Record Shopping, Minneapolis Style (2017 Edition)

We already had plans to spend the weekend in Minneapolis (because who doesn’t want to fly to Minnesota in January?) before my father passed last week, and my mother insisted that we still go – frankly we’d been spending so much time together recently that I think we both needed a few days apart to take a break, reflect, and regroup, so it worked out well.

My friend and one-time blog post contributor Tristen just hit a milestone birthday (ironically he shared a birthday with my dad) and we flew out to Minnesota for a surprise party his wife threw for him. Plus we were also the “excuse” to get him out of the house for the day while she prepared.

We opened our day visiting the Prince museum at Paisley Park, which just opened for tours. Now, I like prince, but I”m far from a super-fan. And I’ll freely admit I went in with marginal expectations. But I’ll tell you what, the folks that put this tour together hit a home run. All the tours are guided, which normally isn’t my deal, but they did a great job taking us through the property over the course of roughly 70 minutes, giving us the opportunity to see some of Prince’s personal space, his main recording studio, memorabilia from his music and film career, and the impressive venues on the property. They even play one of the whispered about “vault tracks,” a never-before-released jazz-funk number that The Purple One recorded and produced prior to his passing. If there was one disappointing thing it was the lack of Prince music for sale in the gift shop, something that I’m sure will be rectified at a later date.

Minneapolis has a fantastic music scene – it easily could have been Seattle before Seattle pulled off the move if just one of its many bands blew up at the right time. And that scene is evident by the number of record shops in the city. Unfortunately we only had a chance to hit two of them on this visit.

Cheepo

There are a few Cheepo locations in Minneapolis, and this time we visited the one on Nicollet and W. 26th Street. Tons of vinyl and CDs, including a New Arrivals vinyl section that would take you a minimum of 30 minutes to get through (maybe 15 bins), and that’s assuming you were digging fast. I picked up some odds and ends here, perhaps most notably the recently released Sleater-Kinney live album that Sub Pop just put out, but nothing too spectacular.

Extreme Noise Records

Our first night in town we scooted over to the punk/metal collective shop over on Lake Street called Extreme Noise, and man, this is a must-visit location. A medium sized indie shop with a huge vinyl section (plus a strong helping of tapes), I found some well-priced gems here including an unofficial Bolt Thrower release, a couple of records by the local band Mystery Date, and an OG copy of The Meatmen’s 1985 nugget War of the Superbikes. Extreme Noise had everything from Judas Priest to Joy Division to JFA, so if you’re into something that needs to be played loud, there’s a chance they have it.

 

We didn’t get a chance to make it to Prince’s favorite shop, Electric Fetus, on this trip, but time was short. And there are a number of other decent shops in the Twin Cities, so should you find yourself out that way, you’ll have no trouble filling up your record bag.

Blondie – “Eat to the Beat” (1979)

I spent most of the day yesterday experiencing the bureaucracy of death.

While “Bureaucracy of Death” would definitely be an excellent band or album name for something in one of the more extreme metal genres, I’m not actually talking about music. I’m talking about the actual bureaucracy of death, all the paperwork involved when someone dies. Wednesday morning that someone was my father, who finally found peace after almost six months of struggles following a head injury, and that meant a day spent calling and texting and emailing, signing things at the hospital and more at the funeral home. We talked about organ donations and cremations, and the fees involved to get the death certificate certified by the county medical examiner’s office (that’ll be $70, sir) and obtain official copies of the death certificate (that’ll be $20 each, please). I’m glad we brought the checkbook with us. The next few weeks will involve wills and attorneys and Social Security and banks and insurance companies and closing out various online accounts, all while trying to lead some semblance of a normal life and, you know, when there’s time, maybe grieve a little.

