Old is new again (music that is)

I just downloaded my first Velvet Underground album The Velvet Underground and Nico and I was wondering if you guys are just getting into any old albums that you just never got around to until now.



Since VU & Nico can be downloaded legally (and DRM-free) from Amazon, I’ll go on the assumption that this is what you meant.


I don’t have an album of right now that fits this bill, but I do have a doozy, a record that anyone interested in rock and pop music that reveals true genius in every track should check out. This is my best “Old is new again” story with music.

I was working at Euclid Records (still the most kickass record store in St. Louis!) back in the 1990’s, and one of my wiser, more music-literate co-workers put a CD on the in-store music that took me all of about 10 seconds to fall in love with. At the conclusion of the first line I was sort of fast-walking from the back of the store where I’d been doing restock to the counter to ask what the hell we were listening to. I mean, something in the line “Good morning to you I hope you’re feeling better baby” got to me, and by the time I’d gotten to the front, this amazing bass line had kicked in under the harpsichord and mellotron and agile drums.

I was shushed to silence so we could all listen to the punchline at the end of the first verse, and then the glorious chorus kicked in. “Seriously, who the FUCK is this?!?!?”

Embarrassing as hell. I knew the lead vocalist; I’d turned everyone in the store onto Colin Blunstone’s one solo disc “One Year”, but I’d never actually heard the album that was playing…which was Blunstone singing with his old band The Zombies on the album Odessey And Oracle.

Now, I new about Odessey And Oracle. I knew it was the last Zombies album, and that it had been released and fell out of the charts immediately, and that Zombie songwriters Rod Argent and Chris White had already broken up the band and were working on a new project together…and then dj’s started playing “Time Of The Season” which became a huge hit, but no band remained to actually exploit that success and that was that. Unheard by me, I figured that Odessey And Oracle was “Time Of The Season” and a bunch of filler.

This, as they say, was a massive miscalculation on my part. Odessey And Oracle is the great lost British Invasion album, a disc that can stand side by side with Sgt. Pepper and The Who Sell Out and Between The Buttons and Ogdens Nut Gone Flake and Village Green Preservation Society and perhaps even outshine those august chestnuts. Odessey and Oracle is a start-to-finish virtuoso performance that reveals the Zombies as one of the most freakishly talented bands of their time and place. The songs are filled with gorgeous minor-key melodies that head off in unexpected directions–but never wander. You get Chris White’s amazing bass work, Rod Argent’s creative keyboard wizardry (organs, harpsichords, and mellotrons abound), and the gorgeous three and four-part harmonies The Zombies were noted for (rumor has it that the vocal track on “She’s Not There” was nailed in one live take) abound.

The most puzzling thing about Odessey And Oracle lies in its greatest strength, which is still Colin Blunstone’s incredible vocal performance. If Steve Winwood and Stevie Marriott were trying to channel James Brown and Otis Redding and Ray Charles, Colin Blunstone was doing at least as good a job singing with a whiskey-smooth, soulful croon that drew on Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson. Listen to the album and you’ll wonder–along with millions of others–why the fuck Rod Argent and Chris White wanted to get Blunstone out of the band.

Finally finally, the songs on Odessey are utterly wonderful, beautifully and painstakingly crafted gems. The opening track (“Care of Cell 44”) is funny, weird, and touching all at once. “A Rose For Emily” is based on the Faulkner short story; “Brief Candles” and “This Will Be Our Year” are full lovely symphonies of minor-key gorgeousness; “Beechwood Park” could be a torch song with a different arrangement. About 2/3rds of the way through, Chris White shakes everything up with the harrowing, plaintive, downright stark “The Butcher’s Tale”; White takes over lead vocals on one of the oddest and most affecting anti-war songs ever recorded, with only Argent’s church pump organ as accompaniment.

By all means, if you haven’t yet discovered the magic of Odessey and Oracle, run don’t walk to correct that injustice. Thanks to the internet, I have some highlights to listen to:

“Care Of Cell 44”

“A Rose For Emily”

“Brief Candles”

“The Butcher’s Tale”
(BTW, I’ll save you the guesswork on the lyrics here: “Gommecourt, Thiepvale, Mametz Wood, and French Verdun”)

Oh man. Odessey and Oracle is amazing. I think my favorite discovery along these lines was Love’s Forever Changes. It really changed how I thought about pop music.

My old college roommate got really into The Zombies our freshmen year, and since our dorm was a single room, I did too. Odessey and Oracle is a great album, and I agree that it holds up with the best of 1960’s rock.

