The Velocity Girl Mystery Show Bootleg Cassette

I was digging through a box of cassette tapes here at the tunequest compound and happened upon a handful of bootlegs from my tape trading days back in the 90s. Shows by “alternative” artists like Beck and Weezer early in their careers. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the shows have informative tape jackets, complete with show dates, venues and setlists.

But there is one which has no jacket at all. And the tape itself is simply labeled “Velocity Girl (live)”. I have no idea when or where this show took place. Having listened to the tape, there aren’t any clues or statements by the band or audience that hint at a time or place (though I think Sarah Shannon may have said “Thanks to the Dispatch” at the end of the show. Possible evidence there). From the song selection, I guess it’s a show from the group’s ┬íSimpatico! era, which would put it anywhere from late 1993 to early 1995.

And Google has been of no help. Velocity Girl may have been the second biggest band on Sub Pop, but in the 15 years since they broke up, the band has slid into the murky depths of obscurity. Information about the band’s history is scarce these days.

So I’m throwing this to the Internet. Hopefully, a fellow tape trader or Vgirl fan has this show or knows something about it. If you recognize the setlist, please let me know. Thank you!

The Setlist

Forgotten Favorite (joined in progress)
Rubble
Medio Core
Crazy town
Labrador
Copacetic
I Can’t Stop Smiling
Pop Loser
Tripping Wires
The All-Consumer
Audrey’s Eyes
Seven Seas (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)
There’s Only One Thing Left to Say
Drug Girls
Sorry Again

Encore:
Your Silent Face (New Order cover)

::

A Bonus Mystery

This is unrelated, but after the end of the Vgirl show, on the unlabeled back side of the tape, is a live in-studio performance by the band Trans Am at WPTS radio in Pittsburgh. This is a recording which I do not recall having ever heard or known about. The performance is followed by standard on-air programming from the radio station until the tape runs out.

This existence of this recording is completely baffling. I started listening to Trans Am in spring 2002, which is about six years after I got the Vgirl bootleg. By 2002, I had already gotten my first iPod and was leaving the world of cassette tapes behind. But most importantly, I’ve visited Pittsburgh twice since then, and neither time was I packing a box of ten-year-old cassette tapes with me. So I’m certain that I didn’t make this recording myself.

It would help if I knew the date of the performance at WPTS, but once again, the Google fails me. I can find no references to this radio appearance anywhere. The DJ even mentions that they’ll be playing at a venue called “Cloud Nine” in the evening, but I can’t find any references to that either. I don’t think it exists anymore.

The only conclusion I can draw is that this Trans Am recording was already on the tape when I got it. But of course, I don’t remember when or from whom I got it. By all appearances though, it would seem that I had a bootleg in my collection for a band I wouldn’t actually discover until several years later. And the thought of that kinda blows my mind.

Well whenever and wherever it came from may never be known and it may forever be a tape of mystery.

This recording is 105 years old

wax cylinder

Growing up, my parents had (and still have actually) an old Victrola record player. It was completely machine operated; no electronics whatsoever. To use it, you had to wind a handle, which tightened a spring. Flipping a switch unwound the spring and started the disc spinning. A needle, of course, translated the record into sounds. Volume was controlled by opening and closing two doors on the front.

Along with the Victrola itself, my parents had a nice collection of records for it. I always enjoyed exploring the various old pop, jazz and orchestral standards, using those recordings as a window to the past. Plus, there was a subtle aural appeal to the tinny, lo-fi sound quality of the music.

As much as I appreciated it, the machine was a bear to use. The records were heavy, but delicate. The handle needed constant turning. And most records only had one song per side. As enjoyable as the time was spent, the effort forced my sessions to be rather short.

Since the mp3/digital music revolution hit full throttle, I’ve had a dream to start digitizing some of those old records before they deteriorate beyond recognition. Being able to drop them on an iPod would greatly enhance my ability to explore those recordings.

Unfortunately, I’ve traditionally lacked a suitable recording environment. Also, that Victrola now lives more than 850 miles away from me. So for the time being, it will remain a dream.