I wouldn’t say I grew up in a musical household per se, but music was definitely part of it. Yes, there was an electric organ when I was a kid that I thought was cool because you could push buttons and make it sound like different instruments (though I don’t remember it ever being played), and I tried violin and clarinet for one year each. I had a little Casio keyboard at one point, and even an acoustic guitar, but I never got into any of the instruments and instead focused my attention on listening, slowly, and then with increasing rapidity, building up a collection of vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. My first stereo was a hand-me-down from my parents, one of those 1970s style all-in-one jobs with a turntable, tuner, cassette, and 8-track all rolled into one. I saved up my money and bought a pair of Realistic bookshelf speakers from Radio Shack and thought I had it pretty good. Mom and dad played music in the house sometimes as well, dad mostly his Neil Diamond records, followed in later years by Barbara Streisand, Sinatra, and the other classic crooners, while my recollection is that mom generally broke out the vinyl during the holidays, stacking the Christmas albums up on the spindle of the turntable so they’d drop one after another… all the A sides first, then flip the stack over and do it again for the Bs.

So what music do you play the day after your father dies? Do you go with punk or metal, cranked up to 11, “pounding out aggression” as Metallica would say? Or perhaps something melancholy, like your mood? Or maybe one of dad’s favorites, like The Jazz Singer Soundtrack? I don’t know, because I’ve never experienced any of this before. But somehow I want something poppy, and since Blondie’s Eat to the Beat is on my “To Listen To” shelf, it seemed as good a choice as any on a damp, cold, overcast morning, while I sit at my computer and hear the occasional “ding” of yet another work email landing in the inbox of my work laptop in the other room. Work email is life’s irresistible force, and no immovable object can stop its steady flow. Ding… ding… ding…

It’s hard to even put into words how stunning Debbie Harry looks on the cover of Eat to the Beat. I know, I know… the music is what’s important. But Debbie just oozes so much glamour that you simply can’t help but both notice and remark on it.

I’ve never had a copy of this album before, but immediately recognized the opening track “Dreaming,” a very disco-esque number, one of those tunes that marks the transition from first generation new wave to what became the more familiar and hairspray-laden second generation in the early to mid 1980s. And while “Union City Blue” definitely brings a strong ABBA vibe to the party, Eat to the Beat is not simply a disco-pop record. “Shayla” gives us Harry’s brand of ballad while blending in some flourishes of blues guitar, and the title track is a straight-ahead rocker, one that borders a bit on first generation punk rock and throws in some blues harmonica for good measure. Meanwhile “Die Young Stay Pretty” foreshadows the Caribbean sound that Blondie took to the top of the charts a year later with their hit single “The Tide is High”.

I’m free,
But life is so cheap.
— “Shayla”

Eat to the Beat is just what I needed this morning – poppy, but not ridiculously so, and with enough feeling to make it warm without dragging me down.

RIP dad. You had pretty great run while you were here.

The Birthday Party – “Junkyard” (1982)

I don’t have much experience with Nick Cave, everything I’ve heard having come my way since I got back into vinyl a few years back. In a way he seems like one of those artists you’re supposed to like, which can sometimes make someone unlikeable. But in Cave’s case, the talent is real, or at the very least it feels genuine, and that’s real enough.

On Junkyard Cave is like a combination of a lounge singer and a traveling preacher, bringing sonic fire and brimstone down on your head while still sounding like he’s wearing a suit, smoking a cig, and half in the bag. There’s a manic-ness to his delivery on songs like “Dead Joe” (Welcome to the car crash…), and the band is right there with him, keeping it lo-fi, a little sloppy, and fuzzy. Hell, songs like “Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)” feeling like some kind of deranged proto-Tad song harmonized by an Elvis impersonator.

Billy Idol – “Vital Idol” (1985)

This album introduced me to the concept of the remix.

I was a casual Billy Idol fan in the mid 1980s, and when I came across a CD copy of Vital Idol Initially it seemed like nothing more than a greatest hits album. But even though I wasn’t a Billy Idol super-fan it quickly became clear to me that these were not the versions of Billy’s songs that I heard on the radio. They were longer and had weird interludes that I didn’t recognize. What the hell was this?

For a while after that I was a bit of a purist snob and wanted nothing to do with remixes, with the notable exception of Soundgarden’s “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix),” which was automatically exempt from all rules because it was Soundgarden (♠). I never bought 12″ singles, so generally speaking I was able to go through my musical life blissfully ignorant for a while.

