Sunday, November 19, 2017

Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette




Some good Samaritan uploaded this whole cassette to archive.org

A bunch of these Passed Normal compilations came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with Normal referring to Normal, Illinois. But it has a double meaning, because the compilations are way past normality too.

Back in the early '90s, a friend of mine found a copy of Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette in a 25-cent bin at Reckless Records in Chicago during one of our record-buying expeditions, and thereafter it became part of the "soundtrack of our lives," as they say. If you ever travel back in time to Muncie, Indiana, in the 1990s so you can work at a shitty full-time retail job while also going to school full time, then you'll want to have this music on hand.

The first song is also the best: Scott Lucas' "Butt-Plug." Its inspired ugliness is mesmerizing, with its fuzz bass, metronomic drum loop, bleating harmonica, and disgusting lyrics. Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens, in his liner notes to the Apartments' first album, talks about the importance of the "beauty and impact of first lines" in songs, and "Butt-Plug" has a great first line: "I used to be a Christian man / but now I'm just a slug."

As the first line of the first song on the compilation, these words portend the degeneration and decay to come. The whole compilation is a delirious mess, but I have my favorites.

The Meek Band's "Black Dog" is just a cassette recording of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" that stops and starts every two bars, more or less, punctuated with atonal bass noodling and arhythmic drumming. It's a live recording bookended with inspired heckling (some hick in the audience shouting "I heard that!" and "Fuckin' boo!"), and proves that sampling other songs is not only artistically viable but also sometimes results in works that surpass the originals. 

The Amazing Ron & Renee's version of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" is simply the best version of that oft-recorded song. Their out-of-tune, out-of-sync warbling expresses the main idea of the song better than Paul McCartney did, because he sang it so sweetly and sentimentally that it's possible for the listener to focus solely on the beautiful past and ignore the miserable present. The Amazing Ron & Renee, on the other hand, recognize and amplify the song's gist: We are broken and futureless, living in the dust of the "good old days" like lobotomized meatbags. As with the Meek Band's "Black Dog," the Amazing Ron & Renee's "Yesterday" takes something familiar and makes it simultaneously unfamiliar and somehow more relatable than the original.

The other songs are okay. Most of the artists, with the exception of That Hope, apparently didn't do much (or anything) apart from contributing a track or three to these Passed Normal compilations. The Sediments' trebly, rocked-up version of KISS's "Beth" sounds kind of like a prototype of D.L.I.M.C., but their version of the Beatles' "Rain" doesn't. Edwin Pierce's "Can't Make No Conditions" is a fairly normal guitar instrumental, and the rest are mostly cacophonous instrumentals.

Side A

  1. Scott Lucas – "Butt-Plug"
  2. Sediments – "Beth"
  3. Pink Bob – "Thinking Big"
  4. That Hope – "Lost"
  5. Pink Bob – "Chopsticks"
  6. Shmaz – "Mess #3"
  7. Meek Band – "Black Dog"

Side B

  1. Shmaz – "12-Bar Browns"
  2. The Amazing Ron & Renee – "Yesterday"
  3. Onk! – "I Know You're in There"
  4. Edwin Pierce – "Can't Make No Conditions"
  5. Sediments – "Rain"


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Winter Vacation: A retrospective and interview with David Yourdon




In the 1990s-2000s, a kind of brainy, ramshackle American indiepop music existed that doesn't seem to be around anymore. Or if it is, I'm not finding it. David Yourdon's one-man band, Winter Vacation, is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. 

Some of the hallmarks of this music are thoughtful and earnest lyrics, boy-next-door vocals, and no-frills production values. Other artists in a similar vein are Pants Yell!, Wimp Factor 14, the Gazetteers, Vehicle Flips, and sometimes Tullycraft. 

Yourdon is probably better known for his recordings with the Pathways than with Winter Vacation, but Winter Vacation has a passionate following too. He released three Winter Vacation albums from 2001-2008, and all of them are good. A commenter on Discogs praised the Winter Vacation album Detectives as "one of my favourite albums of all time." Reviewer David Greenwald described The Netherlands, 1980 as "sincere, catchy and completely adorable." And the blog Doom & Gloom from the Tomb described Blue Coaching as "dreamy, slightly lo-fi bedroom pop, filled with sharp songwriting, clever arrangements and wistful lyrics." All true.

