Friday, January 08, 2010
Typer At The Gates Of Dawn
Back with yet another installment of "Typer At The Gates Of Dawn." Today's guest should need no introduction to our long-time readers as he's appeared before as a guest survey-taker back in July of 2008. (Holy ^%$#. Time is not only flying, it's a runaway freight banana!)
I speak of course of good friend and writer-reviewer sans peer Aaron Milenski. A long-time contributor to the web-only Acid Archives, (sadly removed due to blatant abuses of the reviews therein), and also a contributor to the (massive!) Galactic Ramble book. I received my copy a few weeks ago via Amazon's Used Sellers; it's in perfect shape and looks as though it's brand new. Hefty tome this.
All this as preamble to Aaron's qualifications to speak on all things psychedelia. He knows from weird. he knows the good from the great, too. Let's see what he's got in store for us:
Richard Twice- Richard Twice (Philips 1970)
The world of record collecting is often random and hard to explain. A record shows up on someone’s want list one time in 1982 and for eternity certain groups of collectors must have it, no matter what they learn about it over time. There’s no other way of explaining why people will still pay $300 every time the Steve Drake Band album shows up for sale even though it has been long exposed that it’s just a collection of songs from a few easy-to-obtain albums by Babe Ruth, Be-Bop Deluxe, Nutz and Stackridge. Similarly, there are many cases where two albums of similar rarity and quality, records comparable in every possible way, remain in perpetuity separated only by value, one in the multi-hundred dollar range and another selling for $20 or $30 or less. There are a lot of relatively rare major label popsike albums that have become huge collectors’ items over time, but given the vagaries of the collector mindset there will always be others that are not. Among the best of these is the only album by Richard Twice (named because it’s a duo of guys named Richard), a record that is not only as solid a piece of late 60s/early 70s harmony guitar pop as you will ever hear, but also contains one of the most stunningly gorgeous baroque psych songs ever recorded. Indeed, “If I Knew You Were The One” is one of the most beautiful and majestic pop songs in any genre. When it appeared on the excellent Fading Yellow Volume 7 compilation, it blew everyone away, being the obvious standout among some pretty choice company. Nonetheless, the album from which it came still remains a virtual unknown, despite being jam packed with tremendous, wonderfully arranged songs that, by virtue of coming about two years behind the trend, managed to escape both the pop charts and collector mania.
The liner notes are not shy about stating the two Richards’ main influences: Simon & Garfunkel and the Beatles. Matching the singing style of the former with the songwriting style of the latter may not make them original but it does give them a whole ton of strength on both fronts. The songwriting is bursting with melody, but is not simplistic or predictable. The singing is spotless, but what really makes it so special is the way the voices blend together to create a unique and powerful eerie vibe. As a friend of mine once said about Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, these two guys were just born to sing together. Side one begins with “Generation ’70,” which explores their place in time with lyrics that, without a close listen, you might think are about the war (“there are some people who do not love the country”), but actually are about self reliance and faith. It starts with a few blasts of fuzz guitar and some bongos, but settles down into a nice mellow groove, introducing the uncanny harmonies of the two Richards. Towards the end of the song, some horns appear (and eventually battle against a harsh fuzz guitar solo.) Perhaps there will be some listeners who find fault with a bit of commercial overproduction here and there on this record, but as with the mainstream bands they idolized, they looked for color wherever they could find it. The result is an album that is not attempting to be “pop,” “psychedelic,” or “folk rock,” and is the better for its variety and lack of predictability. “My Love Bathes In Silence” follows, a sly little love song with prominent electric piano and a neat transition from the quiet chorus back into the next bouncy verse (or, in one case, an equally bouncy middle eight.) “1:25 A.M.” begins with an outright theft, the same few French horn notes that begin the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Whether this is a tribute, an unconscious rip, or a purposeful steal, it’s a cute way of showing yet another of their influences. Any thought of Stones’-style rock fade as the verse comes in, a quiet melody backed with meandering flutes. It doesn’t take long for the song to get going, though, with harps and Common People-like strings swooping in like an owl surprising its prey...then it ends as quickly as it builds, an intriguing song, one that sounds more like a fragment of an epic than