Good news on a related front though! The University of California, Santa Barbara has been digitizing the recordings in its wax cylinder collection. Some of those recordings are even older than the ones I listened to growing up. Some of the oldest in the collection date to the 1890s while the most recent is dated 1928. The project has been ongoing since 2002 and, as of this writing, the digital collection turns up 6824 individual recordings.

The collection isn’t limited to music. It includes sermons, speeches, vaudeville and other spoken word (try the Humorous Recitations)

Each recording’s entry includes detailed information about the performer, the release title and the date (if known). Audio is downloadable as both mp3 and unedited .WAV files.

Explore the catalogue, catch the streaming audio of Cylinder Radio or subscribe to the site’s RSS feed.

Here is a taste to get you started. It’s Johann StraussBlue Danube waltz performed by Edison Symphony Orchestra in 1902, when the piece was only 35 years old. You’ll recognize the tune.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

There is something awe-inspiring about listening to music that was probably recorded before my great grandparents were born.

Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

Part of the Musical Star Trek Actors Series

  1. Shatner Rapping: No Tears for Caesar
  2. Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

From the archives: I wrote the original version of this article for a newspaper column about 5 years ago. So it reads more like a newspaper column and not so much like a the informal blogginess that’s usually found around here. It’s from the Records that time forgot series that I hope to revive in 2007. This version corrects a couple awkward sentences and updates the formatting, but remains largely unchanged.

nimoy strums guitar

::

Actors want to be rock stars and rock stars are increasingly actors. It’s all theatrics. But it is by no means a recent phenomenon. Stars from Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra to Snoop Dogg have crossed the line between audio and video for decades. That’s okay; they all had the talent to do it successfully yes, even snoop dogg.

Then there is another class of star who, no matter how talented in one field, fail in the other. You’ve got your Jennifer Love Hewitts, your Keanu Reeves I know, I use “talented” loosely and your Leonard Nimoys.

Nimoy was part of an explosion of such entertainers that occurred in the 60s. They were known as “Golden Throats,” popular screen actors who were way out of their element in front of a microphone. That description is not entirely fair to Nimoy though. He has a distinct and decent enough voice, which he uses to greater effect on his later albums. But this, his first, pretty much defines the word “doozy.”

Judged solely on its musical value, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space would show few bright spots. Most people might even argue that it is a record best left forgotten. But 30 years and the age of ironic reinterpretation have added an entirely new dimension to Nimoy’s recording career, firmly entrenching this album in the novelty camp. This is a record for hardcore Star Trek fans and fans of junk culture kitsch alike.

Time has made this album into pure comedy gold.

Opening with a swingin’, go-go, Austin Powers-esque version of the original Star Trek theme, MSMFOS goes where no Star Trek actor had gone before, the recording booth. Released in 1967 to cash in on Star Trek’s, and Spock’s, growing popularity, MSMFOS edges out William Shatner’s own recording debut, The Transformed Man, by a year and is the first of Leonard Nimoy’s dozen-plus records.

MSMFOS is at once hilarious and completely non-cohesive. Like the variety shows of the era, the album veers erratically round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom in a torrent of lounge, spoken word, and crooning before finally giving up.

Parts of the album even seem to have been put together without any input from the actor at all. Music to Watch Space Girls By is a nifty lounge-pop instrumental as is the included version of Lalo Schiffrin’s Mission: Impossible theme. In a strange turn, Nimoy would join the cast of that show three years later. Still, these pieces are obviously filler.

Of the vocal tracks on the record, most are presented from Spock’s point of view, casting his alien observations on humanity in spoken word and swing vocal form. Imagine that, Vulcan poetry.

But pop culture re-visioning can’t make up for everything on the disc. Twinkle Twinkle Little Earth is a horrendous essay on the use of the word “star” full of Gordon-level puns while Visit to a Sad Planet attempts to preach against nuclear violence in a narration with an eminently predictable twist that’s all too expected in a post-Planet of the Apes (1968) world.

For the most part, if you’re into novelty, the record is a treat if not overly rewarding. Like Halloween candy, it’s enjoyable is small doses, but don’t overdo it.

“Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” remains out of print in both vinyl and CD formats. But if you can manage to find it, set your phasers to fun and prepare to be stunned by the vocal stylings of Leonard Nimoy.

::

Addendum: No, this is not the record that features The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, but if you’re desperate enough to experience that hilarity, watch this disturbing video. You’ll have nightmares for sure.

