Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: '100 Years of Iconic Toys'


A fun little offshoot of our culture’s desperate nostalgia is the emergence of fancy-schmancy books devoted to the stuff we drove, put to war, and burped as kids back in the twentieth century. A couple of years ago, I reviewed one such book, Alessandra Sardo’s Vintage Toys, here on Psychobabble. It contained crisply photographed images of classic toys supplemented with short captions aimed at adults in a lavish hardbound package. It’s a nice book.

So is ROADS Publishing’s 100 Years of Iconic Toys, which aside from its smaller dimensions, shorter time-line, and dip into the twenty-first century, feels like an almost conscious extension of Sardo’s book. There is a lot of overlap in the toys the two books cover—essential icon such as the Rubik’s Cube, Kenner’s Star Wars line, Transformers, Teddy bears, etc. There are a some of genuine essentials curiously missing in the newer book, including Barbie dolls, Masters of the Universe toys and Hot Wheels cars. Instead, we get a few of the essentials Sardo left out, such as My Little Pony, the Cozy Coupe, Barrel of Monkeys, and Lincoln Logs (which this new book taught me were created by a son of Frank Lloyd Wright, interestingly and appropriately enough). Curiously, neither book made room for Mego toys, the essential pre-Star Wars action figure line, but those really warrant their own volume. Maybe the next publisher that decides to repeat the Vintage Toys format can do an all-Mego volume instead.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New 'Twin Peaks' Teaser Trailer

Angelo Badalamenti's familiar theme tunes plays in super slow-motion. Familiar Twin Peaks topography fades in and out. Then a current day Dale Cooper fades in from the shadows. It is really happening again on May 21st, and here's a new 33-second teaser trailer to prove it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: 'Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move'


Esoteric Recordings’ deluxe editions of The Move’s entire pre-Harvest catalogue comprised the grooviest reissue campaign of 2016. Early in 2017, the label is wrapping up that campaign with Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move.

This kind of move is generally useful for less-committed fans but redundant for the more devoted who already picked up the deluxe discs of the proper albums. However, Esoteric is making this particular Best Of well worth your dollars and pounds for a couple of reasons. First of all, the CD includes several Harvest sides that were shut out of the deluxe editions: “Ella James”, “Tonight”, “China Town”, “California Man”, and “Do Ya”—Move essentials all. Secondly, there is the addition of a region-free DVD containing an hour of wild and beautifully presented Move movies that really clinches the deal.

The disc includes a promo film for “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and extracts from the Beat Beat Beat (totally live; totally exciting), Top of the Pops (live vocals with enthusiastically mimed instruments), and Beat Club (aside from two live performances from 1970, completely canned but loaded with chroma-key fun) TV programs. Then theres the crop’s cream: The Move’s full and full-color ten-song set caught on the BBC’s Colour Me Pop in early 1969. I’ve had a bootleg of this appearance in my collection for many years, and I’m very happy to replace that smudgy old Rorschach test with Esoteric’s vibrant and crisp new images. Despite the lack of an audience to egg on the band, The Move manages to deliver their total energy across an almost completely live set (canned renditions of Beautiful Daughter, Wild Tiger Woman”, and Something are the odd  exceptions). There are some boffo covers too, a couple of which air out the band’s love of The Byrds.

I’m not sure if Esoteric considers this DVD to essentially be bonus material to that 21-track Best of set, but speaking as someone who acquired all those deluxe editions last year, I rate it as the main attraction of this colorful, crazed collection of patented-Move power pop and poppy prog.

Monday, January 9, 2017

"Twin Peaks' Season 3 Has a Premiere Date

After a wait longer than that scene with the bell hop that kicked off its second season, Twin Peaks now has a premier date for its long-awaited third season. According to David Nevins of Showtime, we'll be peaksing again come Sunday, May 21. A few more details slipped out too. In keeping with Twin Peaks season-premiere tradition, the first episode will be a two-hour one, and sixteen more hours of wonderful and strange TV will follow. Start hoarding cups of deep, black joe now.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Review: 'The Train Kept A-Rollin’: How the Train Song Changed the Face of Popular Music'


From time to time I receive a piece of media that I didn’t specifically request to review. Whether or not I review such items depends on my availability and interest. At the moment, my schedule is pretty packed, and I’ve never been particularly fascinated by trains, so I didn’t think I’d crack Spencer Vignes’s recent book The Train Kept A-Rollin’: How the Train Song Changed the Face of Popular Music. Then I started thumbing through it. “Mystery Train”. “Waterloos Sunset”. “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”. “Last Train to Clarksville”. “Midnight Special”. “White Room”. “The Locomotion”. “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”. “Folsom Prison Blues”. The book’s title song. Huh. As it turns out, a lot of my favorite songs deal with trains, which got me wondering why so many great songs are train-centric. So I decided to take Vignes’s ride.

