Selections from One-Star Reviews of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Too busy to review today. Sorry guys. Here’s a hilarious article from the excellent Biblioklept blog to keep you busy. Check out this blog for excellent artwork, quotes and literary discussion.
[Ed. note: The following citations come from one-star Amazon reviews of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. While I think that Gatsby is probably the most overrated book in the American canon, I do think it’s an important book (overrated ≠ bad). I’ve read it many, many times and used it in the classroom. Some of the selections here are silly, some actually make valid points, all intrigued me. I’ve preserved the reviewers’ unique styles of punctuation and spelling. (More one-star samplers: Orwell’s 1984, Melville’s Moby-Dick, Joyce’s Ulysses and Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress)].
Gatsby was obviously drunk, or smoking marijuana when he was writing this book, and must have thougth that this book was pretty clever.
Hey everyone! Lookit me! I’m a rich little snot and I can throw a big party in my mansion!
O.K. the first red flag was that this…
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“This Sporting Life” by Diamanda Galas
After a series of increasingly intense and haunting albums that explored deeper and deeper realms of emotional torment, outre singer Diamanda Galas released “The Singer” a relatively restrained collection of piano and vocal covers that showed her debt to blues, jazz, standards and other roots oriented music. It was perhaps her most easily listenable album she had released up to that point and although it received some confused reviews (this was before she had established the cover routine as part of her repertoire) it can be seen as somewhat “lighter” style which may have helped lead her to the nearly accessible John Paul Jones collaboration “This Sporting Life.”
This Sporting Life…needs organizing…
Such a collaboration may seem incredibly bizarre on first glance: the First Woman of Avant Guard Shrieks collaborating with John Paul Jones, bassist of a DEDLY DUM heavy metal group with blues under pinning? A disaster.
…living on a knife’s edge…
However, it actually makes sense once one realizes that Jones is a restless musical soul who has done more for good music than Jimmy Page ever did once he left the over rated bloat monster of Zeppelin. Sorry, I can’t rate “The Firm” or the “Death Wish II” soundtrack as anything more than the tattered idiocy of a former junkie who wasted all his talent at a young age, chasing 13 year old girls while on tour.
And please say ANYTHING of his pathetic collaborations with Plant (no quarter given to pleading, poorly thought out nostalgic cash grabs) or his praising Puff Daddy ever for any reason at all.
This Sporting Life’s forever changing…
Enough Zep bashing though: it’s boring and designed to shock. I do have a lot of respect for certain aspects of Zeppelin but Jones has long been my favorite member as he seemed more prone to…change and experiment. His solo album “Zooma” sounds a lot like prime Primus while he produced such great works as “Independent Worm Saloon” by the Butthole Sufers.
Plus he’s a king of bass I always forget about because I never, ever listen to Zed Leppelin.
Are you bored? Are you jaded?
Easy questions with obvious answers: what does this album sound like? Well, the first track “Skotoseme” sets the mood immediately: Diamanda chants underneath a light drone and then Jones comes in playing his dunderheaded metal bass line while Pete Thomas of the Attractions bashes out “Better than Bonham” drums. Galas shrieks over top, babbles, raves and screams in her best tradition.
It sounds a little goofy sometimes but I feel that’s the effect: Galas showcasing her wonderful sense of humor…wonderful in the sense that it’s darker than the darkest gallows humor. You know, the kind of jokes that make staring at the dead body of your once beloved swinging from a gallows pole while you’re being buried alive seem light hearted in comparison.
As light hearted as the album cover which has Galas splayed across the front of a car driven by Jones with a crazed expression on her face and a knife in her hand as if she was moments away from either murdering Jones, holding him up for cash or demanding crazy, crazy sex.
Is it hot? You bet but a special kind of hot that perhaps reflects more about me than the album cover.
Has all enthusiasm faded?…
Not yet but that’s because I like this album. Not a LOT a lot as it’s not really too emotionally moving like Galas’ best work but it’s simply a gas. That’s right, a gas. Even in song’s like “This Sporting Life” which sounds like a gang of mad woman plotting somebodies rap and murder (if contemporary interviews are to be believed, it’s Snoop Dogg) of some dude.