Martin Denny – Exotic Moog: Cold and Sexy

martin denny - exotic moog

As promised, I dug up the column I once wrote about the legendary Martin Denny's infamous (and highly collectable) Exotic Moog record (1969).

It wasn’t until after I wrote this that I learned that Denny didn’t actually play any of the music on the record. In a 1997 interview with Cool and Strange Music Magazine, he revealed that Liberty, his record label, took control of the project and had ghost musicians perform and produce the whole thing. That part of the interview was not published until after Denny’s death in 2005.

That might explain the record’s apparent lack of focus. I must say though, that to this day, it really is a fascinating listen, despite the somewhat negative tone of my original review. Parts of it are worth keeping, like A Taste of Honey, for example:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

History is full of ambitious ideas that promise abundant pay-off. Yet when executed, they somehow fall short, despite the talent involved. Such as when classical orchestras try to play rock songs or western nations try to invade Russia.

Likewise, having Martin Denny put together a record using the Moog as the primary instrument would seem to be ingenious, promising an otherworldly spin on exotic music.

But there lies the problem. The record relies too much on the Moog as a musical force. This record is more an homage to technological advancement, rather than inspired musical arrangement. Even the liner notes focus on the progress of then-modern recording equipment.

The result comes off as a grand curiosity, not the phenomenon it should be.

Not that combining electronics with exotica creates an automatic disparity. It’s just the opposite. The foreign sounds capable of being formed by the synthesizer are perfectly suited to the mind set of most mid-20th century exotic composers and by 1970, the earthly exotic realms had been exhaustively examined by exotica’s masters.

On the heels of the moon landing, it was natural to want to investigate an extraterrestrial musicscape. Still experimental, the Moog had recently come into being. Finally, there was an opportunity to explore the music of the future.

I, for one, am glad that is not what the future became. While Exotic Moog is intriguing to listen to, the over-emphasis of the Moog leaves it sounding largely hollow and stale. The exceptions are the couple of songs where another live instrument is brought to the forefront.

Les Baxter’s Quiet Village (which in its original version was Denny’s first hit in 1957) is utterly butchered under the whine and groan of the Moog. On the other hand, A Taste of Honey never sounded so sweet. The Enchanted Sea drifts with ominous enchantment and Midnight Cowboy is a moving reinterpretation of John Barry's classic theme.

The hits are few and far between, but they land right on the mark.

Despite the overall substandard musical quality, this record is worth picking up for its standout songs and for its cultural and historical significance. But be warned, it is long out of print and extremely rare (and is something of a holy grail for Denny collectors).

Your best bets are used record stores or online dealers such as Hip Wax or eBay. A limited CD version combined with Les Baxter’s “Moog Rock” may be available from those same sources. Snatch one up if you see it.

soundtrack for a car wash and oil change

At times, i really resent owning a car. Yeah they’re convenient necessary for getting around, but with the fueling and maintenance and cleaning and well, effort that goes into having one, there are times when I’d just as soon not have one. (Oh, for a more vibrant public transportation system in metro Atlanta.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a ’99 saturn sc2 (aka "the cherry bomb"–it’s red) and I love it; I’ll probably hang on to it until the day it stops working. To that end, I try to treat it right. Thanks to car-pooling, it’s taken me five and a half months to put not-quite-3000 miles on my vehicle, so it was definitely time for an oil change and quarterly car wash.

Normally, when there’s music to be heard wafting through the neighborhood’s air, it’s some kind of bass-thumping or mexican oompah. On a couple occasions there’s even been some adult contemporary. But today was my turn to be the obnoxious boombox on the block.

And I’m sure the stuff I was playing is not the kind of stuff it’s used to hearing. To start things, I cranked Can’s Ege Bamyasi. This is one of the records that changed my perspective on music and I discovered it in a roundabout way.

For a number of years in the late 90s I maintained a website devoted to helping me keep track of all the various b-sides, covers, and unreleased ecetera from my favorite artists at the time. When you’re a collector, those types of things are important and I figured that others could benefit from my work as well as offer me updates.

