Albums

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Mike Post – Railhead Overture (1975, MGM Records)

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Nowadays, Mike Post is best known for composing the Law & Order theme, but before he was famous for being the man behind that iconic “Dun Dun,” he was known for being the guy who stood at the junction of two railroads that ended abruptly while dressing like some kind of proto-Napoleon Dynamite on the cover of his 1975 album Railhead Express. While the liner notes really lay it on way too thick and play it up like this is some kind of grandiose concept album about how awesome trains (and brass bands) are, it’s … really not. It’s mostly just a random collection of Post compositions (only one of which seems to be explicitly about trains) and a few covers such as “Georgia On My Mind” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice,” with the big standout here being the other TV theme song that Post was know for before the L&O theme – “The Rockford Files.”

While I do appreciate the subtle-but-not-that-subtle shade thrown at some past collaborators of Post while he was on his way up  (“some names remembered and some best forgotten.”),  I fail to see how any of the music featured here really manages to introduce the “dialogue between rock and roll and the enlarged brass ensemble” that the notes promise. I mean, really, wasn’t that more Chicago’s thing anyways?
Whatever. Next stop, liner notes:

The great fire breathing locomotives sit like old soldiers on rusted tracks in wasted towers, their thunder silenced by the incessant whine of the endless freeway. We’ve reached the Railhead, the end of the line – the obvious place to search for a beginning.

Like the image of the iron trains etched in the memory of America, the explosive sounds of the large brass ensemble are remembered still, but only in dim lit dance halls of nostalgia where they echo the fate of the once proud locomotives.

Now a vision, similar to that which bore this “big band sound” and harnessed the fierce grace of the old trains, becomes the point at which the two converge. The artist who conceived this vision is Mike Post. He rocked and rolled through the 50’s and 60’s bending strings, pounding keys, and producing and arranging for some names remembered and some best forgotten. Post’s creative vision, however, soon exceeded the limitations of the standard five piece rock and roll rhythm section.

Through his collaboration in composition and orchestration with Pete Carpenter (his partner in various television and film scores, and very close friend) this project is Mike’s step toward a more complete musical expression.

This album then, is an introduction – an overture – to the dialogue between rock and roll and the enlarged brass ensemble, one to which we should listen closely, for it is a dialogue between our musical past, present, and future, all of which converge here, at the railhead overture.
– Stephen Geyer

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Duane Eddy – The Biggest Twang Of Them All (1966, Reprise Records)

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While the liner notes for Duane Eddy`s Lee Hazlewood-produced album The Biggest Twang of Them All manage to compare Eddy and his sound to both Willy Mays and a car fender, it’s hard not to notice the apparent innuendo barely hidden in the title’s reference to Eddy’s “big twang.” Was this all just a coincidence? It’s hard to think it could have been, especially when you take into consideration the other references in the liner notes to “early labor pains” and to twang just being “an impotent label for the life inside his virile sound.” Are … are they suggesting that Duane Eddy’s music can make you pregnant with its definitely-not-impotent “virile sound?” Was his guitar some sort of magical conduit for his superhuman virility? Read the notes and decide for yourself:

It’s a sound that’s bigger than that of the Columbia Calliope Co. in flagrant assembly. It’s the sound of Duane Eddy, the handsome, soft-spoken young gentleman from around Phoenix way. Duane hit the big league of music a few years back with a thing called Twang. The word sounds like a cross between a late stage of motor knock and early labor pains. But the word’s just an impotent label for the life inside his virile sound. An elemental, raw, unrefined musical sound. One electronically built into Duane’s guitar. One that comes out with a walk-into-a-solid-wall impact.

It’s a sound that’s as American as a ’40 Ford fender.

It’s a sound that’s sold nearly 12,000,000 records, and spread the excitingness of Eddy around the world. Imitators have come, but went. For some reason, the Twang is 100% Eddy’s. Like Willy Mays, nobody does it half as well.

It`s a sound that makes this album a muscular monster in its field. Backed by two drummers, four more guitars, organ, piano, bass, saxes, and that`s just the beginning, Duane goes unafraid at the kind of tunes that normally are one person songs. Like “Ballad of the Green Berets,” which becomes a twang-bang march under Duane`s banner. Like “Monday, Monday,” which was “The Mamas and Papas,” and now has the wild newness of Duane Eddy.  And on and on.

It’s a sound that’s alive and kicky. It’s today. Ask any 12,000,000, they’ll tell you. Duane Eddy’s the biggest twang of them all.

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Buck Owens – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1971, Capitol Records)

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Liner notes. They were all the rage back in the day. Sometimes they were a little weird and sometimes a little too enthusiastic about their subject. Sometimes though, they were pretty straightforward, like the notes for Bridge Over Troubled Water, a 1971 collection of songs from Bakersfield country legend Buck Owens. Buck’s just giving you the straight goods on what his album is all about, while also using some creative apostrophe placement in his spelling of “kinda.” While the title track is the main attraction, the real gem is his cover of Donovan’s “Catch The Wind,” seen here in the form of a performance on Owens’ old TV series. Keep an eye on the keyboard/harmonica guy poorly miming his way through the song. And now, Buck would like a minute of your time:

I want to take just a minute of your time to tell you why we’re presenting the songs you’ll hear on this album. Most of them are familiar as what you’d call pop/folk/rock songs. Three were written by Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel), there’s one by Donovan and one by Bob Dylan. And although The Buckaroos and I have been known as Country entertainers, we’ve always liked these particular songs and taken a whole lot of comfort and meaning from them. recently I discovered just why they appealed to me so much – they’re all really Country songs in disguise!