Then “Baby’s Insane” comes on and you know Galas is having a laugh: it’s much too over the top to be serious. In fact, when performing this song, she’d always tell a story about how some critic slammed her for the song at which point she climaxes the story with “he’s trying to ruin my fun.”
Are you one of those people?
And then “Hex” comes on and you really feel like THIS is the moment the whole album’s been building up to (appropriate as it’s the last song) as it really combines the furious rock and roll drive of Jones and Thomas into an enchanting groove while Galas puts on her best performance yet: chanting, shrieking, improvising and building, building, building to a climax that puts much of the rest of the album to shame.
This is the bad Samaritan…
One should take a minute to appreciate the diversity of this album: Galas sometimes hitches a ride on a metal monster bass riff groove and sometimes babbles and babbles on top of each other in songs like “Do You Take This Man” that feel like streamlined version of past hits. Sometimes she seems to nearly croon only to remind listeners of the fact that she is perhaps the finest and most daring vocalist of her generation.
Make sure there’s a crowd below…give a little when you go…
One last thought: this is as close to a pop album as Galas ever produced. Of course, it’s as pop as water but it features a focus on simpler song structures, actual melodies and diversity in a way she never really approached throughout her career.
This makes it a good album with which to introduce her to your friends but it lacks the emotional punch of her best work. It’s fun and has great musical ideas but never stuns or surprises you.
Perhaps the best way to approach the album is the way Galas and Jones obviously are on the back cover: driving a convertible care free through the streets of a big city, roof down, laughing your ass off and blasting the strange noises to annoy the city folk.
Songs to YouTube
“Skotoseme” will tell you all you need to know but find the live version on David Letterman or Jay Leno or whatever show it’s on. It’s surreal seeing her there.
Tomorrow we’ll look at something as equally avant-guard and accessible. Stay tuned!
“Upstairs at Eric’s” by Yaz
“Yaz (or Yazoo in the U.K.) were a two piece synth pop duo consisting of keyboard player/songwriter/arranger Vince Clarke, formerly of Depeche Mode and singer/songwriter Alison Moyet. They released a few singles, made a minor splash with two albums of synth pop in the early 80’s but had broken up by 1983, lasting a little over a year. Clarke formed the much more successful and long lasting Erasure while Moyet had a successful solo career.” – a boring, uninspired reviewer reviewing a band that to them meant little and who is seemingly a footnote in history.
Yaz has been plagued by that kind of dismissive attitude for a few decades now. In spite of making a splash as the “Next Big Thing” upon their debut, they quietly faded away after their demise, victims of their own success.
Clarke found a much more compatible, long lasting partner in smooth voiced Andy Bell in Erasure, pumping out nearly a dozen albums of electronic pop that has gained in complexity of arrangements in a way which the relatively stark “Upstairs at Erics” simply can’t seem to compete.
Moyet, the bluesy voiced shouter on top of all of Yaz’s tunes, went on to a more appropriate blues oriented direction, finding her feet on material that featured more live instrumentation and which suited her vocal approach more effectively
Basically, Yaz has been forgotten as a stepping stone for Clarke from early Depeche Mode (who’s later success eclipsed even his own in Erasure) while also bringing the solid vocalization and songwriting skills of Moyet into the consciousness of the public.
Which is a shame because this album is honestly better than both Clarke’s early Depeche Mode album, “Speak and Spell,” beats out the vast majority of his work with Erasure and though I won’t speak for Monyet’s solo work, I can’t imagine it being as irrevocably quirky and interesting as this album.
There are a few reasons that I find this album to be so interesting: the first of which is the evolution of Clarke’s music.
In Depeche Mode, Clarke had three keyboard players to work with as well as a singer. “Speak and Spell” had solid songs but had a weird, thin sound that somehow suited the material. The album was ground breaking as well, so people could ignore the thin wisp of the sound.
