B-sides: Déjà vu

The sucky thing about having a (mostly) classic rock blog is that you find yourself doing a lot of r.i.p. posts. Many of my favorite artists are in their 80s now, and it’s easy to fool myself into thinking they’re immortal. Especially when they’re still reviewing doobies on Twitter during their last week on earth. But alas, I knew something was up when a friend of mine posted a flurry of David Crosby-bashing-the-Doors tweets on his Instagram story, which—in a way I can’t explain—instantly told me all I needed to know.

So in honor of Croz, I’ve pulled out a CSNY classic:

Worth a read: Gary Burden’s notes on creating the (very expensive) album cover

Quick side note: I don’t remember where we got this album, but it’s a promo copy with “KERS” written in blue sharpie on either side of the record. From what I can tell, KERS was a student-run radio station at Sacramento State in the late 60s/70s. Cool! Our copy is definitely a little worse for wear, but luckily this is one of those albums that benefits from the static pops. (And uhhh, at the risk of sounding like a weirdo, I LOVE the smell of the inner gatefold, it very distinctly reminds me of my mom’s high school yearbooks from the same era.)

Anyway, onward to the B-side!

  1. “Déjà Vu” – 4:10
  2. “Our House” – 2:59
  3. “4 + 20” – 1:55
  4. “Country Girl” – 5:05
  5. “Everybody I Love You” – 2:20

We start things off with the title track, written by the late great David Crosby. The introductory jam and in-your-face vocals send you right into the stratosphere, then the pace slows almost immediately and you proceed to drift through clouds of Beach Boyesque vocal riffs, spacey electric guitar, and tasty bass (ok Greg Reeves!). “Déjà Vu” feels like a semi-uncomfortable glimpse into David’s headspace at the time….the internet informs me his girlfriend Christine Hinton had died in a car accident during the making of the album, which contributed to his detachment and substance abuse. I feel like there’s a lot to unpack with this song, but we don’t quite get enough time to do it!

Next, “Our House” turns Graham Nash into the Paul McCartney of CNSY, with this catchy little Brit-pop vignette. It’s about his relationship with Joni Mitchell, who I’m pretty sure he was living with when they started recording the album and was broken up with by the time they’d finished (who got custody of the cats??). Goodness. Considering how much heartbreak was going on in their personal lives, CSNY sure did make a fine album out of it.

SPEAKING OF HEARTBREAK, “4 + 20” is a quite the depressing story (nothing to do with marijuana, btw), this one coming from Stephen Stills. I mentioned earlier that it’s hard for me to pay attention to lyrics, but props to Stephen for making me actually pay attention upon first listen: Morning comes the sunrise and I’m driven to my bed / I see that it is empty and there’s devils in my head. “4 + 20” is just a single vocal and a guitar for a little over two minutes, and it packs a punch.

With a name like “Country Girl” and opening chords like that, we all know who wrote the next one. 🙃 It’s technically three songs in one but they’re all from the same cloth: “Whiskey Boot Hill”, “Down, Down, Down”, “Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)”. If I can admit, this is probably my least fave out of the bunch. Neil songs just kinda get too plodding for my taste, sometimes. But the harmonies are great and the organ+harmonica buildup at the end is so very epic.

“Everybody I Love You” is that late 60s sound I love so much. Bright electric guitar, driving bass, tasteful organ, and a wall of vocal harmonies singing about loving everybody. It’s the perfect closing song to the album, and to the 1960s. I love it and I have nothing more to say about it.

I guess I can see how the somewhat depressing B-side of Déjà vu would get overshadowed by the A-side, which is basically 5 iconic songs in a row, feat. steel guitar from Jerry Garcia and songwriting from Joni Mitchell. But honestly I think the B-side is a very honorable embodiment of CSNY’s talents (I say this without being very knowledgeable of the CSN/Y canon, but from a casual’s point of view it’s just a great collection of songs!). Yes, the themes are dark, but I’m glad these four guys (and their muses) could channel it into such a masterful album.