One of the more challenging artists in the project was Beck, whose catalog was, even then, extensive and diverse, parts of which are pretty obscure. At one point, I read that he had covered a song called I’m So Green by a group called Can. I hadn’t heard of it and couldn’t locate a copy of it, so I just filed it away on the list and carried on. to this day, I’ve only been able to track down a 1-minute excerpt from it.

ege bamyasi by can

Cut to a couple years later, when in the summer of 2000, I was researching my-new-and-to-this-day-favorite-band Mouse on Mars, who cited Can as one of their musical influences. Inspired by this coincidence, I found a copy of I’m So Green and the album it appears on. I was instantly hooked and Ege Bamyasi quickly became one of my top albums (Six of its seven tracks are rated 5 stars).

That thing that amazed me though and changed my musical perspective was that the record was released in 1972, a number of years before I was born. While I considered a lot of music from before my lifetime to be "respectable" I had never really accepted that it could be good. This album convinced me otherwise and the timespan represented in my library has extended much.

::

On to the oil change. This was my first unassisted oil change in quite sometime, so I had to re-teach myself how to do it. The theory is simple enough; the practice… well that takes practice. It took a little bit longer than expected, but I got to serenade the neighbors with Mahler’s Symphony No 6 "Tragic" performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while I figured it out.

To say that I like this symphony would be a dramatic understatement. I own nine different recordings of it (the Philharmonia’s is my favored and the Berlin Philharmonic’s is exceptional, as is this CSO performance under Abbado). At nearly 90 minutes in length, it is a symphony that takes dedication and perseverance to get through, but it is an edge-of-the-seat roller-coaster of raw power and emotion that sucks you in from the first measure and never lets go.

Originally published may 2001.

Experimental rock band Can was always several steps ahead of its contemporary music scene, exploring frontiers of rock music that wouldn’t become popular for another 10 to 20 years. Formed in Cologne, Germany, in 1968, Can (bassist Holger Czukay, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, guitarist Michael Karoli, and drummer Jaki Liebzeit) was dedicated to tinkering with song construction methods and unorthodox arrangements, often incorporating noise, analog synthesizers, and experimental recording techniques. By the early 70s, Can had emerged into an experimental music community that included such pioneers as Neu!, Faust and Tangerine Dream.

Though rooted in the German rock scene, Can gravitated more toward minimalism (and even ambience), abstaining from the industrial bent that marked many of the group’s contemporaries, most notably Kraftwerk, preferring a musical formula that was closer to, but still divergent from, traditional rock. Despite its relative obscurity in America, Can has been cited by a wide range of artists as an influence, including Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Tortoise, and Mouse On Mars, as well as mainstream rockers Beck and Radiohead and scores of electronic musicians.

Recorded at the height of the “Suzuki Era” (so-named for then-singer Damo Suzuki, an expatriated Japanese street poet, who betrays not a hint of ethnicity), “Ege Bamyasi” shows Can at its most avant-conventional, delivering an amazing set that still holds its own against many of today’s more technologically sophisticated artists.

The pneumatic “Pinch” opens the record, trading slide whistle expressions with Suzuki’s ambiguous vocalizing over what amounts to a free jazz-inspired funky nine-minute rhythm section solo. Pinch fades into “Sing Swan Song,” a melancholic pseudo-waltz that effortlessly floats from the speaker. “One More Night” resumes the pace, driven by a simple, but mesmerizing head-bobbing groove, while Suzuki ponders the delusions of being alive for “one more Saturday night.”

Time feels as though it’s running out on “Vitamin C” as Leibzeit’s militaristic drums combine with a spring-wound tick-tock bass to deliver Suzuki’s ominous message: “You’re losing your Vitamin C; You’re losing your mind.” Czukay’s muted bass takes center stage on “Soup,” contributing to one of Can’s trademark rhythm explorations, before dissolving into sporadic and independent expressions of noise from each of the band members. Contrasting the proceeding cacophony, “I’m So Green” provides Ege Bamyasi with its most accessible song. Powered by an infectious proto-techno beat, it is easily the highlight of the record. Closing the album is “Spoon,” an other-worldly bossa-nova that seemlessly marries psychedelia with exotic composition.

Despite the passage of nearly 30 years, Ege Bamyasi is as fresh a record as it was when it was released and remains a great starting point for those curious about Can or experimental German rock in general, as it is as listenable as it is groundbreaking.