Later productions by Clarke for Erasure would become more epic, with layers and layers of synthesizers, drum machine work and even guitar work coming into the mix to compete with layers and layers of harmonizing Andy Bells.
Intriguing, sure and well done but this style somehow seems more generic and less interesting (to me) when contrasted with the early Yaz style which was a direct continuation of the Depeche Mode line but updated.
Basically, Clarke had better learned how to layer his synthesizers while maintaining an atmospheric, minimalistic edge that makes the material darker and more serious sounding when contrasted with the pure pop joy that marks most of Erasure’s work.
And then there is Moyet. Her raspy, blues influenced singing may seem to clash with Clarke’s sing-song melodies (darker in tone than earlier melodies but always the insistently catchy style that Clarke always preferred): but that’s only because it does.
This contrast is a huge part of what drives Yaz and makes them a more intriguing band. Bell’s vocal style may have been more suited for synth pop but it often blends in (in a good and bad way) with Erasure’s music and arrangements in a way that goes down easy but doesn’t create any tension.
On this album, Moyet sounds like the worst possible choice for the singer (due to the contrast, not her abilities) and this creates a fascinating tension in the music I’ve rarely heard.
It’s true that later raspy blues singers would attempt to mine a “synthesizer plus bluesy voice” approach but Yaz was not only the first but the best due to their commitment to songwriting, creating a diverse set of songs and creating a strange, dark aura about the album.
Which is set immediately with lead off track “Don’t Go.” A trademark Clarke synth riff enters (the kind that makes you think “I’ve heard this before!” when you haven’t) and builds up slowly until Moyet enters.
She sings a rather harrowing (if cliché) story of heart ache while Clarke layers on slight but trademark touches, such as drum stabs, harmony riffs and simple but catchy synth chording.
The album then moves through various songs that vary in tempo (“Midnight”) style (“Didn’t I Bring Your Love Down” with a more upbeat approach) and even through strange avant guard exercises (the indescriable “I Before E Except After C”).
Is it all good? Not always (especially the last track) but it remains solid, engaging and intriguing throughout. And never once loses the strange atmosphere created by the contrast between synthetic sounds and bluesy vocalization.
Yaz released another album “You and Me Both” which mines many of the same styles and approaches but in a more “pop” oriented direction. It has a solid selection of tunes but no real atmosphere which signaled the beginning of the end for the group.
It’s a shame the group lasted so shortly and became so obscure so quickly. They really had some great work which, for all the band members later successes, they never quite matched in terms of quality or intrigue.
Thankfully, you can get their entire discography on the box set “In Your Room” which features both albums, a CD of remixes (which isn’t that good) and a DVD collecting all their performances. Nice. Pick it up if you like off putting, art minded synth pop.
Amazing or Amazingly Shit? “Half Gentlemen Not Beasts” by Half Japanese
“What’s the worst album you’ve ever heard in your life?” As a reviewer, I often get asked this question. The worst album I ever heard? There are so many ways one can define bad music! One could go the completely subjective route and say all music is based on taste and that there is no way you can objectify taste.
However, one could also go the ultra objective route and rate music based on the notes played, the construction of the songs, the quality of the playing and the quality of the lyrics (if it’s song based music to which you’re listening) as well as the memorability and harmonious nature of the music.
Well, if one wants to rate music on such an objective scale, I’d have to say that “Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts” the triple (!) debut (!!!!!) by the Michigan-born Fair brothers would undoubtedly be, objectively one of the absolute worst albums I’ve ever heard.
This is an album with six sides of ridiculously written, out-of-tune music played on out of tune instruments by two idiot-savants that obviously barely know what they’re doing. The lyrics are the absurd droolings of a permanent man-child with a touch of autism. Objectively, listening to this album from start to finish is absolute agony.
Subjectively, this album is also one of the best albums I’ve ever heard in my life.
Okay, here’s where things start to get a little too intellectual (and perhaps more than a little stupid). David and Jad Fair are infamous for their naivety, crude approach and their dedication to never, ever getting better. Ever.
