Tyrannosaurus Rex: My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair… But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows (1968)

“To me the first album always sounded horrible. We were victims of a low budget and we didn’t know what we were doing. It was very thin sounding and didn’t represent the fullness of that amazing duo. It was literally recorded in two, maybe three days, and on the fourth day we mixed the entire album.” – Tony Visconti, in a 2015 interview.

Kronomyth 1.0: YOU’LL GET USED TO IT IN TIME, SAID THE CATERPILLAR. I was horrified when I first heard this album. It didn’t sound anything like “Metal Guru” or “Jeepster.” Instead, it sounded as if some pixillated Pan who had subsisted entirely on the works of Lewis Carroll and Kenneth Grahame and his bongo-playing friend had smoked a lot of dope and accidentally wandered into a recording studio. Which, as it turns out, isn’t that far from the truth (Bolan was naturally psychedelic, but Took was known to toke). Now, as I said, that was my first impression. Over repeated listenings, My People Were Fair… spins its simple spell of fantastic faces and places with a modicum of chords, thumps and Bolan’s immediately identifiable, trilling voice. Although willfully childish in spots, the songs point to the great things to come, particularly when Bolan opts for a slightly more serious vibe (e.g., “Chateau In Virginia Waters,” “Afghan Woman,” “Graceful Fat Sheba,” “Frowning Atahuallpa”). “Weilder of Words” (yes, I know, just wait until you hear him butcher Dvorak) is also a notable mention as it captures the joyous feel of vintage T. Rex. As for the contributions of Steve Peregrine Took, well, he took more than he gave, although you’ll be thankful that it isn’t just Marc Bolan and two chords for forty minutes. Despite the fact that this is the formal debut of Tyrannosaurus Rex, it feels more like a demo recording, and approaching it that way is likely to cause less frustration/disappointment. It is, if nothing else, an important and authentic relic from the psychedelic underground. In an age when everyone was jumping on the psychedelic bandwagon, Tyrannosaurus Rex were original hippie gypsies.

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The Tubes: Remote Control (1979)

Kronomyth 5.0: TUBETOPIA. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is a concept album that could be seen as the next installment in Utopia, so similar are the two. Rundgren is credited with cowriting two songs (“Love’s A Mystery,” TV Is King”), but his fingerprints are all over Remote Control, from the high-register choruses to the compressed and sped-up arrangements. Of course, sounding like Utopia isn’t a bad thing; in fact, this is probably my favorite Tubes album after their first. The album generated a legitimate hit (okay, in the UK) with “Prime Time,” and should have had a second with “Love’s A Mystery (I Don’t Understand).” If the reports are true that the band entered the studio with a concept but without any songs, then this record is a testament to the band’s creativity because there isn’t a bad song in the batch. The opening “Turn Me On” immediately pulls you into the story, and Remote Control keeps changing the channel without losing its audience: “I Want It All Now,” “No Way Out,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “Be Mine Tonight.” The closing “Telecide” is a breathless rocker that mixes clever, rapid-fire wordplay (could Michael Stipe have been a closet Tubes fan?) and nihilistic rock to bring the curtains crashing down. A&M had no reason to be disappointed with the results; the record charted as well as Adventures In Utopia and restored faith in the band’s ability to harness their talent. Along with Adventures In Utopia, Healing and Swing To The Right, Remote Control represents a sort of Rundgren renaissance for art pop fans between 1979 and 1982. The Tubes never made another album like it, and they never made a better one after it. If you haven’t heard this or the three Utopia/Rundgren records I just mentioned, turn off the tv tonight and turn on to some great music instead.