Winter Vacation and the Pathways have been quiet for some time, so Music Weird caught up with Yourdon on Oct. 3, 2015, to see what's happening, and to see what happened.

Did Winter Vacation have any releases other than Detectives; The Netherlands, 1980; and Blue Coaching?


Those are the only albums I would consider "real." I made a handful of album-like thingies before Detectives, but they were only distributed to a few friends. Then again, Blue Coaching was only distributed to a few friends, so perhaps if it's to be considered an album, those other ones should be considered albums too. For your records, the early ones were called: Winter Vacation (self-titled), Winter Vacation Strikes Again!, and Old Friends.

Where are you from and what did you do before Winter Vacation?

I'm from New York City originally. Before Winter Vacation, I was a senior in my first semester of high school, so I guess I was taking midterms!

When did you start recording/performing as Winter Vacation, and what was the inspiration behind the name?

The first recordings under the name Winter Vacation happened during winter vacation of my senior year. I was in a couple bands at the time, but they were both dormant, and I had nothing to do for a few weeks, so I recorded a dozen songs and put them on a cassette.

Who else played on the Winter Vacation records? It is described as your solo project, but was it a band?

The recordings are mostly just me. A couple friends play on songs that appear on the Asaurus compilation (You Already Have Way Too Many CD-Rs), but that might be it for guest stars. I almost got a guest accordion player for the song "The Greenest Age," but that fell through, so I artlessly stabbed a toy accordion instead.

Did Winter Vacation perform live? If so, how often did you perform and how far (distance-wise) did you go? How did the shows go?


Winter Vacation shows have been few and far between. There was one tour back in 2001, which had Evan from the Pathways on guitar and the entirely-new-to-drumming Keith on drums. (Way to go, Keith!) The best show of that tour was in Cleveland. We played with Wolfie and Churchbuilder, which had Patrick Carney, now of the Black Keys, on guitar. The worst show was in New Orleans. We played with a band called Swamp Witch. It was not a match.

There was also a show at a house in Portland in 2009 (featuring my friends Mike and Dan, and a ragtag cover of "Dancing in the Dark"), a show at a bar in Brooklyn, and a solo show at the University of Chicago. Oh, and there was a one-off show in Sweden, at a festival called Mitt Nasta Liv. That was a good one.

The fact that I can list most of the shows tells you how few there were.

How did the first album end up on Dutch Courage Records?

Cory [McClure], who ran Dutch Courage, was a DJ at WHPK, as was I, and he somehow heard my music and offered to put out my next album. To save money, we printed only the CDs and the artwork, and we used the jewel cases from discarded radio station CDs.

Cory also got a song of mine on a Swedish compilation, which led to the Mitt Nasta Liv festival, so I owe him for that experience!

The Pathways' recordings seem different to me from the Winter Vacation recordings. Did you approach the two projects differently? If so, in what way?

The Pathways was an actual band, and the songs, especially on the last two albums, were true collaborations. My friend Evan, who was the other principal songwriter, and I would exchange tapes with song fragments—generally just a guitar riff or a keyboard part over a drum machine—and the other person would fill out the song. So if you hear me singing a Pathways song, it probably began as an Evan riff, and vice versa. That process forced us to merge our sensibilities.

You said that you don't like Detectives anymore. Were you happy with it when it was new? What changed?

I'm sure I was happy enough with it when it was new, but in hindsight, it seems simultaneously precious and not too thought out for a "concept album." On a technical level, I had just bought a fancy new microphone, and I didn't know how to use it, so the recordings are super trebly, most notably my voice. I think I managed to fix the technical issues by the time the Pathways made Boat of Confidence, which was recorded with the same equipment. And I think the early Pathways "fragments" experiments helped my attempts at self-collaboration on The Netherlands, 1980 and made that album less stuffy than Detectives.