This can be viewed as a crime against music or as a refreshing breath of fresh air. There is nothing else in the world that sounds like this…except for perhaps the Shaggs which I won’t get into right now. Jad (usually) plays guitar like somebody who just picked it up for the first time. David (usually) plays drums in the same manner.
Both scream childish gibberish that focuses on girls they like, bands they love, girls they hates, bands they love, things they like doing, things they hate doing and an unending obsession with Jodi Foster, of all things.
Does this album sound a bit “serial killer” to you? Well, the Fair brothers are genuinely harmless but I think with a tad more insanity they’d be on some kind of watch list: both are rather nerdish, nebbish weirdos that have to be hovering near Asperger’s.
The music is always loud (cept when it’s not) and always noisy and sounds like a barely in control improvisation session: every song sounds the same but every song sounds different. The band tries their best to make each song stand out but over three sides of vinyl (including two complete concerts indexed as one track!!!) one starts to get a headache.
Basically, it sounds like the worst garage band ever (skills wise) playing whatever pops into their head and trying to create a diverse, unique experience and failing most of the time.
However, as one listens to the album, it starts to create its own unique soundscape and world view. Yes, it’s endless and the songs basically sound the same but you start to hear little weird touches…the kind of thing a real musician would have never included or “fixed up” to make it sound “better.”
This includes single note, endlessly repeat riffs, go nowhere solos, guitar tuning that’s done by “string tension” rather than actual notes played (or sometimes even stringing it with the same string six times) and a complete lack of care and abandon.
It all starts to make sense which can (and should) become terrifying: am I becoming a nerdy, nebbish, Asperger based potential serial killer too?
No: you’re just experiencing the unique sensation of absolute musical freedom. Kind of…I mean, as naive as the band wants to present themselves as being they still have a musical philosophy which guides them…that being that knowing what you’re doing is inherently limiting.
The basic concept is that if you “know” how to tune and string a guitar, how to play the “right” chords, all the “right” scales and how to “properly” write and arrange a song, you are falling victim to rules created for you by somebody else…rules that should not apply to you as they are rules you did not create and which will lead to music inherently limited by those rules.
I’ll admit it: this philosophy is intriguing to me and I agree with it to a certain extent. I have found that musicians simply have to play and write as if they know no boundaries. Try out new things, different sound combinations that they’ve never played and hopefully they can create something that’s somewhat unique and free of the “limitations” of the correct way to do things.
Which is why this album is, subjectively, one of the top 10 albums ever created. Because it’s music created with absolute freedom by two lunatics that are barely able to bash out anything even accidentally coherent on their instruments (they swap instruments a lot and both sing so it’s hard to know who is doing what and when).
But here’s the thing: completely unhinged and unschooled creativity such as this ultimately leads to…everything sounding exactly the same. As the band “expresses” themselves “absolutely freely” they end up making everything sound like everything else as they lack the skill to…differentiate their playing or “composing” approaches in anyway.
This is another reason why the album is objectively awful: a completely uniform sound palate.
But then there is the personality factor, the charisma and the charm which are impossible to define and bottle and which will vary from person to person. One person’s “charming masterpiece” will be another person’s “incoherent gibberish.”
So, long story short, the album is simultaneously the best album ever made and the worst. Both opinions are completely, perfectly, 100% valid and both can be proved using both subjective and objective definitions.
Which is why you should buy it and listen to it once a day for the rest of your life. And it’s been re-released on CD!
Songs to Youtube:
You kidding me?!
“Adult Child” by the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson
Here’s one for the record books: perhaps the strangest, most banal and nut crushingly odd album from the pen of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Yes, even stranger than the universally beloved/loathed “Love You.” Even stranger than those mid-period albums they made before Love took over. Which, of course, makes it one of the maddest albums ever made yet never released (and don’t let the shoddy recording quality fool you, this was a completed album).
Which is saying something, as the Beach Boys have roughly…50 insane unreleased albums. And it’s weird enough to be entry three in the “Inexplicable Albums” series!
This proposed follow up to “Love You” was supposed to continue the whole “Brian is Back!” marketing campaign that had resulted in one “meh” album “15 Big Ones” as well as the delightfully odd (obvious solo album wannabe) “Love You.”