As it turns out, there’s no definitive answer to the essential question The Train Kept A-Rollin’ raises. Trains are mysterious because they whisk our loved ones off to undisclosed destinations. Musicians dig trains because trains take them to gigs or serve as quiet places to write songs. Poor blues and folk artists found work on railway lines. Several British pop artists have engaged in the UK tradition of trainspotting. All are posed as possible reasons the train is second only to the car as the preferred pop conveyance.

This lack of a definitive conclusion is natural considering that Vignes does so little editorializing and consults such a wide variety of sources to break through the mystique of train songs. The author’s interviewees are just as much of an enticement to read The Train Kept A-Rollin’ as the songs he discusses are. Ray Davies, “Clarksville” so-writer Bobby Hart, Ian Anderson, T.V. Smith, Robyn Hitchcock, Bryan Ferry, Chris Difford, and “White Room” co-writer Pete Brown make up a small sampling of the brains Vignes picks. The author also doesn’t limit his pages to train songs. He dallies with train-themed album covers, music videos, on-stage films, and model train collectors in the pop world.

Yet the absence of a few of my personal favorite train songs that would have brought a few more angles to the story—particularly The Beach Boys “Cabin-Essence”, which could have introduced a few paragraphs on how railroads disrupted the American landscape and The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away”, which addresses the less savory things that might take place on trains—left me feeling as though The Train Kept A-Rollin’ still isn’t quite the ultimate train-song book. Nevertheless, the book chugs out a long-enough line of great songs and artists to satisfy both train freaks and train-ambivalent freaks such as myself.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Two Dozen Great Albums from Rock & Roll’s First 8 Years


Rock & Roll was not born for long playing. It was for blasting out of pop-shop jukeboxes, for blasting on hip radio stations, for purchasing for the couple of cents in the average teen’s blue jeans pocket. Rock & Roll first spun at 45 rpms, and it would be at least eight-years old before it started to matter at 33too.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t great albums in these early years of Rock & Roll, though it’s likely most artists didn’t consciously set out to make great albums the way Hendrix, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and the rest would when the genre matured in the mid-sixties. At this time, the Rock LP was little more than an extravagant souvenir, a special X-mas or birthday gift, and more often than not, a couple of singles and a whole lotta filler. Some of them held more than a couple of great singles, and these are the discs that tended to be the greatest in these years of rocking infancy. A lot of the best early Rock & Roll albums were basically greatest hits packages, though I made the admittedly arbitrary distinction of not including anything explicitly called Greatest Hits or The Best of… on the list that follows.

Quite a few of these albums weren’t really greatest hits at all. They were just made by artists so good that they transcended the limitations of their era. So whether these two-dozen records are essentially compilations or proper albums, each one is early evidence that the Rock & Roll LP could be more than an extravagance or filler-loaded indulgence. From the very beginning, it had the potential to be a genuine work of art.

Note: Normally, I arrange the albums in The Great Albums series according to my very personal opinions regarding which are the best of the year. Since this post covers so many years, I’m arranging them chronologically instead, though I did place an asterisk next to my personal choices for best LP of each year.

1. Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets (December 1955)*

This may not be the very, very beginning of Rock & Roll—lots of people hang that honor around the necks of Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats back in 1951—but there’s no question that “Rock Around the Clock” was the record that made Rock & Roll a household name when the 1954 disc became a hit after it was used over the opening credits of The Blackboard Jungle the following year and became the baby genre’s flagship smash. Bill Haley and the Comets’ record was not just a document of historical significance or a lazy signifier of “the fifties” to be spun over the credits of Happy Days or in episodes of Quantum Leap. It’s a fucking crazy-making piece of Rock & Roll. Don’t hold the naff spit curl or the fact that he looked more like a traveling salesman than an instigator of rebellion and delinquency against him; Bill Haley led his band through a hot piece of wax. Danny Cedrone melted it down completely with his gibbering guitar solo. The rest of the band’s third LP is pretty smoking too with hard-working tracks like “Razzle, Dazzle”, “Two Hound Dogs”, “Dim, Dim The Lights”, and “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie” that serve as transitional bridges between Rock & Roll and its swing jazz roots. Only “ABC Boogie” is strictly cornball city, but it indicates that the rockers were still trying to work out how young, exactly, their audience was.

2. Elvis Presley by Elvis Presley (March 1956)*
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