Are all of the Winter Vacation albums concept albums? If so, how would you describe the thread that ties each album together?

No, not really. The Netherlands, 1980 might be a "theme album" about travel, but it probably doesn't merit the label "concept album." I don't recall if Blue Coaching had an explicit theme. All I really remember about the approach to that album is wanting each song to have a single, simple idea that was summarized by its title and articulated cleanly in the lyrics. Sort of like Shirelles songs.

Will you ever make new Winter Vacation recordings?

Yes! Making a new album is looking like it will top my New Year's resolutions for 2016. I already have one guitar part. 99 to go.

Would you like to add anything else?

How about some relevant recommendations? I mentioned Churchbuilder above. Their song "Snow in April" is pretty great. And I really like the album Notion Free by Ever Ending Kicks.



Winter Vacation discography


Winter Vacation (no label)

Winter Vacation Strikes Again! (no label)

Old Friends (no label)

Detectives (Dutch Courage Records DCR-10, 2001)
  • Goodbye Big City/Driving into Town/Stranger Things Have Happened/Most Afternoons/All I See Is Mary/It's Snowing!/The Great Rainstorm/An Arsonist/Red Jacket/When the World Ends/Northern Settlers/Search Party



The Netherlands, 1980 (Asaurus Records, 2005)
  • Sightseeing/The Greenest Age/On a Ski Slope/My Country Friends/Denver Diner/Fake Swim/Rained on Together/Life Imitates Arthur/Upstate Estate/Balloon Township/Walk Signs/Aimless/World Color War/The Alps



Blue Coaching (no label, 2008)
  • Fates/First Night/The Girl With Only Guy Friends/Arm's Length/Jeanette Wants Manhattan/Widow's Walk/Letter to Carter/Elsewhere/My Best Friend's Wedding



Compilation appearances


Hit Music Only (Heavenly Pop Hits POPH01, 2002)
  • Includes the Winter Vacation song "Weekend Travel"


You Already Have Way Too Many CD-Rs: Three Years of Asaurus Records (Asaurus Records, 2005)
  • Includes the Winter Vacation songs "Should I Get a Dog and Move to Pittsburgh?," "Rain on Our Parade," "Little Liam," and "Kate"

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

101 Strings CDs on Alshire Records





101 Strings is one of the most prolific easy-listening instrumental music brands of all time. Originally created by Dave Miller of Somerset Records in the 1950s, the franchise was purchased by Al Sherman in 1963. Al Sherman started Alshire Records and proceeded to crank out 101 Strings releases like crazy. This line of albums was so popular that within 10 years, the 101 Strings sold 50 million albums! (Music Weird previously wrote about 101 Strings' best and weirdest albums.)
The Alshire logo

In 1986, Alshire started reissuing the old Somerset and Alshire albums on CD. The CDs typically featured generic graphic design, minimal notes (if any), and little information apart from a list of other Alshire Records titles that were available on compact disc. Between 1986 and 1994, Alshire released over 100 CDs. 

In 1995, Sherman sold the Alshire catalog to the budget label Madacy, and Madacy subsequently has released countless 101 Strings CDs with even less appealing packaging than the old generic Alshire CDs. I have a bizarre fascination with 101 Strings' old Alshire CDs and have been trying to collect them all, so I created this CD discography to help me—and people like me, if any such people exist—keep track of the titles.

[Update: My discussion of the variations that occurred between pressings of early 101 Strings CDs on Alshire can be found here.] 

The numbered ALCD series

The numbered ALCD series was the main series of 101 Strings reissues on Alshire Records, but a handful of non-101 Strings albums were also included.


Catalog number
Title
Year of release
Artist (if other than 101
Strings)
Notes
ALCD 1
Best of Johann Strauss Jr.