something complete. “Your Love Like Heaven Be” sports two competing minor-key melodies. It’s a gorgeous dreamy song, featuring propulsive acoustic guitars that add to its strength. As with the previous song, it’s over far too soon, two minutes and nine seconds of pop perfection. “God Give Me Strength,” like many songs on the album has a slow, calm verse, but perks up a bit here and there. It benefits from a surprising switch from minor to major at the end of each verse. The strings are a bit more sprightly than would be expected for such a moody song (“Lord don’t you leave me here between life and death.”) It’s an odd song; a lot of these tracks appear at first to be simple love songs, but most of them have some intriguing implications, with this being the darkest and most mystical. “What Makes Me Love You Like I Do” closes side one, beginning with horns that start out like “Magical Mystery Tour” then shift to “Spinning Wheel.” The verses have yet another major-to-minor chord progression, a cute little pop trick that, along with the soft-rock middle eight and a high energy level, elevates what is otherwise the album’s weakest, most mainstream song. Their pop sense is strong enough that I can abide it; some of you will think it too cute or too obvious. Either way, you’ll forget it as soon as side two begins with the heavily echoed flutes and otherworldly harmonies that introduce “If I Knew You Were The One.” Their magnum opus stands strong at the beginning of the side, a concept that the advent of the CD has made irrelevant. They, or their producers, deserve credit for flawless album construction; the songs flow perfectly from mood to mood, highlighting the strongest moments and elevating the others. “The Finest Poet,” with electric piano similar to “My Love Bathes In Silence,” can’t hope to match “If I Knew You Were The One,” but follows it nicely, a lovely little come-down to bring the listener back to earth. As with “God Gives Me Strength” there are some religious overtones, but this is most certainly not a “Christian” band. Faith is one of many topics on their minds, and they’re exploring its meaning in their own lives, not proselytizing. (Conspiracy theorists note: The song has a baffling reference to “highway 2, near Sault St. Marie,” a combination that is on no map I can find.) “More Or Less Nothing” is another relatively mainstream song, with more horns and some twangy guitars, which are the only nod to country anywhere on the album. As always, there’s more going on than appears on the surface, including a really horny (sexually, not musically) middle eight. “If I Were Strong I’d Move You Mountains” sports another stunning melody, some terrific bass playing, and a dreamy tremolo effect than psychedelicizes the chorus nicely. The song sounds throughout like it’s building up to something, and never quite gets there. As with “1:25 A.M.,” it’s tantalizing, and brilliant. “She Catches Me Running” has some elements of the upbeat; there’s really no “rock and roll” on this album, but much of this song comes close, and the mix of fast and slow here ends this remarkable album on a positive and exciting note. One of the keys to great music is talented people not trying to be what they’re not. Perhaps they let their producer push a few songs too far into a commercialized direction, but there’s no half-hearted rock and roll, no macho posturing, no attempts to be cool, and if any of it sounds “psychedelic” it’s the natural state of transcendent music opening up new worlds through beauty and human emotion. The result is an album that feels deeply personal; you’ll love it for the music, but after you’ve lived with it for a while and start really letting the words sink in, you’ll discover further depths and possibilities.
To me, one of the greatest joys of record collecting is discovering great one-shots like this LP. Some collectors choose favorite artists and go the completist route; others go whole hog exploring the unknown. The second method leads to some amazing discoveries, and sometimes the best ones are not the kind where only one copy has ever been found; they’re records that sat in bins in quantity, unsold for years and years, just waiting for a new generation (“Generation 2010?”) to find them and give them their due.
1. Generation '70
2. My Love Bathes In Silence
3. 1:25 A.M.
4. Your Love Like Heaven Be
5. God Give Me Strength
6. What Makes Me Love You Like I Do
7. If I Knew You Were The One
8. The Finest Poet
9. More Or Less Nothing
10. If I Were Strong I'd Move You Mountains
11. She Catches Me Running
‘Richard Twice’ Album Credits
Richard Atkins — Songwriter, Guitar, Vocals
Richard Manning — Guitar, Vocals, Co-Writer (1:25 a.m.)
Don Gallucci — Keyboards
Larry Knechtel — Keyboards
Drake Levin — Guitar
Louie Shelton — Guitar
Mark Tulin — Bass, Drums
Rusty Young — Pedal Steel, Guitar (Steel)
Ron Tutt — Drums
John Bahler — Brass Arrangement
Colin Cameron — Bass
David Cohen — Guitar
Gary Coleman — Percussion
Malcolm Elsensohn — Drums
Alex Hassilev — Keyboards, Producer
James Lowe — Engineer, Associate Producer
Bob Sarenpa — A&R