Take Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s got real nice, simple, meaningful words. And like the other songs here, it’s got a certain longing to it. The same kind of longing that makes a good Country song great. if you take some time to really listen to them, you’ll find a lot of songs in the pop/rock class have that longing, but you really got to sit down and listen to them before you discover that Country heart. As far as that goes, any music, any song that has the right ingredients of simple everydayness can be a Country song – even classical things.

I sure do hope you’re going to like what me and The Buckaroos have done here. The five of us sat down in our studio and gave real, honest Country arrangements to the music. When you hear it presented this way, I think you’re going to agree that these area whole lot of actual Country songs that have been kind’a neglected for too long – just because of their disguises.

Your friend,

Buck Owens

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Narvel Felts – Narvel The Marvel (1976, ABC Records)

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We continue our examination of the long forgotten art of ridiculously hyped up liner notes with a look at the back cover of Narvel the Marvel, the 1976 album by fabulously named country singer Narvel Felts with liner notes written by the legend herself, Dolly Parton.

Parton’s notes sing the praises of Mr Felts, or perhaps she yells his praises, seeing as how whoever designed the layout for this decided to print the text in all caps. Before I realised it was Dolly writing this, I was hearing it in my head in the voice of David Lynch’s FBI director character Gordon Cole from Twin Peaks (“LAST NIGHT I HAD ANOTHER MONICA BELLUCCI DREAM. MONICA CALLED AND ASKED ME TO WRITE A FEW WORDS ON THE MUSIC OF ONE NARVEL FELTS.”)

Here they are, in all their capitalized glory:

TO LOOK AT HIM YOU WOULD THINK, I’LL BET HE COULD WIN ANY FIGHT HE EVER GOT INTO.

TO KNOW HIM YOU WOULD THINK THE LAST THING HE WOULD WANT TO DO IS FIGHT.

HIS EYES ARE KIND, HIS SMILE QUICK AND GENUINE, HIS VOICE FRIENDLY, AND HIS WORDS, HUMBLE AND SINCERE.

YOU FEEL THE FIRST TIME YOU MEET HIM THAT YOU’VE ALWAYS KNOWN HIM AND THAT YOU WILL ALWAYS WANT TO KNOW HIM.

HE REMINDS YOU OF A BROTHER OR A FAVORITE UNCLE THAT YOU ENJOY BEING WITH BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE WAY THEY ARE. AN ORDINARY MAN WITH ORDINARY WAYS AND AN EXTRAORDINARY TALENT.

HIS NAME IS CALLED, HE HITS THE STAGE TAKING HIS TIME AND TAKING LONG, LANKY STEPS UNTIL HE STANDS BEFORE THE MICROPHONE. HIS HUMBLE ATTITUDE ON STAGE SEEMS TO SAY “WELL, HERE I AM. I SURE HOPE YOU LIKE ME.” AND YOU DO. HIS VOICE IS UNBELIEVABLE, FULL OF EXCITEMENT AND EMOTION, SINCERITY AND SURPRISES.

HE IS UNIQUE. HE IS A STYLIST. HE IS GREAT AND HE IS UNDERRATED.

THE GREATNESS OF HIS STYLE IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED, BUT ONCE YOU EVER LISTEN CLOSE ENOUGH TO ANALYZE IT, YOU THINK THAT IT’S THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE SOUND YOU EVER HEARD. AND YOU EITHER COME TO LOVE IT OR YOU NEVER LEARN TO APPRECIATE IT, BUT WHETHER YOU EVER LEARN TO APPRECIATE IT OR NOT DOESN’T MEAN IT IS ANY LESS GREAT. SOME THINGS ARE JUST TOO DIFFERENT TO BE UNDERSTOOD.

I GUESS YOU KNOW BY NOW THAT I LOVE NARVEL FELTS THE PERSON, AND NARVEL FELTS THE ARTIST. I SAY ARTIST BECAUSE HE TRULY IS. HE HAS MASTERED THE ART OF SINGING AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED.

NOW, ABOUT THIS ALBUM. I ASKED IF I COULD WRITE A FEW WORDS ON THE BACK OF IT WHEN I HEARD THE SONGS THAT WERE TO GO INTO THIS ALBUM. AND EVEN THOUGH MY WORDS HAVE AMOUNTED TO MORE THAN A FEW, I COULD NEVER SAY ALL I WOULD LIKE TO ABOUT NARVEL FELTS, THE CHOICE OF SONGS, AND HIS PERFORMANCE ON THIS ALBUM.

NARVEL IS A MARVEL. SOME BELIEVE IN PETER PAN, BUT I BELIEVE IN NARVEL FELTS.