What makes this album odd is that it mixes the big cheese Broadway arrangement style from “20 Big Ones” with the childish (not childlike) songwriting of Wilson to create…well…the weirdest fucking Broadway ditties you’ve ever heard in your life.
A great example would be opening track “Life is for the Living.” It starts out with Brian trying to establish a smooth vocal smooth with a slightly off-key “liiiife! Is for the liiving!” as horns honk out a “finger popping” (I hate that term) Broadway riff.
Then Brian sings the following line which should tell you all you need to know about the lyrics on this album: “don’t sit on your ass, smoking some grass, that stuff went out a long time ago.”
Wow! And as always with Brian, I have absolutely no doubt he meant those lyrics in a completely heart felt manner: the guy always bled sincerity in a good and bad way.
Which is then exemplified (again) on the follow up track, “Hey Little Tom Boy.” This song is a…well, it features a band of weird, drugged up bearded 30 something’s chanting “hey little, hey little, hey little Tom boy! Time to turn into a girl!” as well as a creepy middle section where they “make her over” to be a “girl.”
Amazingly, this song made it onto the rushed replacement for this album “MIU” but without the creepy “hey put your hair down baby!” middle section.
I won’t go over every track here: that would require somebody trained in psychology to unravel Brian’s insanity at the time. Instead, I’ll discuss a few of the covers he tries to pull off: “Deep Purple” which is no better or worse than a million other versions of the song (and probably worse) and “On Broadway” which is…Al singing “On Broadway” backed up by a fully arranged cheese orchestra.
So far, so good: again, I don’t doubt Brian’s sincerity with these recordings. I believe he fully loved these songs and tried to do them the best justice he could at the time. And they aren’t bad: just banal.
The best cover is the insane “Shortnin’ Bread” cover which Brian had developed an insane obsession with around that time (climaxing with the infamous Alice Cooper/Ozzy Ozbourne/Whoever hour long singalong of the song led by Brian). It’s the exact same version (I think) featured on the later “LA (Light Album}” which should indicate how far the band was stretching during this period.
Better are the original songs like “H.E.L.P. Is on the Way” which is indescribable. It sounds a bit like a more arranged “Love You” outtake but with lyrics centered on getting into shape (with the HELP of the H.E.L.P. Health food store. Get it?!) or “Games Two Can Play” which is actually catchy as HELL but CREEPY AS FUCK as Brian wants to “play games that two can play.” One assumes in the bedroom.
As with everything Brian, the ballads are where he truly shines. They are the typically heart felt confessions that all his ballads turn into but with banal atmospheres and arrangements instead of his head spinning genius. “It’s Over Now” gets by on the melody alone as well as Brian’s resigned, “seat of death” vocal melody.
Perhaps the one song on the album that truly lives up to the Brian Wilson name (all the songs here are well written and catchy in their idiom but marked by banal arrangements, insane lyrics and lunatic atmospheres). It has an absolutely classy piano and vocal arrangement with minimal orchestral intrusions and a very well developed and winding melody. It’s appropriate it comes at the end of the album as it makes a solid capstone for the whole experience.
This album is something that can seem so utterly crappy and uninteresting the first few times you listen to it but which becomes interesting the more you learn about the band. After giving Brian full reign for a few albums, he must have had the confidence to do things his own away completely again.
Unfortunately, Brian was completely insane by the time this album came out and probably needed a bit of focus and prodding to create a great album. It’s probably why the songs were generally arranged by…somebody else (I forget the name, I think it’s a Sinatra arranger though).
I basically find it mostly interesting as a historical artifact and a priceless piece of information in the Great Brian Wilson/Beach Boys puzzle. It illustrates how truly fucked the band were at this point in their career: sure, Brian was Back but what good was that if he was chucking out albums as weird and hard to sell as this?!
It actually puts Love’s ascension on albums like “MIU” and LA (Light Album)” in a better light: with Carl never being a creative genius (solid, but no genius), Dennis trapped in a drug haze, Brian worthless and Jardine and Johnston seemingly along for the ride, SOMEBODY had to take control of the band and lead it into the future.
