All Writing and Photography © Alex Livingstone/Owner's Closet

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mix Tape

Cassettes have returned to my life. Supposedly they are popular with the kids these days, an interest that is no doubt a smaller part of the widespread obsession with the style and culture of the 1980s. I'd wager that making mix tapes has at some point been a past-time for anyone born before 1993.  Over the winter I became obsessed with making a mixtape. I'm thinking I hadn't made one since the late nineties. He are some words on each of the songs on the tape. Actual song order at the bottom. You decide which is Side A and which is Side One.

"What's So Strange About Me?"by Eight Dayz: This song was the beginning and ending song on the Santa Cruz skate video called Wheels of Fire.  I was friends with Mitch Wilkins in the 7th and 8th grade and his older brother Aaron had a VHS copy of this video. We thought the soundtrack was pretty bitchin' so we put a jambox with a built-in microphone up to the television speaker and recorded the whole movie's audio.  Some folks call this "air-to-air taping" which sounds about as plausible as the act itself but it worked well enough. Anyone who took cassette recording beyond a double-tapedeck dub or recording live radio knows about "air-to-air." Anyway, I listened to this Wheels of Fire tape constantly and its songs and dialogue became a permanent part of my memory and then I forgot about the song for 25 years. When my wife bought me Wheels of Fire on DVD (!) I found that the soundtrack artists were not listed in the credits. It took me awhile to find out who sang several of the songs on the soundtrack and it turned out to be Santa Cruz sponsored german skater Claus Grabke's band Eight Dayz. Wow! This mix tape stems from several key things and the discovery of Eight Dayz is one of them. "What's So Strange about Me?" starts out the video so I thought it a perfect side starter.

"Walk in Cold" by Naked Raygun: I was introduced to Naked Raygun when I received a dubbed copy of the Jettison album in 9th or 10th grade. My current Grand Champeen bandmates went to high school with a kid from Chicago who was into hometown hardcore bands like Naked Raygun and Trenchmouth (for which Fred Armisen played drums). It being the 80's, we relied on each other to find out about bands because there was no internet; word of mouth and small 'zines were our lifelines to new music. I forgot how much I liked this album until it crept back into mind and I bought it on vinyl in the fall of 2012. Frank Black must have listened to a lot of Naked Raygun. There are moments on Jettison that are identical to many moments on Pixies' records.

"Hypnotized" by Fleetwood Mac: This song has a righteous groove and a great floating, semi-jazz instrumental arrangement. From the mid-period Fleetwood Mac headed up partially by Bob Welch, Hypnotized comes from the Mystery to Me album which not only features great Bob Welch guitar playing but also finds Christine McVie stepping forward as a major force in the band.

"The Search" by Wipers: This song is by far the most important catalyst for the existence of this mix tape. My current vehicle has a cassette deck that within the first six months of my ownership began rejecting 1/8" cassette adapters. When my mp3 listening capability was extinguished, I dug through my box o' cassettes I had in the closet. These were tapes that I had started collecting in elemantary school (Led Zeppelin Presence purchased Mother's Day weekend 1987) and had purchased as recently as 2001(new $2 copy of Diver Down from Tower Records on the drag to play in the tour van with Champeen). Among these tapes were the Wipers' Land of the Lost and Youth of America which I had bought for $.50 a piece in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Despite the reverence placed on this band by the likes of Kurt Cobain and John Reis, I had never listened to these tapes I had been sitting on for over 10 years. I put in Land of the Lost and was immediately hooked. Why hadn't I ever checked these guys out? They're a huge missing piece of the guitar rock puzzle that I started putting together as a five year old miming along to the "Shock Me" guitar solo from KISS Alive II.

"Give It All Away" by Patto: Who the hell are these guys? You'll have to do your own research on that one here. I first heard about these guys from White Denim's Josh Block in 2010. He was playing drums for Doug Wariner at the Hole in the Wall and I struck up a conservation with him about music. He mentioned that the new material White Denim was writing at the time was in the vein of this band Patto. So I checked it out and was surprised I had never heard of them before. Their guitarist Ollie Halsall just blazes all over their three records, the first two for sure. The track featured on this mix tape is the first song on the second side of their sophomore album, Hold Your Fire, which I think is their most solid offering.

"Kid" by The Pretenders: Though I've known this song for a long time, it wasn't until I bought the Pretenders' debut LP at the last Austin Record Convention and heard it as a part of an album that it really jumped out at me. If you look underneath Chrissie Hynde's incredible vocal delivery, you'll find a complex rhythm track similar to that of The Beatles' "All My Loving." Walking bass line over a swinging drum beat with a double-time jangly rhythm guitar. Then there is the awesome key change that is brought to us through the jumpy, Am bridge and an awesome Byrds-y guitar solo. Then there's that dynamically softer section before the final verse where the bass owns me every time. Timeless.