Also, I downloaded VU and Nico from iTunes.

So is it actually misspelled (Odessey vs. Odyssey) or are you guys just perpetuating a mistake in triggercut’s post?

Yeah, it’s spelled that way, I checked wikipedia. Unless triggercut got there first of course.

My biggest “Why the fuck have I never heard this?” moment - besides the Velvets, of course - was Big Star. The first time I heard #1 Hit Record I was completely transfixed: “The Ballad Of El Goodo”, “Feel”, “In The Street” - these sounded like songs that were massive smash pop hits, yet I had never heard them before. “Thirteen” might be the best song about being a teenager ever written.

That’s how it’s spelled, and yep, Chris White (who, as you might be able to tell by the lyrics to many of the songs he wrote was something of an English Lit donk) cringed when he saw it–apparently it was a misspelling when the master was pressed with the original album cover. Rather than correct the spelling for release, the other Zombies overruled their obviously horrified bassist because they thought the “Ode” part of “Odessey and Oracle” looked cool and suggested “songs”. Sort of a real-life version of the “Oneders” from the movie That Thing You Do.

At any rate, I think the spelling of the album is the kind of thing that probably Chris White still bitches about at Zombie reunion shows, and probably Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent laughingly dismiss it and tell him “Mate, it works! Just let it go!”

Though it doesn’t meet your criteria of “just getting into now”, quite a few years ago Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town would have qualified for me. Though several years previously to that, I had enjoyed The Boss’ other stuff (both of the Borns, Tunnel of Love) I hadn’t ever heard Darkness. At the time, it seemed I was desperately searching for the “perfect” music and with its gritty vocals, guitars and subject matter combined with melodic sensibilities, this album sucker punched me right in the gut. The raw edginess and emotion isn’t something that was common in a lot of what I had been listening to, with the exception of the aforementioned VU & Lou Reed. Where Springsteen differs from Reed, for me, is in his rough and slightly twangy voice and his everyman lyrics that enables me to better relate and empathize with the songs and stories within. The only way the album could have been better is if “Independence Day” and “The River” had been on this recording instead of the forgettable double album The River released two years later.

Then a short time later the “Seattle sound” broke and alternative rock picked up the Springsteen torch.

The last album I took a chance on and purchased blind – though not the last album I purchased – was Fairport Convention’s “Liege and Lief.” Well, that’s not entirely true, as I’d heard a bit of one track on the radio, but only once…

In any case, I was hooked from the first track. Folk-rock that actually covers both bases well, and with an excellent vocalist in the late Sandy Denny.

OK, here’s one: Nick Lowe’s “Jesus of Cool” from 1978 (released in the US as “Pure Pop for Now People”) which just got re-released in an expanded edition.

Post-punk power pop with a really acid sense of humor. If you’re tired of hearing songs bitching about the music industry then this isn’t the album for you, but if you can handle that, check it out. If you want a sampler then go to emusic and check out “Nutted by Reality” (which starts out with a Jackson 5 bass line before swerving into a Wings pastiche), “Heart of the City”, or “So it Goes”.

Oh, and check out the Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album. It’s the Velvets doing folk rock! And it’s good!

Speaking of the Velvet Underground, am I the only one who hears echoes of “Venus in Furs” in Basil Poledouris’s Conan score?

So freakin great, that song. Fits the sunny spring day out the window just perfectly, thankuverymuch. It’s probably been about six years since you first turned me on to that album.

I just bought Jesus of Cool. I’d owned “Pure Pop for Now People” on vinyl. God do I love this album.

And here’s something that any old dad loves to hear from his 14-year-old daughter whose music taste is finally expanding beyond the usual dreck: “Wow, I didn’t know you had Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, dad—I love them!”

You are so lucky Jeff. My kids seems to be totally against anything I like. One is into religious music and the other is into classic heavy metal. (I blame his mother for introducing him to Ozzy)

That’s awesome, Jeff. When my sisters were her age, all you’d hear were The Backstreet Boys…

Apropos of very little, my CD/record collection shelves are split into two sections. One is “Jesus Of Cool” the other “Pure Pop For Now People”. You have to know which is which to find the music you’re looking for…f’rinstance, Public Enemy and assorted Anticon hiphoppers are in the “Jesus Of Cool” section, while De La Soul is in the “PPFNP” one…

And here I’ve been using boring old alphabetical.

What are some other good ones?

I could try TODAY and ON FIRE.

Or maybe DIRTY and GOO.