Sadly, it was the least creatively gifted member of the group who had to take control. And yes, he led them through the enjoyable but hardly essential “MIU” and “LA (Light Album)” albums but he also lead them into their abysmal “Stamos” years and “Kokomo” which makes this album seem like a lost masterpiece instead of a rightly rejected turd.
Songs to Youtube:
“Life is For the Living” as nothing can compare to this odd combination of trademark Wilson melody, jazz rock arrangements and trademark “WTF?” Wilson lyric.
“Still I Dream Of It” for evidence Brian still had IT but simply couldn’t get IT up at will any more.
(I’d like to thank the commentator who pointed a few jarringly obvious and embarrassing mistakes that I, as a lifelong Beach Boys fan, should never have made. However, since his comment contained personal attacks, I trashed it and won’t share his name. I invite criticism and corrections, but personal attacks about me or any of the writers who contribute to this site will not be tolerated.)
“If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” by the Mama’s and the Papa’s
Let’s change things up a bit from the heavy metal insanity of my last review shall we? Let’s review the sweetest, gentlest music I can think of off the top of my head. That’ll do!
In the world of 60’s orchestrated folk pop, the Mama’s and the Papa’s sometimes seem to get a bad rap. At least to this reviewer. “Hippie crap!” is one such refrain from various anti-fans around the world. “Fey nonsense, pre-built drama foisted on the brain dead and stupid!” is another. Or perhaps these are the jeers I’m imagining my punk rock friends throwing at the Mama’s and the Papa’s.
Or perhaps I’m simplifying things. Probably as this is often times my “modus operandi.”
The Mama’s and the Papa’s were definitely a bit “soft” but this was actually their advantage: in a world of increasingly heavy rock and roll values, they represented a bit of the old “ultra violently beautiful” if you will. That is to say, they took the “Pet Sound” vibe and ran with it.
That isn’t really fair to the Mama’s and the Papa’s or creative leader John Phillips but there’s some truth there: their lush, evocative and fully arranged folk style had similar production flourishes when compared to that Beach Boys masterpiece.
Throw in a solid bit of melancholy from Phillips, the only songwriter in the band and you got a similar sound, style and vibe. But with it’s own creative persona that we’re going to delve into here in a moment.
But first I must mention the vocal harmonies. We’re about to gush here.
The Mama’s and the Papa’s vocal harmonies were, without a doubt, the most luscious, complex and fully realized in the world of pop in the 60’s (and perhaps even to this day). Yes, even more so than the Beach Boys.
I’m not knocking the Beach Boys with this statement: it’s just that, at his best as vocal arranger, Phillips was either at Wilson’s peak level or surpassing it on every other song. While not a strong singer himself (he was the only member to never sing lead) he was backed by the amazing singing voices of wife (and scamp) Michelle Phillips, “Mama” Cass and Denny Doherty.
All three were knock out singers with their own individual style and amazing ability to blend in with each other. “Mama” Cass was a knockout blues belter who could tear down the house with a single screech; Doherty was an old style crooner who could also hit heavy moments when necessary; Phillips was a bit more coy, not a stronger singer, but of a bit of a sex kitten vocally.
I’m sure little of that makes sense but let’s move on.
Of course, the Beach Boys have The MP’s beaten on a lot of other levels: composition wise, Wilson handily beats Phillips. Phillips songs tend to vacillate around simple folk/pop forms and melodies: catchy and solid but not groundbreaking the way Wilson’s best work remains.
Instead, Phillips (and the in house orchestral arrangers) lavished his simple songs on this amazing debut album with deep, endless but appropriate arrangements that made each song seem like a mini-epic.
Amazingly, the arrangers were able to avoid complete mush most of the time: sometimes, they left the arrangements as simple as the song needed. For example, “California Dreaming” (their signature song) starts out with an evocative guitar figure that dances around the melody before you’re SLAMMED in the face with a wall of vocal harmonies.