"5150" by Van Halen: Technically it's Van Halen but we all know that's it's really Van Hagar. When this album came out I was in 5th grade and I loved it, of course. Between the time I first heard Van Halen on the radio in the spring of 1984 and the release of 5150 two years later, I had purchased cassettes copies of 1984 and Diver Down and was rapidly becoming a disciple of hard rock. I remember buying the 5150 cassette at the Record Bar at Southpark Mall in Charlotte. It was the first clear cassette I had ever seen and for a while we all thought this "innovation"was incredible.
Regarding the song, it is the only post-DLR song that I truly love. The opening riff is classic EVH, proving to some of us that Van Halen hadn't lost everything with the arrival of the Red Rocker. His lyrics are mainly nonsense but his performance fits in well with the band. The melody of the chorus is what really makes me happy.

"No Reply at All" by Genesis: When my cousin Blair bought a Pioneer 6-disc home CD player in the mid-eighties, the whole family lined up to get cassette copies of his cd collection. The Livingstone household had one tape with Police Greatest Hits b/w Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume II and another tape of nothing but Billy Joel. Another Maxell tape had one side filled with selected tracks from Wings Over America while the other side being filled with numerous hits by Phil Collins and his former band Genesis. It is because of these tapes that I will always like some songs by the Eagles, Billy Joel, Phil Collins, and Genesis. "No Reply at All" is a great song with a pretty killer rhythm track that makes me want to dance. The bass line, played by multi-instrumentalist Mike Rutherford, is all over the place while simultaneously holding it down. Phil Collins' drum track is a fine example of his skills; tight snare and hi-hat work and nimble fills between verses and choruses. And drums sound good too! Except for the lame bridge that smacks of the contrived emotionality found at the end of the song "Layla," I love this song forever.

"Philomena" by Thin Lizzy: I am a late bloomer when it comes to discovering the brilliance and magnitude of awesomeness that is Thin Lizzy. When I heard "Boys Are Back In Town" on the radio as a kid, why did I not go out and buy Jailbreak with the same speed and determination that I had purchased 1984, Presence or Ride the Lightning? Who cares? Thin Lizzy's catalog is deep and after buying all of the Robertson/Gorham era albums on vinyl, I committed them to cassette and listened to them in the car for months on end. Why this particular song struck me so hard is another question I have no answer for. Regardless, I rewound and listened to "Philomena" over and over on the way to and from work for about four days straight.

"Please Don't Worry" by Grand Funk Railroad: Not only did my Dad see these guys in the late 60s, this song is from his copy of the self-titled vinyl LP that he no doubt bought at the PX while stationed in Key West. I first heard this song being played over the PA in Waterloo Records a couple years ago and was blown away by the rhythm/tempo changes and the in-your-face bass playing. All Hail the Power Trio! Don't believe anyone who says you can't go to the record store and find something new(or new to you). Going to the record store has been a vital part of my life ever since I started going to Record Bar in 1983 when it was at the top of the escalator at Southpark. Joe Young of Antiseen worked behind the counter and was the first of many influential record store clerks in my life.

"Yours Is No Disgrace" by YES: I think my one and only guitar teacher tried to teach me this song when I was 13. Needless to say, Steve Howe's hammer-ons and pull-offs didn't become possible for a few more years but the music had a strong effect on me. Fast-forward 25 years and find me playing a Rickenbacker bass, trying to figure out how Christopher Squire got that killer tone! Everything about this song is great. Jon Anderson's sci-fi lyrics delivered through mindful and nuanced vocals, Tony Kaye's blistering organ playing, Bruford's nimble drumming, Howe's tasteful shredding and Chris Squire's commanding bass lines make this song a prog-rock masterpiece.
Highlights: the way Howe's solo swells into place with a reverbed out guitar and then finishes with a tone-down note-full jazz barrage; Squire bouncing back and forth between the root and fifth is the section where the song hangs on Bflat; The choral vocal where the voices are introduced to the listener for the first time in the song and on The Yes Album.

"Kid Gloves" by Rush: When I first heard Rush, it was upon the recommendation of this kid I was in class with in 7th grade. After finding commonality in Led Zeppelin, he shared with me some tapes he had stolen from his older brother.  Two of these tapes were Rush's self-titled first album and their 1984 release Grace Under Pressure, both of which I dubbed and had on each side of one 90-minute blank tape. What is so interesting to me about this is that these two particular albums nearly bookended what many consider Rush's "best" period. What a strange way to be introduced to a band? However, I didn't realize these trivialities at the time and I enjoyed these two albums immensely. Grace Under Pressure has always been one of my favorite Rush albums and "Kid Gloves" is a great reason why. It's uptempo, has interesting time signature changes, various rhythmic patterns, and even the rare harmony vocal. The bass playing throughout is killer and the opening guitar riff in 5/4 is just complicated enough to please the nerds while its release into 4/4 at the pre-chorus satisfies perfectly the need in most of us to straighten things out. Then a version of the opening riff is played over a 4/4 beat. Classic, brilliant Rush.

"Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant: I remember seeing the video to this song on HBO's Video Jukebox in the early 80s. At last year's Austin Record Convention I scoured the bins for this record and had absolutely no luck. I set aside at least five hours for the RecCon but after three hours I was pretty fried. I had found 12-15 great records and was fairly satisfied with my booty but since I had more time left I couldn't just stop. So the last thing I did was look for this one album; Killer on a Rampage by Eddy Grant. Nowhere to be found! Damn! After having witnessed my frustration that day, my bandmate Beaty bought it for me a gift. I always liked the song but I never bought the record so I never wore it out. Until now.

"Different Ways" by Eight Dayz: The only band to have two songs on this mix tape, Eight Dayz gives us a great 80s dance track with this tune. This song appeared in the Wheels of Fire skate film during the Rob Roskopp skate sequence. On a normal day it would not fit into my "preferred type of music" but it seeped into my brain early and I love it. The melody is great and it's uptempo, which will tip the scales for me almost anytime. When I rediscovered this song last year I listened to it over and over and over and over and over and over...

"Not Great Men" by Agitpop: This cover of the Gang of Four song is done by 80s underground freak power trio Agitpop who hailed from Poughkeepsie, NY. They put out five LPs on various labels between 1985 and 2007. I came to find out about Agitpop because theirs was the first on a video compilation released by Twin/Tone Records called Dark Ages: A Video Collection. Twin/Tone had released their fourth album Stick It! after having released the best parts of Soul Asylum and The Replacements' catalogs, my friends and I were checking out anything they released. I loved Stick It! for its Minutemen-esque art punk and listened to it often for many years. This cover is on the B-side of an EP Twin/Tone released promoting a song called "Forget Me Not." Though I've also been listening to Gang of Four's Entertainment! a lot lately, I finally found the "Forget Me Not" EP at the last record convention and figured this cover would kill both birds with one stone.

"Green Aisles" by Real Estate: One of the more current bands on this cassette, Real Estate hit me like a ton of feathers back in late November when my new wife and I were having a "mini-moon" on the North Carolina coast. She had heard this song on KUT and bought the record the next day but it wasn't until this trip that we really got into it. We played the album probably eight times in a row one day while we were bumming around our beach condo, drinking Bloody Marys and Modelo Especial, and reading on the deck while dolphins jumped through the waves right offshore. It was the perfect soundtrack to bumming around. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't be turned onto new music through the radio.

"Man with Golden Helmet" by Radio Birdman: This song/band is the most recent interest of mine. I bought their debut record from Doug at his yard sale back in January and loved this song immediately. I love this kind of groove. This band was killer. I look forward to listening to it more.

"Pool Parties" by Transportation: So fucking good. These guys are incredible. They're the Thin Lizzy of Chapel Hill, NC. I first heard Transportation when Grand Champeen played a show with them and Grand National at Go! in Carrboro, NC. It was suggested we play with them and how true? This song is from their most recent album entitled Amusement Park which was a huge hit around our house when we finally got a copy of it.  After waiting on my friend Scott who claimed the multiple copies he bought for me kept getting taken by his wife, I sent for it and got a copy in the mail or download or something less exciting than getting a cd in the mail from your friend. Regardless, this album is great and I suggest anyone who likes Thin Lizzy, Joe Jackson, Badfinger or early Queen look into this band.

"McTwist & Shout" by Johnny Rad and the Jordanaires: Taken from another skate video I watched repeatedly, Axe Rated by Powell Peralta. Johnny Rad was a recurring character in the Powell skate videos, often singing original hits with lyrics that immortalized the life of the skater. Here's another one from the 1986 video Future Primitive in which he sings his classic original "Skate and Destroy" over the blooper reel.

"I've Got A Wild Feeling" by Milk Music: I first heard these guys in early 2012 when I was looking for records in End of and Ear. An employee was playing their first EP over the stereo and I liked what I heard but for some reason I didn't buy it. The second time I heard it was in late February 2012 when i was on tour with Craig Finn. After having waited for an extremely late sound guy, we started setting up our gear at the Great Scott to the tune of the same EP. It was loud over the PA and I recognized it and I liked it even more. When I got home I bought the EP on vinyl and ordered the cassette only release from which this song is pulled, the "Almost LIve" EP recorded at WFMU. Both are good releases and they just came out with a full length album called "Cruise Your Illusion."

"Looking For the Magic" by Dwight Twilley: Dwight Twilley entered my world when Beaty suggested our band Excited States cover it. By its third playback the day I was learning it for band rehearsal, I loved this song. It gets stuck in my head all of the time and I don't mind a bit when it does. The vocal delivery is pretty cool. Not afraid.

"Plays Chess" by Alex Livingstone:  I made a sound collage out recordings I made on my iphone during the same time frame as I was digging these songs. Enjoy.

Here's the straight track list:

What's So Strange About Me?
Please Don't Worry
Pool Parties
Walk In Cold
Yours Is No Disgrace
I've Got A Wild Feeling
The Search
McTwist & Shout
Give It All Away
Electric Avenue
Different Worlds
Looking for the Magic
Not Great Men
No Reply At All
Green Aisles
Kid Gloves
Man With Golden Helmet
Plays Chess