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Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Safe As Milk (1967)

Kronomyth 1.0: THE FALLOW LAND, THE UNTILLED FARM PRODUCES ONLY MILKWEED AT BEST. The yellow brick road of rock and roll, it turns out, leads to a madman’s shack in the Mojave desert strung with barbed wire and faded shrines to lost gods. That’s the sense you have listening to Safe As Milk today: that you shouldn’t be here and yet every step has led you to this unlikely crossroads of music, madness and more than a little marijuana. The polite thing to do, it seems, is not to stare at the human trainwreck that is Don Van Vliet and instead point out that the music is far ahead of its time or, more accurately, far out of its time. Van Vliet has the (beef)heart and eye of an artist, tainted with the craziness that plagues many great artists. He is apparently a difficult person to work with, and you get the sense listening to these songs that not one of them was easily birthed, but that each was breached in the brainbox of Beefheart and could only be cajoled out with liberal amounts of unctuous patience form Ry Cooder and the rest of the band. For their efforts, a freakish litter featuring the likes of “Abba Zabba,” “Electricity,” “Zig Zag Wanderer,” “Dropout Boogie” and the surprisingly sweet “I’m Glad” was spawned. The lyrics, written by Herb Bermann, are poems placed in Beefheart’s improbable marble mouth and spit out like THC-enriched tobacco juice (which is probably an accurate description of Van Vliet’s saliva at the time). Once heard, Safe As Milk isn’t soon forgotten. Reference points in 1967 for this music were hard to come by; a reverent (versus irreverent) Frank Zappa, maybe, or a postmodern deconstruction of Howlin’ Wolf or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I would tell you that Safe As Milk is a work of genius, though I don’t believe Beefheart to be the sole source of that genius, but rather a catalyst for it, as the man is more of a musical force than a musician. Maybe that’s the best way to describe this album: a force of a musical nature.

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The Cure: Faith (1981)

“Faith was the sound of extreme desolation because that’s how we felt at the time.” – Robert Smith, in a 2011 interview.

Faith is the second in the band’s dark trilogy begun with Seventeen Seconds and ended with Pornography. In many ways, Faith is the most beautiful of their early records, rich in sonic detail, infused with delicate sympathy. It’s the enigma of Robert Smith as an artist that he could make such a lovely record out of lost faith, isolation and death (the dominant themes of Faith). “The Funeral Song,” one of two tracks that appear to be about the recent death of Ian Curtis (“Faith” would be the other), and “All Cats Are Grey,” for example, could almost pass for Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. (Maybe OMD were darker than I gave them credit for?) From the opening of “The Holy Hour,” the music is gauzier and the production more sophisticated, at times almost hypnotic (“Other Voices”). The songs themselves are presented as dream-like vignettes that rise from a mist, take hold of a moment in time through vivid (sometimes too vivid, in the case of “Doubt”) imagery and then dissolve into the dim reality of a church bell (“The Holy Hour”) or some quiet musical coda (“All Cats Are Grey”). While Smith may not have felt that The Cure were strictly a goth band, Faith is the quintessential goth record. It elevates misery into an art form, it savors sadness as absinthe, it revels in its rejection by the world. I would tell you it’s the best thing they’ve done so far, but each new Cure album seemed to set the standard higher, and I do prefer Pornography as the perfect expression of their lurid nightmare vision. Note that the original cassette versions of Faith included the soundtrack to Ric Gallup’s short film, Carnage Visors, which The Cure used on occasion to open their shows (and an appreciation of which requires faith indeed).

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Chick Corea: Circulus (1978)

Circle is fast becoming my benchmark for free jazz. This double-elpee compilation fills in more of the history around their brief but remarkably fruitful association. The first track, recorded several months earlier than the remaining pieces, features just the trio of Corea, Altschul and Holland. Where their earlier trio work was noisy and confrontational, “Drone” is soothing and natural, like a landscape painting of sound. I keep coming back to kinetic theory when trying to describe the two: A.R.C. and its ilk were superheated molecules that didn’t impact one another except on impact, but with Circle the molecules are in sympathy. There’s also a curious spirit at work in Circle, almost a sense of innocence as the musicians seek to discover new sounds together. On a piece like “Quartet No. 2,” for example what strikes me isn’t the quality of playing—it’s the quality of listening that impresses. The quartet is keenly tuned in to what the other person is playing, and what ensues is not merely a conversation but a kind of free jazz support group where the members goad each other on to cathartic discovery. That sense of discovery starts with their own instruments: Corea hammers, plucks and punches his piano to get new sounds out of it, Braxton’s breathing goes from lungfulls of fury to a death rattle, Holland moves effortlessly between bass, bow and guitar, and everyone gets into the percussion game. (If you really want to hear the band head into the wild, check out the Cartesian catharsis that closes “Quartet No. 2” and stick around for the brilliant experimentation of “Quartet No. 3.”) The songs of Circle are miniature musical adventures ripe for rediscovery. You’ll need a needle for this one for now, but maybe some enterprising label will reissue Circulus on compact disc some day.

