Archive for the ‘Audioblog’ Category

I went to see Firesign Theatre last night in Kirkland (Seattle area).  The original four guys, who have been collaborating together for 45 years.  They’re my audio-theatre comedy heros and inspiration, going way back to my college radio days in Ann Arbor, as my cohorts and I distracted ourselves from our studies by producing an FM-freeform comedy show, Escapist’s Fair.

Austin, Ossman, Proctor and Bergman are the masters of multi-layered, social-commentary, high-lo-intellect, just-plain-good-bullshit “comedy” recordings. Great characters, great voices, that both honor and parody radio/TV/pop culture idioms and politics.  True audio eclecticism.  We were lucky enough to do a little work with them when they ventured to the Midwest back in the later 70s.

The anchor of the well-attended Seattle shows was most of “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus,”  their strange tale, written and recorded in 1971, about a futuristic amusement park where “Ah…Clem,”  Barney (a bozo) and others “talk” to a holographic president Nixon and get a canned answer to their questions.   This was before the digital revolution (only mainframes were around) and voice-recognition  – but here’s Clem breaking into the system with “maintenance” voice commands.  Predicting technology was one of their talents.

At the show, they mixed in segments from their late 90s series of comeback CDs, Nick Danger,

Firesign in the 1960s - Great characters, great voices, strange plots

and some fresh political and social references.  I also saw them a few months ago in LA on the Art Hill, with only about 60 of the faithful in attendance, including music-industry people and Weird Al.

Here’s the amazing part.  Peter Bergman noted that they started in 1967 on the radio and with live shows,  and no big-league rock band from that era has worked regularly with the original members for that long (at least that he knows of).

David Ossman, Phil Proctor, Peter Bergman, and Phil Austin - still writing and performing 45 years later

So, as a tribute, the same week as their November 17, 1966 debut,  here’s a brief segment from their first album (recorded in 1967).   In recent decades, doing parodies of game shows is stock- and-trade comedy skit material (Saturday Night Live does one almost every week), but I’m thinking that this one might have well been the first.

LISTEN -Firesign Theatre_Beat-the-Reaper game show parody

My Addenda:  besides “Bozos,” here’s some of my favorite Firesign albums, and where to find out more about them and/or buy them.

Everything You Know is Wrong

1974's "Everything You Know is Wrong"

So it appears Firesign has a new generation of fans.  These guys did a home-made movie using “Everything You Know…” as the soundtrack.  Lip-sync and all.  Not bad, check out the first 6 minutes.

Their third album:  Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand me the Pliers.   While in high school, I listened to the tales of More Science High.

More recently, there’s their 1999 tribute to LA and Y2K,   Give Me Immortality, or Give me Death

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1960s music recording studio

LISTEN_April 6 to 16_1966_Beatles-Velvet Und-Etc_6:30

April  6 through 16, 1966.

New chief engineer Geoff Emerick  puts John Lennon’s microphone through a rotating Leslie speaker designed for Hammond organ, to give it a distant, swirling effect to make him sound like “the Dalai Lama on a mountaintop,” and George’s tamboura and Paul’s tape-loop experimentation combine to create Tomorrow Never Knows. Brian Wilson  finishes vocals for three songs on Pet SoundsGod On Knows, Wouldn’t Be Nice, and I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, and the album is complete.  Paul McCartney toys with Got to Get You Into My Life.

In New York, Lou Reed has his guitar strings all tuned to the same pitch, and John Cale is bowing a harsh viola he has strung with guitar and mandolin strings, on the song Venus in Furs as the Velvet Underground record tracks for their first album with Nico.

Introspection, mysticism, sex, drugs and rock and roll…hear the highlights in this audio episode.

March 9th and 10th, 1966

1960s music recording studio

LISTEN_March_8-9_1966_Zappa-and-Brian-record-a-mile-apart

It was fun discovering that Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention were recording their outrageous first album, Freak Out, at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Highland in Hollywood during the same couple of days that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were recording God Only Knows, acknowledged by some (including Paul McCartney) as the best song ever written. Less than a mile away at Sunset and Gower.  Brian had just shelved his first sessions for Good Vibrations (late February), and turned back to finishing tracks he knew he wanted on Pet Sounds.

So we have Brian Wilson at the apex of his songwriting career, and Frank Zappa at the beginning of his eclectic journey. Help I’m a Rock, and God Only Knows. I decided to do an audio  juxtaposition of these works. WARNING: this may constitute punishable sacrilege to some aficionados.  Take a listen.

LISTEN_Late-February-1966_Dylan_James-Brown_Brian_5:18

My 60-second version of Bob Dylan’s quick evolution, leads us to February 1966 with Bob recording cuts for Blonde on Blonde in Nashville, after giving up in NYC.  James Brown has gone the other way, recording in New York the same day. You gotta love lyrics like:  “It’s a man’s world, but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.”  (you have to be careful to cover all age groups and demographics obviously).

And Brian Wilson finally lets his bandmates actually play on a backing track for Pet Sounds. Hear it here.

February 7 – 16, 1966

Work on Brian Wilson’s ground-breaking Pet Sounds album continues, despite a cool reception from Beach Boy Mike Love.  Bass harmonica, tight woodwind harmonies, and the continuity of guitar arpeggios and other percussive strings throughout the tracks, all work to set this project apart.  And then there’s those stunning melodies (Don’t Talk, Put Your Head on my Shoulder).

The Turtles try to get psychedelic with Grim Reaper of Love; the Yardbirds already are.  The Blues Project from Greenwich Village juice up Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me. Hear the music and my commentary here:

1960s music recording studio LISTEN_Early-February-1966_Brian-Wilson_Turtles_Others_7:29

Note: many of the Pet Sounds studio rehearsal recordings heard in this audioblog are available in the The Pet Sounds Sessions box set.

Tuesday, January 18th, 1966…and subsequent January recording sessions.

1960s music recording studioLISTEN_January 18-31 1966-Pet Sounds Session Highlights   5:05

Brian Wilson is back in the studio after the holidays to accelerate sessions for the Pet Sounds project. He departs even further from typical pop-rock instrumentation on “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” employing two accordion players, two guitarists,  both acoustic and electric bass, two pianos, low baritone sax, and timpani.  Veteran session drummer Hal Blaine has trouble with the intro.

Brian uses plucked piano strings on “You Still Believe in Me.”  And the month ends with Brian’s personal “Caroline No” being built in the studio.  Listen to highlights of it all, here.

1960s music recording studio LISTEN_Late-December-1965_4:27

Last episode for 1965.  The Byrds break from their jangley folk-rock mode and record an early version of the terse “Eight Miles High.” The same afternoon (Dec. 22),  Brian Wilson is across town in LA. tweaking the gorgeous track for “Sloop John B” and beginning to construct the lavish vocals.

Developments during 1965 foreshadowed rock-pop innovations to come: Minimalism is born as Steve Reich builds his first tape-loop piece, a technique that will soon influence the Beatles, Pink Floyd and others.

And a brief preview of what’s soon to come.

Happy Holidays everybody.