London Underground – “Current Affairs Session” (1983)

London Underground were on the very first release by the On-U label, a split 7″ with the New Age Steppers in 1980, though by 1983 they had reached the end of the line. They released a pair of albums that year, the eight-song At Home With The London Underground (March) and the six-song mini-album Current Affairs Session (October).

Current Affairs Session truly captures the dub sound that On-U became known for, aided in no small part by London Underground’s underlying style which included heavy reggae undertones. The songs have a quasi-relegiousness about them, the lyrics being sung by true believers trying to preach their message to the world. The studio effects are certainly heavily applied, but it all fits together in an organic way; the dub treatment simply fits the music.

Pink Floyd – “Meddle” (1971)

Based on what you hear on classic rock radio, you could be forgiven for thinking that Pink Floyd only released two albums, Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. OK, maybe sometimes you’ll also get a song from Wish Your Were Here, specifically one of the songs not called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. There were a few great songs on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, though I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I heard either one of them. Meanwhile I can’t seem to go more than an hour without the radio giving me “Comfortably Numb”, “Another Brick In the Wall (Part II)”, or “Time”. All of which are great songs. Tremendous songs, quite frankly. But what about poor Animals? It’s like that album never even existed. Where’s the love for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”? As for anything recorded prior to A Dark Side of the Moon, it may as well have been recorded by a completely different band named Pink Floyd given how widely it’s ignored. (♠)

Which brings me to Meddle. I’m spinning this for the first time in, I don’t know, probably 30+ years. And frankly I’d forgotten how excellent it is. “One of These Days” is truly one of Pink Floyd’s best songs, and if “Fearless” had been on Led Zeppelin IV, which came out the same year as Meddle, it would be played on classic rock radio daily (though I’m not sure Zep could have pulled off the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sample at the end).

Not sure why Meddle is so overlooked. Sure, “Seaums” is weird, and the entire B side is given over to a single 23+ minute track. But there are still some truly great songs here.

(♠) Floyd fans, I’m not dismissing these works. On the contrary. I’m just pointing out that they basically don’t exist as far as most people are concerned, but that in fact they’re worthy of being played just as much as their more popular brethren. So please, no hate mail.

Utzalu – “The Loins of Repentance” (2017)

Most of the black metal I’ve heard over the last few years has been from Europe, but Utzalu are just a three hour drive down I-5 from me, based out of Portland, Oregon. Their sound is more traditionally metal than that of many of their contemporaries – the pace never stops, the double-bass drumming incessant, the songs taking on an almost thrash velocity. There’s nothing gloomy or atmospheric here, just straight in-your-face blackness.

Give these guys a listen at Bandcamp HERE. Looks like the vinyl is limited to 300 copies, with another 200 on cassette. I recommend checking out the title track, “The Loins of Repentance”, a slower, stomping piece that will crush your soul just a little more with each plodding step, grinding it into dust to be blown away by the hot winds of hell.

Lenny & Squiggy – “Lenny and the Squigtones” (1979)

Two girls grew up in the Bronx, only four months in age separating them. I don’t know if their paths ever crossed, the Bronx and New York City as a whole being a massive place and teeming with people when they were growing up in the 1940s and 50s, but there’s a decent chance that at the very least they were in the same place at the same time at some point. On a bus or a subway, in a store or a movie theater… or maybe just passing one another on the sidewalk. Both girls were named Carole, and both spelled it with an “e”, the extra letter something that one of them always mentioned when telling someone her name to ensure her name was spelled correctly. The Bronx hadn’t fallen into the arson-ravaged squalor that would overtake it in the 1970s, but parts of it were still pretty rough and poor. One of the girls grew up and became an actress, and later a director, won some awards and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The other went to work for a sugar company, met a guy, got married, and later became a hair stylist and managed an entire region’s worth of hair salons. She also had a kid who, in his 40s, started a vinyl blog.

My mom and Penny Marshall had something else in common, besides both being girls named Carole who were born in the Bronx in the mid-1940s (“Penny” is actually Marshall’s middle name). They looked a lot a like. A LOT. Plus of course there was that Bronx accent, and they had pretty much the same hairstyle. So when Penny Marshall’s show Laverne & Shirley became a big hit in the late 1970s/early 1980s some of my mom’s friends just started calling her Laverne. Needless to say I always had a certain attachment to that show, a show that also spawned another significant acting career, that of Michael McKean who played the goofy neighbor Lenny and later became recognizable to rock fans everywhere as lead singer and rhythm guitarist David St. Hubbins of the band Spinal Tap. McKean and I have an odd connection in that we both attended Carnegie Mellon University (though he graduated from there, while I did not). McKean and his Laverne & Shirley partner-in-crime David Lander (a.k.a. Squiggy) put out an album in 1979 as their show personalities Lenny & Squiggy (♠), an album that also included Christopher Guest, who later joined McKean in Spinal Tap as Nigel Tufnel. Oh, and did I mention I saw McKean perform live with Spinal Tap as part of the Break Like the Wind Tour in the early 1990s? It all comes full circle.

Lenny and the Squigtones is a live performance, a blend of music and comedy done entirely in character. Musically it’s early-style rock ‘n’ roll with a bit of rockabilly thrown in for good measure, and “King of the Cars” could be a lost Beach Boys classic. The lyrics are funny and at times absurd, but what’s notable is how good the band sounds. I get it, it’s a comedy record to some extent, but these guys know what they’re doing much in the same vein as the Blues Brothers (the keyboardist on this album is none other than Murph Dunne, who played keys for said Blues Brothers). The show is recorded in front of a live audience and the sound quality is surprisingly good. My guess is it will be more enjoyable if you actually remember the characters from Laverne & Shirley, but if you’re down with some goofiness you’ll probably find yourself smiling from time to time.

As far as I can tell this was never re-released, and given that it’s a bit of a period piece that isn’t a surprise. Some copies come with a fold-out poster – mine includes a stick on the front noting this. So if you pick one up, looking inside to see if you’re getting the poster as well.

(♠) The pair actually came up with and performed as Lenny & Squiggy prior to being cast in Laverne & Shirley.

Tone-Lōc – “Lōc’ed After Dark” (1989)

What dates Lōc’ed After Dark to the late 1980s isn’t the beats, a hip hop cover of The Troggs, or Tone-Lōc’s signature delivery. No. It’s what was at the time a throw-away line in “Wild Thing”:

Shoppin’ at the mall…

The mall??? Who the hell goes to the mall these days???

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lōc’ed After Dark is a two-trick pony with it’s pair of Top 5 hits “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina”. But have you ever listened to the entire album? Because I hadn’t until this week. And holy hell!!! The opener, “On Fire (Remix)” is a stone cold jam and the title track… oh that sweet funky title track… so damn good. Those no-wave horns that open “I Got It Goin’ On”, later followed by that Caribbean percussion and scratching? Baller. Using the word ‘supercalifragilisticexpealidocious‘ on “Cutting Rhymes”? Classic. And he throws in a One two, Buckle my shoe???? And that’s just side A.

Lōc’ed After Dark holds up, at least to these old ears.