The song’s arrangements grow lusher but not excessively, capping off with a simple, beautiful, wintery flute solo that actually makes the song feel more epic than originally envisioned.
Riding the waves of Phillips vocal harmonies one can often ignore or miss his lyrics. That’s a mistake. While no means the next coming of Dylan, Phillips simple tales of heart ache (influenced by his own bad decisions making and poor life decisions) creates simple poetry that can hit you harder than all the “darkness at the break of noon”-type Dylan passages put together.
Take, for example, “Go Where You Wanna Go” perhaps the best song on here. Yes, “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreaming” (both were on the same album) are more famous and justifiably so but “Go Where You Wanna Go” really gets to the heart of the Mama and Papa’s legend.
The lyrical message is timeless” “go where you wanna go and do what you wanna do with whoever you wanna do it with” may sound like hippie gibberish but it’s actually a command from Phillips to Michelle as a way of trying to force her out of his life.
This makes Michelle’s plea of “you don’t understand/that a girl like me can’t love, just one maaan” all the more heart rending. Even if the lyric is “CAN love just one man” (which it may be, but I always hear it as “can’t”) the sentiment possesses and incredible power due to the circumstance of the band at the time.
The orchestra has this amazing ability to kick in at just the right time on this album: the next segment with the plaintive lyrics of “three thousand miles, that’s how far I’ve gone” (or whatever) are backed with a simple but beautiful orchestral part that brings tears to my eyes every time.
Perhaps I’m just a sentimental sucker. But I even get a kick out of the “rocking” tunes on the album such as “Straight Shooter” (with it’s simple but cool looping riff) and boastful lyrics. Sure, it may seem a tad stale as a “real’ rocker but as a change of pace it really works.
Likewise to “The ‘In’ Crowd” which if the first showcase of Cass’s vocal skills. She belts out this simple tune with all the bluesy bluster and delicacy (at times) that the song requires. It’s another example of the type of blustery boastfulness that may seem out of place but which sure sounds cool when it’s arranged and sung so well.
Then there are the covers: the Beatles “I Call Your Name” is an excellent song enhanced by the MP’s vocal presence and slight cabaret style. “Do You Wanna Dance” is the most slowed down, wimpy take of this particular song I’ve ever heard which gives it a pleading, despairing feel absent from the more exciting Beach Boys take.
“Spanish Harlem” is a beautifully arranged tune that again may seem out of place if you’re a hard core “style and tone” fanatic (i.e. all albums must have a singular tone and style unique to them) but which adds a nice touch of diversity to the proceedings.
I’m honestly tempted to go through every song and review them individually as each song brings something to the table: the simple gentleness of “Got a Feeling” and the exuberance of the cover of “You Baby” being perhaps the best songs I hadn’t yet mentioned.
Honestly, I could write a whole review of the vocal harmonies of this album, focusing on all the nooks and crannies of the call and response, subtly shifting textures and adrenaline pumping excitement of some of these harmonies.
Yes that’s right: I said adrenaline pumping. The opening harmonies on “Go Where You Wanna Go” are head spinning in their complexity and trying to sing along to them will give you fits. But I try every time.
Basically, the Mama’s and the Papa’s were a highly unique band from the very start that head their own unique variation on a style, a genius vocal arranger with solid songwriting skills, four solid singers, amazing arrangements and impeccable taste.
And terrifyingly difficult home lives. But I won’t go into that: that’s been discussed to death. The band was able to cling together for three more solid albums (the second, self titled album being perhaps even better than this) while pumping out one crappy reunion album in the 70’s.
The best way to experience this band is to get a compilation of their first four albums (I bought a two CD comp, “All the Leaves are Brown” that collected all four in the early 2000’s which apparently went out of print one minute after I bought it) and just sit down and listen to them all in a row, starting with this one. You really won’t believe your eyes and ears.
Songs to YouTube:
You have probably heard the hits so try out “Go Where You Wanna Go,” “Straight Shooter,” “Got a Feeling” and even “Hey Girl” to see the different styles the band was capable of producing. They weren’t just constantly in ballad land.