That is, of course, until Seattle got some kind of short-live 80s format radio station. I can’t remember the call letters, but they used to do a show called “12” Friday Night” and it was just that – amazing 12″ remixes of your favorite 80s tunes. It wasn’t long until I was hooked, my mind blown like a supernova that after exploding became a black hole, swallowing any music that came into its event horizon.

Vital Idol has remixes of eight Idol songs (assuming we count the two parts of “White Wedding” as individual songs), and I honestly think I prefer the remixes to the originals in every case. The remix elements of these tunes fit in well with the vibe of the originals, not adding a bunch of electro-beats but instead more Billy-Idol-style music. Sure, at times the beat is the important part and takes on a drum machine quality, like in “Dancing With Myself,” but even that track kicks in some jamming bass on top of the beats to keep it structured similarly to the original. Honestly I’d never realize how good the bass work is on some of Billy’s songs until listening to this thing again for the first time in years.

My familiarity with the material on Vital Idol was limited primarily to side A, plus “Mony Mony” on side B, so I feel like I’m hearing some of these other songs for the first time. “Catch My Fall” is killing me right now, sounding like a Scottish version of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and while that may sound like an insult, it’s not intended as one at all. And “Love Calling”? The dub mix on this is pure madness, all echoed drum beats and sizzle. I feel like this might be the more remix-y of the two sides.

If I could use one word to describe Vital Idol. that word would be “fun”. It’s a fun album to listen to, with lots of energy and just a small dash of sneering punk attitude.

(♠) Hypocritical, I admit. But true.

“Flash Gordon” Soundtrack (1980)

Flash… ah ahhhhhh….
Savior of the universe.
Flash… ah ahhhhhh….
He saved every one of us.

Queen did two movie soundtracks over the course of their illustrious run, bothfor pivotally stylish films – Flash Gordon (1980) and Highlander (1986). Highlander was never released as an official soundtrack, though much of the material can be found on the Queen album A Kind of Magic (♠). But fortunately we do have a soundtrack for Flash Gordon, in all of its yellow and red glory.

If you’ve never seen Flash Gordon, you need to go do so immediately, even if that means leaving the blog. It’ll still be here when you get back, I promise. If you don’t have 90 minutes to spare, you’re in luck because some enterprising webizen cut the whole thing down to a six minute and 18 second synopsis.

The soundtrack is an interesting piece of work. Only two tracks have actual lyrics, but the entire thing plays like a continuous score seeded with various dialog clips from the movie.

Who are you?

Flash Gordon. Quarterback for the New York Jets.

You can’t just write dialog like that. You have to try to make it that bizarre. I mean, the Jets? Really? Do you know who the Jets’ quarterback was in 1980? Because I sure as hell didn’t. It was the man with two first names, Richard Todd, who set a NFL record that year by throwing at least one pick in 15 of the team’s 16 games. The Jets. The team that once had a QB named Dick Wood (♦). That might be the most unbelievable thing about the whole movie.

Flash Gordon is a synthesizer-electro-dream sequence with some rock ‘n’ roll guitars thrown in for good measure. While it differs in terms of musical style, I can’t escape the fact that this record could in fact be the primary influence behind Crom’s The Cocaine Wars 1974-1989, a heavy metal Conan the Barbarian version of this very record, though not in any way an official soundtrack.

Musically Flash Gordon is put together in a very score-like fashion. Sure, it’s stylish, but there are also some very classic passages that could just as well fit into one of the absurdist sci-fi classics Brazil or The Ice Pirates. The movie clips are used fairly judiciously which keeps the album from becoming a farce, and at times actually make it more enjoyable because the producer obviously still had a sense of humor based on some of the clips that were included.

I wouldn’t go crazy trying to track this down, but if you’re a fan of rock and early 1980s synth music you’re going to have a lot of fun with Flash Gordon. And if you haven’t seen the movie, you need to. Gordon’s alive…ive…ive…ive…

(♦) This is 100% true. You can look it up.

(♠) If you’ve never seen Highlander… well… I mean, c’mon. Even Ricky Bobby knows how good it is.