Louis and Bebe Barron – Forbidden Planet: Retro Space Tripping

Forbidden Planet is a fantastic film and is available on iTunes.

So I recently listened to Louis and Bebe Barron’s avant garde and experimental score to the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. This soundtrack was one of the handful of Records That Time Forgot columns that I wrote in a previous life. I reprint it here for your reading enjoyment.

In 1956, science fiction as we know it scarcely existed as a genre. Adventures in space were mostly centered around action and heroics rather than depth, plot or characters. That changed with “Forbidden Planet,” which despite its fantastic setting, gave some credit to the intelligence of its audience. So influential was this film, that programs from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” to “2001” (and all that has followed them) are in its debt.

Adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the story concerns Commander John J. Adams’ (Leslie Nielsen) rescue of a doomed colonization vessel bound for Altair-4. He arrives on the planet to find two lone survivors, Dr. Morbius and his daughter, who have mysteriously built a paradise on a barren rock.

It turns out that an ancient powerful race had mastered “mind-over-matter” technology, allowing thoughts to become reality, and Morbius has mastered it as well. Or so he thought. He hadn’t counted on a striking young Commander making his daughter’s acquaintance. Induced by jealousy, the doctor’s uncontrollable id creates an indomitable monster that threatens to destroy them all.

Created by husband-and-wife team Louis and Bebe Barron, the score to "Forbidden Planet" is less music and more sculpted noise, appropriately and perfectly crafted to fit the alien landscape presented in the film. Composed completely by electronic means (using many circuits created by the duo specifically for this project), this soundtrack consists of wails and groans interspersed with beeps, boops, and wobbles, as if a washing machine and a 1950’s flying saucer had a shotgun wedding in Vegas and produced some sort of bastard child.

Forbidden Planet’s “music” goes beyond the traditional role of underscoring the film’s action on screen, creating a sub text for character motivations and off-screen actions. Standing in for the long-dead ancient race, the soundscape becomes a character itself, giving a voice to the beings who live on through their machines, while constantly reminding the viewer of the complete otherworldliness of the situation.

The lack of traditional styling, instrumentation, and structure make the album difficult to listen to, but those same qualities make it perfect to put on and not listen to. In proper settings and situations, the effects produced can become peaceful and serene background noise. Dwell on it too long though, or listen to it in the dark, and the intended creepiness and disturbing inhumanity can summon dark nightmares, providing them with a soundtrack for a total freak-out.

It is fitting that a film that proved to be ground breaking has a soundtrack that is equally so. The experimentation shown here was a great success, especially in regards to modern electronic music, which might not exist had it not been for these pioneers.

Hum – Downward is Heavenward: gotta go down to get up

Hum’s Downward is Heavenward is a lost gem among rock records in general and 90s rock records especially. Those of you with particularly acute memories might recall that Hum scored a minor US hit in 1995 with the single Stars which is actually one of the weaker songs imho from You’d Prefer an Astronaut.

Even so, I really enjoyed that album and, during that year, Hum became one of my top tier bands for the remainder of high school and the beginning of college. Devoted fan that I was, I eagerly awaited the band’s next album. On the cold January morning in 1998 that Downward is Heavenward was released, I remember leaving school between classes and waiting for the mall to open so I could buy it.

But it seems I may have been the only person who did that, because this album tanked… big time. The album barely made a splash and no one seemed to take any notice of it. Sales were abysmal and the record label (RCA) dropped the band later that year. The group split up shortly thereafter.

I once had a short-lived newspaper column called ‘records that time forgot’ where I would find old, nearly forgotten records at used stores, thrift shops, etc, with an eye toward resurrecting lost masterpieces, and then write about them. Downward is Heavenward almost became the subject of one, even though the album was barely 3 years old at the time, because I felt it hadn’t had the chance to be remembered, let alone forgotten. And that’s a real shame, because this thing is smartly put together and executed by expert musicians.

Like its predecessor, this album features some very tight and complex songwriting, with a brilliantly clean distortion that overlaps shrouded and oblique, but thought-provoking lyrics delivered with such earnestness by Matt Talbot. Then there’s that guitar riff that never seems to end in Ms. Lazarus, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard anything so intriguing.