ALCD 2
Hits of the 50’s and ‘60s
1986

ALCD 3
Best of the Best of 101 Strings
1987
Issued with two different covers but the same catalog number
ALCD 4
Best of Latin

ALCD 5
The Soul of Spain
1986

ALCD 6
Piano Concertos and Rhapsodies
1987

ALCD 7
Love Songs
1986
A “clean” version of the LP Sounds of Love with vocals removed
ALCD 8
Million Seller All-Time Favorites

ALCD 9
Country Greats

ALCD 10
Golden Movie Themes
1986
Issued with two different covers but the same catalog number
ALCD 11
Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein
1986

ALCD 12
George Gershwin
1986

ALCD 13
N/A
 N/A
N/A
Was ALCD 13 not assigned because of superstition?!
ALCD 14
Irving Berlin
1986

ALCD 15
Scheherajazz (101 Strings with the All Stars)

ALCD 16
Golden Age of Dance Bands
All Star Orchestra Plus Pipe Organ. Organist: Buddy Cole

ALCD 17
Symphonic Fireworks + Pipe Organ

ALCD 18
Plus*Plus*Plus
1986

ALCD 19
Famous Themes from Broadway Shows
1986

ALCD 20
Romantic Songs of the Sea

ALCD 21
101 Strings with the Alshire Singers

ALCD 22
More of the Best of the 101 Strings

ALCD 23
World’s Greatest Standards

ALCD 24
Strings Have Fun

ALCD 25
Sophisticated Duke

ALCD 26
Hawaiian Paradise

ALCD 27
Nelson Riddle with 101 Strings

ALCD 28
Magnificent Digital Sound

ALCD 29
Concerto Under the Stars

ALCD 30
Cole Porter
1987

ALCD 31
Lerner and Loewe: Songs from My Fair Lady – Camelot – Gigi – Paint Your Wagon – Brigadoon
1987

ALCD 32
Pop Concert Favorites

ALCD 33
101 Strings Plus Guitars
1987

ALCD 34
Soul of Greece

ALCD 35
101 Strings Plus Pianos

ALCD 36
More Hits of the 50’s and 60’s
1987

ALCD 37
The Soul of Poland

ALCD 38
The Soul of Israel

ALCD 39
The Power and the Glory

ALCD 40
I Hear America Singing

ALCD 41
Conquerors of the Ages (London Phiilharmonic)

ALCD 42
Polka Extravaganza

ALCD 43
Ravel: Bolero

ALCD 44
Music from Mexico

ALCD 45
Best of the Great American Composers, Vol. 1

ALCD 46
Best of the Great American Composers, Vol. 2

ALCD 47
Best of the Great American Composers, Vol. 3

ALCD 48
Best of the Great American Composers, Vol. 4

ALCD 49
Best of the Great American Composers, Vol. 5

ALCD 50
The Best of the Great American Composers Vol. 6
1990

ALCD 51
Electric Classics: Latin Style
The Alshire Electronics

ALCD 52
Favorite Selections from Handel’s Messiah

ALCD 53
King of Rock and Roll
1990
Bill Haley
Early, pre-Decca Haley cuts
ALCD 54
20 Years of Beautiful Music
1990

ALCD 55
The Pride of America
1991 
U.S. Armed Forces Symphony

ALCD 56
Noche
1991
Los Tres
Originally released on LP on Somerset
ALCD 57
Beer Drinking Songs
Zillertal Band

ALCD 58
101 Strings Play Songs of Italy

ALCD 59
Gypsy Music

ALCD 60
With All My Love: Just for You


ALCD 61
Million Sellers of the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s
Around this time, Alshire switched to generic cover art—only the titles changed
ALCD 62
Romantic Evergreens
1992

ALCD 63
Movie & Television Themes 
1992

ALCD 64
Love Songs
1992
Same title as ALCD 7 but different album
ALCD 65
Romantic Latin-American Favorites 1992

ALCD 66
Symphony for Blues

ALCD 67
A Tribute to Nat King Cole
1995

ALCD 68

ALCD 69

ALCD 70
“Salutes” the Great American Artists
1994

ALCD 71




ALCD 72
101 Strings Play a Tribute to the Beatles Greatest Hits!!