I’ll finish this off with some supplementary David Crosby material. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two times I saw him on stage: once with CSN at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame show in 2009 (really crossed a lot off my list with that one) and again with CSNY at the Bridge School Benefit Concert in 2013. One of my lasting memories of that Bridge School concert was seeing David standing at the side of the stage watching the band fun. as they performed their acoustic set. I’m sure he had a tweet-worthy opinion of them, and who knows if it was scathing or complimentary, but I’ve respected how in-tune he’s always been with artists new and old. You know he’s at least listened enough to have an opinion on them.

On that note, I’ll leave you with this lovely performance of “Guinnevere” by Croz and Chris Thile:

B-sides: Fly Like An Eagle

Earlier this month we got a suspicious-looking “California Middle Class Tax Refund” debit card in the mail, which we were not expecting and looked an awful lot like a scam, but turns out was real! Apparently it’s some kind of inflation relief payment to balance out the ridiculous cost of living in California? If being middle class means getting the occasional random debit card in the mail, I’ll take it. 🤷🏻‍♀️

So, what to do with that extra cashhhhh?

….buy records, duh.

I ended up at Stranded Records on a very rainy Sunday last weekend, picking out a few new albums for the collection: Mike Bloomfield’s It’s Not Killing Me, the eponymous Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and ol’ Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like An Eagle. The latter is going to be our B-side of the day, because that’s what I felt like listening to when I got home:

Choose ur Steve Miller: Chicago blues, San Francisco psychedelia, or 1970s space rock?
  1. “Take the Money and Run” – 2:50
  2. “Rock’n Me” – 3:05
  3. “You Send Me” – 2:42
  4. “Blue Odyssey” – 1:00
  5. “Sweet Maree” – 4:16
  6. “The Window” – 4:19

My nostalgic obsession with Steve Miller Band is thanks to the famous Greatest Hits 1974-78 album, which is one of the earliest CDs I can remember listening to as a kid. I must’ve found it in my dad’s collection, been intrigued by that Blucifer-looking mustang on the cover and put it on repeat for a good…five years? Anyway, the first song on this B-side, “Take the Money and Run”, has a prime spot on the greatest hits album, and listening to it takes me right back to 5th grade weekends hanging out in the garage with my best friend Bondy, seeing who could go fastest on the treadmill while blasting this song from the stereo. “Take the Money and Run” was and will always be a banger, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

“Rock’n Me” is right there in the same boat, a Greatest Hit that has accompanied many a road trip since those early days. Don’t ask me what the song is about—making money? making love? making money for love?—but I’m always down for lyrics that list a bunch of cities (“PhilaDELphia Atlanta LA!”) in seemingly random order. (“Noooorthern California” girls I don’t associate with being “warm” but sure, whatever you say Steve!)

“You Send Me” is a Sam Cooke cover and it’s lovely. First off, I am tickled to learn that this phrase dates back to at least 1957. It, dare I say?, sends me. The SMB version is also (according to a quick Google search) one of the earliest songs to use sampling, even though I don’t really see the purpose of injecting some questionable Cheech & Chong dialogue into what is otherwise a very nice song introduction. Side note: the Sam Cooke documentary on Netflix was a very interesting watch.

Lest we think Steve M. is venturing too far into radio hits on this side of the record, “Blue Odyssey” goes pure space rock and “Sweet Maree” bring us back to his roots in the blues. I hadn’t heard this one and I think it’s a highlight of the B-side: love that interlude with the ambling harmonica and lead guitar! “The Window” is pretty bluesy too, maybe influenced by a late-60s SF acid trip or two. It has kinda cringey lyrics, and that Miller melisma gets kinda old after a while, but it’s a decent album closer.

Anyway, looking at the track listing, I prefer the B-side to the A-side. “Fly Like An Eagle” is a classic, sure, but I’ll never not be able to associate it with USPS commercials. And I was never really a fan of “Dance, Dance, Dance”. I’m realizing now it’s kind of silly that I don’t have the Greatest Hits album on vinyl, since it’s still one of my favorites. But this album (and the B-side alone) definitely fills that gap until I can find it.

B-sides: Talking Book

For my next B-side, I’m doing a Stevie classic, Talking Book. Not gonna lie, I chose this album in part because I was searching for something Jeff Beck-related after the news last week. Turns out we need more Jeff in our collection, but the search led me here, which I’m not mad about.