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Hotlegs: Thinks: School Stinks (1971)

Kronomyth 1.0:  COME TO MY ARMS, MY BEAMISH BOYS. This is a seminal work from three-fourths of 10cc, designed to cash in on the surprise success of “Neanderthal Man” and featuring songs originally intended for Godley and Creme’s first album, which was to be produced under the name of Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon. Little of it sounds like “Neanderthal Man” (mercifully, since forty minutes of chanting, drums and lazily strummed guitars would have made for a boring history lesson), some of it sounds like 10cc (compare “How Many Times” and “Take Me Back” to “The Hospital Song” or “Fresh Air For My Momma”), and parts of it are clearly patterned on The Beatles (“Suite F.A.” is their response to the second side of Abbey Road), the Beach Boys (“All God’s Children”) and CS&N (the harmonies on “How Many Times”). In other words, just the sort of studio pop tinkering you would expect from the boys, but which hadn’t quite coalesced into the quartet’s vision of over-the-top doo wop and pop. It wasn’t, however, what fans of “Neanderthal Man” were expecting, if they were expecting an encore at all, and so Hotlegs’ first (and last) album met with a chilly reception. Today, the record is primarily of interest to 10cc fans, who number not a few, and for their archaeological efforts will be rewarded with clever concoctions that would have felt at home on the B side of a 10cc single. That said, it’s not a work of genius, at least not in a world where Paul McCartney’s Ram, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One and Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Ballet already existed. It is, however, a better bet to please 10cc fans than some of the later godleyless and uncremed efforts (Look Hear, I’m looking at you).

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Stanley Clarke: I Wanna Play For You (1979)

Kronomyth 6.0: LET BE BE FINALE OF SEEM. This is a live/studio hybrid that has all the earmarks of a contract closer. In other words, Clarke likely owed Nemperor two more albums on his contract and decided to kick in an album’s worth of live material to hit the magic number of albums owed, which would apparently be six. Anyway, that’s just speculation on my part, and of no particular interest. The music on I Wanna Play For You, now that’s interesting. I find it amazing that a bass guitarist could build a robust live repertoire around their instrument. Clarke is an extraordinary musician, of course; the sounds he coaxes out of those four strings would make a Stratavarius blush. The live performances are excellent; I sort of wish they had preserved the concerts intact, since I would have loved to hear songs like “Silly Putty,” “Yesterday Princess” or “Dayride” in a live setting. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a six-minute sampler called “My Greatest Hits.” The studio material has a live energy to it and features a few funk/pop/disco numbers that point forward to the Clarke/Duke Project. “The Streets of Philadelphia” is the best of these; in fact, I’ve always regarded it as the heart of the album. I Wanna Play For You feels instantly familiar, not just in the sense that you’ve heard “School Days” and “Quiet Afternoon” before; even the new songs (e.g., “Together Again,” “Jamaican Boy”) arrive like old friends. In that sense, the record wraps around your mind like a favorite shirt (I know, that’s a crappy analogy); it feels good whenever you put it on. (Apparently, there was a 2-for-1 semicolon sale at that shirt store.) The Epic adventures that followed were too populist; the last emperor is this Nemperor of nice dreams.

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Big Audio Dynamite: “Just Play Music!” (1988)

“That’s all I ever wanted, was to not do a proper job. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” – Mick Jones, in a 2011 interview with GQ Magazine.

Kronomyth 3.01: I SING THE SONG, YOU SELL ‘EM. The advance single from Tighten Up, Vol. ’88 featured a really cute video of the band on tour and at repose, which made it seem like Mick Jones was having the time of his life being B.A.D. And yet (wrote the gray, unhappy and envious little man), it always seemed to me that Jones and his badmates were living on the equity earned by The Clash. You could argue that B.A.D. was blazing trails, only you could arrive at the same destination by listening to Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” like, once. (That video had better hats, too.) “Just Play Music!” isn’t a bad song (“The Other 99” is better), and the nonalbum B side, “Much Worse,” is appreciably funny. Various singles included extended mixes of those tracks, which are just longer versions with more drumbeats, in case you didn’t figure that out already.

