at the very end that the track is simply a paid audio infomercial for the Iowa Council for the Prevention of Incontinence. Nicely done. Refreshingly lousy and lighthearted, it’s the non-musical version (and equal) of the Zip Code Rapists’ intentional swan dive into total failure.