ALCD 73



ALCD 74



ALCD 75
101 Strings Presents a Tribute to Henry Mancini
1994

ALCD 76




Miscellaneous other Alshire CD series

Alshire created other series for some of their non-101 Strings releases, some of their samplers, and a short-lived line of double-CD releases. The double-CD sets were packaged in individual jewel cases, and the same barcode appeared on both discs' tray cards. You rarely find these double-CD sets packaged together as double-CD sets in used bins, because they look like individual CDs. Unless you already knew what was up, you wouldn't guess that they were two-CD sets. 

ALCD SPL
Special Sampler
1987
“24 glorious songs”
ALCD SPL-2
The Worlds Greatest Melodies
1987
101 Strings with the London Philharmonic Orchestra

ALCD SPL-3
30th Anniversary Special

ALCD 201
Handel’s Messiah
The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir
2 CDs
EXCD 300
The Best of Larry Wolff and the Streetbeaters 
Larry Wolff & The Streetbeaters
“Over one hour of rapdance breakdance.” This release is on the Exact label but was listed among Alshire releases in some of the 101 Strings booklets. Exact has the same address as Alshire International
CDLX 1400
20 Greatest Movie Hits

ADCD 1000
Waltzing Violins Vols. 1 & 2


Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1001
The Fire and Romance of Spain/The Fire and Romance of Mexico


Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1002
A Toast to Broadway & Hollywood Vols. 1 & 2
Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1003
Strings for Lovers/Romantic Moods Vols. 1 & 2
1993
Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1004
Aloha Hawaii Vols. 1 & 2


Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1005
Golden Hits, Vols.1 & 2
1993
Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1006
Singalongs/Polkas


Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1007
Hits of the 50s, 60s & 70s, Vols. 1 & 2
Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1008
Accordion Hits/The Best of John Philip Sousa


Alshire double compact disc series
ADCD 1009
Inspiration & Meditation Vols. 1 & 2
1993

Alshire double compact disc series
20DN-135
Academy Awards Film
Japanese CD release

Japanese Teichiku Records CDs


These Japanese CDs were manufactured and distributed by Teichiku Records but issued under the Alshire imprint. Some of the album covers and titles contained typos, such as the tribute to Elvis Presley below, which spells Elvis' last name "Presly." 



TECH-20232
A Gentle Breeze from Waimea: Strings Hawaiian Mood

2011
TECP-20029
In a Persian Market/World Beloved Songs (Around the World)/Ethnic Mood Best 20


TECP-20030
Ethnic Mood-Music from Spain

1990
TECP-20033
Ethnic Mood-Music from Russian [sic] & Germany

1990
TECP-???
History of Screen Music (5), 1956-1959


TECP-20311
History of Screen Music (8), 1965-1968

1990
TECP-20313
History of Screen Music (10), 1972-Today

1990
TECP-20521
[something] in Music: Evening Serenade


TECP-20585
Play a Tribute to Elvis Presly [sic]

1990
TECP-20633
A Portrait of Wedding

1990
TECP-20871
Broadway Show (1)



Print-on-demand CD-Rs on Amazon


Many, many print-on-demand 101 Strings CD-Rs appeared on Amazon in 2014. They're listed as Alshire releases, even though Alshire doesn't exist anymore. I’m not going to list them all, but here are a few.

S-5088
Play Million Seller Hits
CD-R allegedly on Alshire
2014
S-5097
Valley of the Dolls and Other Academy Award Hits
CD-R allegedly on Alshire
2014
S-5105
Featuring Hits Made Famous by the Supremes
CD-R allegedly on Alshire
2014
S-5111
Play Hits Written by the Beatles
CD-R allegedly on Alshire
2014


Other notable 101 Strings CD releases

In no particular order.


Time-Life
Instrumental Favorites
Licensed from Madacy
1996
Scamp SCP 9717-2
Astro Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000
Licensed from Madacy
1996
Hit Parade
Contains the complete 101 Strings album Back Beat Symphony (1961)
2014
Columbia Japan JXCP-1095
Orchestral “The Beatles”
EMPRCD009
Are You Lonesome Tonight? Beautiful Arrangements Performed by the 101 Strings Orchestra
Instrumental arrangements of Elvis hits. On Emporio Records, licensed from Alshire
1993