Album cover trivia: Some pressings have the artist and album name written in Braille on the cover, but our copy doesn’t. :(
  1. “Superstition” – 4:26
  2. “Big Brother” – 3:35
  3. “Blame It on the Sun” – 3:28
  4. “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love” – 4:45
  5. “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” – 4:48

Alright, everybody knows “Superstition”. If, in 1972, someone accidentally played the B-side of Talking Book first, I imagine they’d be forgiven for thinking they were hearing one of the dopest album openers in existence. (Also, there’s something very charming about the clavichord becoming an accessory to funk in the 1970s, in the form of the Clavinet.) As the story goes, this song was a collab with Jeff Beck, who released his own version a year later. I was looking up live versions and remembered that incidentally, Lauren and I saw Stevie Wonder and Jeff Beck perform this song live at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concert in NYC, which apparently I never documented on this blog??? Well, it happened, and I can’t believe I nearly forgot (in my defense, it was a very long night).

In a notable transition to “Big Brother”, the funk dissolves into a serene Clav-djembe(?)-harmonica groove. My initial listens of a song/album are always more focused on instrumentation and general mood, and not lyrics. So yes, I get this is social commentary (You’ve killed all our leaders / I don’t even have to do nothing to you / You’ll cause your own country to fall), but it’s also just such a chill vibe. I really dig it.

“Blame It on the Sun” is the first song on the flip side that doesn’t sound so…70s?…for lack of a better descriptor. Well, there’s some spooky cosmic synth floating around in the background for the second half of the song, but the melody and sentiment still seem timeless. This was co-written with Syreeta Wright, who was married to Stevie Wonder at the time and by the sound of things here, getting ready for a separation. 😬

Oh hai Jeff! Beware of sexy guitar in “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love”. How does one go about identifying the guitar somebody used in a recording? (If it’s not obvious, I am not a Guitar Person!) I read on the internet that Jeff was mostly a Strat guy, but some of these licks have a very Les Paul quality to my untrained ear, and I wish I could verify that. Anyway, I love Stevie’s hype in the solo – “do it Jeff!” Lyrically, this is a natural progression from “Blame It on the Sun”; I didn’t expect to be getting so many breakup songs in this half-album!

“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” has unmistakable End of Album Anthem energy, although it’s not as over-the-top as a lot of the rock and gospel songs it probably inspired. 4 minutes in, though, and it’s pretty great to be hearing layer upon layer of Stevie: vocals, keyboards, Moog, drums, everything else. And instead of giving us a big sweeping outro at the end, he injects a good dose of funk before the fadeout, which I appreciate very much.

Talking Book is an album I wasn’t too familiar with, so it was interesting to come in and listen to half of it without much context. But these 5 songs make up a lovely mini-album…each one with its own distinct but genuine mood.

What’s next? Who knows – I might take a trip to the record store later today though. 👀

B-sides: Hearts and Bones

If you hadn’t noticed (and why would you?), I recently removed the personal/professional part of this site and transferred it elsewhere. There were two main reasons for this: 1) I was tired of constantly switching between using my personal domain and blog URL—which, up until last month, both led to the same place—depending on the context (“well what the h*ck is it, a blog or a portfolio??” my inner brand manager kept yelling at me, as I switched my website link on Twitter from fliptherecord.blog to nikkicollister.com for the seventeenth time), and 2) I miss the days of having a plain ol’ blog; it’s just more fun (see also: my newest 11ty experiment, a winter break project). Oh and I guess 3) I recently signed up with bringback.blog and this made things a little easier.

So, anyway, welcome (back) to Flip the dang Record. This is gonna be a blog because that’s what it’s always been.

In celebration, I’m going to take the name quite literally and embark on a new little project, at least for the month of January: B-sides and side twos, baby! For every record I pull from the shelf, I’m going to start with side two, and write a little mini review. Why side two? Why not? It’s the type of nostalgic, hipster thing you can only do with vinyl or cassettes. I see it as a new way of listening to some of my favorite albums, and will be an interesting approach to those I’m not that familiar with.