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10cc: Sheet Music (1974)

Kronomyth 2.0: 10cc GETS THEIR SHEET TOGETHER. This might be the most perfect piece of plastic pop in the universe. It might also just be a brilliant record from a brilliant band; I suppose there’s some wiggle room there. Unfortunately, 10cc never released an album so good as Sheet Music again. Of course, Paul McCartney never released an album as good as Abbey Road either, and I kept buying his albums. The magic of Sheet Music is that you get the melodic genius of Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart and the art-pop sensibilities of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme swirled together, resulting in songs like “Silly Love,” “The Sacro-Iliac” and “The Worst Band In The World” (my favorite 10cc song, despite long-held loyalties to “The Things We Do For Love”). By the time the third track (“Hotel”) rolls around, you’re either a lifetime member of the 10cc fan club or you’re not. Of course, I was hooked after “Donna,” but not everyone gets excited by doo-wop sendups. The only complaint I have against Sheet Music is that the band never tried to duplicate it. The album’s closing line, “there’s no more goodies in the pipeline,” while not exactly prophetic, marks the end of an era; from here on, the band would struggle to get their big ideas into succinct pop packages. But that’s a problem for another day. Here, oddity and melody lope along happily: “Somewhere In Hollywood,” “Baron Samedi,” “Clockwork Creep,” “Wall Street Shuffle.” Their first album was also wonderful in spots, although it sometimes felt like a novelty record. Sheet Music is strange, but it’s no novelty; we’re clearly in the realm of inspired genius here. If you enjoy pop music with a sense of humor and adventure, you’re gonna love this Sheet.

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Robert Hunter: Amagamalin Street (1984)

“I do believe the album is a failure. I don’t think I interpreted some of the songs right. I think the songs are pretty good. My voice gives me a lot of trouble.” – Robert Hunter, in an interview from 1985.

Kronomyth 5.0: AMAGAMALIN MAN. Robert Hunter’s first album of new music in nearly a decade was a double-album song cycle about down-and-out losers living on the city streets. Inspired by a visit to NYC, Hunter’s story follows the intertwined lives of Chet, his friend Murphy and their (shared) girlfriends Roseanne and Maggie. Although the Dead/Dylan parallels hold, the album’s defeated characters and Hunter’s clever wordplay keep bringing me back to Lou Reed, an association I hadn’t made before. In some ways, this feels like a country-rock version of Reed’s New York, with the caveat that Reed could sing rings around Hunter. I’d have to agree with Hunter’s own harsh assessment of Amagamalin Street, since it does fail to capitalize on a great idea. Hunter tries to do too much on the opening “Roseanne,” singing the parts of both Chet and Roseanne in rapid-fire fashion, resulting in a sometimes confusing dialogue. The language is interesting, authentic, rich in nuance (when you stop to think about it), but about midway through I found myself wanting Hunter to both slow things down (so I could hear everything) and speed things up (because I was getting tired of the music). The second side continues the depressing tale of Chet’s manipulation of Roseanne, resulting in her descent into prostitution. The second side picks up the story of Chet, Maggie and Murphy. Chet is eventually dispensed with on “Rambling Ghost,” Maggie and Murphy escape on “Out of the City,” but Maggie dissappears on “Where Did You Go?” At the end of Amagamalin Street, Murphy connects with Roseanne, and a slightly brighter future for the surviving pair is implied. Yes, it’s as depressing as it sounds, the hopeful ending feels tacked on, and Hunter’s voice effectively undermines the first half of the story (he sings in a lower register for Murphy, with better results). That said, Amagamalin Street is appreciably ambitious, well played in places (the backing band does a solid job with Hunter’s sometimes spare melodies) and lyrically astute. I’d say it’s only a partial failure and a partial triumph, since completing something of this magnitude isn’t easy. Hunter’s fans presumably come to hear what the man has to say, not to hear him sing, and he says a mouthful here. At some point, it would be great to hear this staged with different singers and richer arrangements, since the idea and the lyrics merit the effort.

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