But first, no fewer than THREE disclaimers:

  1. On one hand, I recognize that some would consider this an act of sacrilege. I get it; I am also of the old school opinion that that albums should be listened to in full, each track in the exact place it was intended. But on the other hand, I’ve listened to so many of these albums so many times that mayyyybe this deliberate deconstruction will present a new perspective or two. I know that my attention inevitably wanes as an album goes on, I can’t help it. Shouldn’t it be just as exciting when you flip the record (see what I did there?) and put the needle on side two??
  2. My record collection is evolving, but obvi still leans heavily towards classic rock. There are lots of Beatles albums, Beatles solo albums, Beatles-adjacent albums, Rolling Stones, The Who, etc. etc. And a disproportionate amount of Michael Nesmith. BUT, thanks to a husband whose musical tastes don’t always overlap with mine, hopefully I’ll be exploring some records outside of my classic rock bubble.
  3. I’m not a music critic and I’m not even very good at casually writing about music. I know many people whose musical observations and opinions are a thousand times more interesting than mine—I’d much rather see them do this than me. But I’m the one who signed up for the blog challenge and has the spare time, so you’re stuck with me!

underrated album cover, IMO

To start us off, I’ve chosen Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon. The title track has been the soundtrack of our lives recently, thanks to Alex’s recent guitar goals. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, now even more so! But of course it’s an A-side affair. Let’s jump right into the B-side!

  1. “Think Too Much (a)” – 3:05
  2. “Train in the Distance” – 5:11
  3. “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War” – 3:44
  4. “Cars Are Cars” – 3:15
  5. “The Late Great Johnny Ace” – 4:45

Ok first of all, “Think Too Much (a)” is very enjoyable for me, personally. I love hearing it without the context of “Think Too Much (b)” from the first half of the album. (Also, no idea why the A-side version is called (b) and the B-side version is (a)….what a funny way to start this whole thing off.) Anyway, this track stands firmly on its own. Lyrically, it is not one of Paul’s finest (maybe blindfold her / and take her away….can’t decide if this is sinister or romantic; either way, “(b)” paints a more interesting picture). But sonically, it’s a fun little jaunt! I like the backing vocals (sorry Artie, I heard this was originally your job), and the unexpected synth swells behind the “elephant dance” line. From one overthinker to another, I dig it.

In the car we have a Paul Simon hits CD in heavy rotation called Negotiations and Love Songs, which gets its name from “Train in the Distance”, our next track. Unfortunately this one suffers from being further down in the track listing, both on Hearts and Bones and the compilation album. But when it’s among the first songs you’re hearing in the day, “Train in the Distance” is a very lovely song, in its own quiet way. It’s obviously a personal story (about Paul’s first wife Peggy, I assume) which appeals to the unabashed autobiography-loving side of me. It also has that excellent Rick Tee Rhodes sound from this era, and the calmly devastating lyrics the thought that life could be better / is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.

“René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War” always felt like a questionable inclusion on the aforementioned hits CD, but just like “Train in the Distance”, it’s easier to appreciate when it’s not stacked up against your Kodachromes and Gracelands. And, having gone to the Magritte Museum in Brussels (recommended!), I can say that I enjoy the subject matter of this quirky little tune. The Harptones provide the catchy doo wop groove in the chorus, one of at least two 1950s callbacks PS deploys on this B-side. Most excitingly, I did not know until today that a Magritte-inspired music video exists for this song, feat. Carrie Fisher, whom most of the album is about.

“Cars Are Cars”. Could this be the least Paul Simon-sounding song in existence?? It’s become a meme in our household, and I’m just now realizing how much we feel the need to inform each other that indeed, cars are cars (all over the world). I could see this being a song that triggers some epiphany if you’re high enough (people are strangers / they change with the curve…they stand on their differences / and shoot at the moon….BUT CARS ARE CARS). Maybe it’s just a matter of time before I see the light.

OH wow, talk about a quick transition right into “The Late Great Johnny Ace”. So, this song is always my skip track when watching/listening to The Concert in Central Park (the combination of unnerving chord progression + the guy storming the stage stresses me out), which has unfortunately seeped into my overall impression of the song. But now, reading the lyrics from the liner notes as the B-side wraps up, I’m getting surprisingly emotional listening to it. It’s a tribute to both Johnny Ace and John Lennon (written 1981), and just a beautiful piece of storytelling. TIL the coda was composed by Philip Glass! Unmistakable, now that I’ve read it. The whole vibe of this song is uneasy, unfinished, and a really compelling way to end an album.

I’ll probably go back and edit this later, but now it’s time to eat dinner! Bye!