Review by Ross Marvin
This is the first installment from the Capital Land Crate Digger, who brings you reviews of vinyl obscurities found for $10 or under at Nippertown record stores, thrift shops, garage sales and junk emporiums. The vinyl archaeologist behind this column is Ross Marvin, an English teacher and music enthusiast who lives in Saratoga County. Ross has collected more than 1,000 pieces of vinyl and is running out of shelf room. But he can still be found getting his fingers dirty in a box of records near you…
By 7:30am on Record Store Day, I was the tenth digger in the queue outside of Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz. The assembled masses were not pretty people, and all of us were wiping sleepers out of our eyes and salivating for the limited-release vinyl that awaited us inside. People drove down Main Street and thought something was wrong. Why were these troll-looking folks lining up before breakfast outside of that detritus store? Had it finally filed for bankruptcy and decided to give everything away?
To the contrary, Jack’s was ready to do steady American commerce. People had long want-lists that ranged from Joy Division to Sunny Day Real Estate. I had only one request — a modest one — the Cure/Dinosaur Jr. “Just Like Heaven” 7-inch split on white wax. After waiting an hour and a half in the elements and being forced to make small talk about UK pressings and 180 gram reissues with some record nerds, I was bummed to learn that the little 45 of my dreams had been snatched up by the time I got in the door at 9am.
I’d failed to make my conquest and returned up the Northway in a dejected state. Then, like a beacon of hope, I saw the exit for Troy, and on a whim, stopped at the River Street Beat Shop, where rumor had it that Stiff Records legend Wreckless Eric was set to play an afternoon set.
As local garage rockers the Mysteios covered the Modern Lovers outside on River Street, I started digging in a collection of ’90s indie/punk albums that Beat Shop owner Jim Barrett picked up from a store that actually had gone out of business years ago.
While I generally disregard compilations, my flipping stopped when I saw a sealed copy of Duck and Cover. Featuring great artwork from Craig Ibarra depicting apocalyptic vinyl fallout, the LP is a radioactive collection of covers from the legendary catalogue of SST. What made me pull out my wallet and drop ten stones on the album was the coveted first cut on side two: “Just Like Heaven” by Dinosaur Jr — one of my favorite covers of all time and the wax that eluded me on early morning vinyl hunt. Maybe it wasn’t limited, and it wasn’t on white vinyl, but I didn’t care. This was the best kind of record pick – the unexpected treasure found in an unorganized bin, the kind of thing that true vinyl collectors (not the ones that simply shell out cash blindly at expensive “limited editions”) really value.
Though SST might be best known for high-speed West Coast DIY punk and hardcore, this is one killer guitar album. With the likes of J Mascis, Bob Mould, Curt Kirkwood and Greg Ginn all on one album, this comp is a veritable indie rock master class.
Side One kicks off with Husker Du’s monolithic cover of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.” The Minnesota trio strips the layers of psychedelia and raga-free-jazz that were highlights on the original and opt instead for a wall of guitar drenched in feedback and propelled by the monstrous fills of Grant Hart. In place of the McGuinn and Crosby harmonies, Mould sounds like his vocal chords are about to rip out of his throat. Everything is turned up to eleven here.
Next up, the Meat Puppets take on Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” at an absurdly fast tempo, reminding everyone that even punk iconoclasts found inspiration in straight-forward ’50s R’n’R. Curt Kirkwood rips off a twisted country solo as a stoned-sloppy piano shuffles in the background. Sounds like one take… and one toke over the line.
Black Flag’s “Louie Louie” is a far cry from the Animal House and reclaims frat music for hardcore kids. Dez Cadenza sounds better than Henry Rollins, and I’ll take his vocals any day. Greg Ginn rips on his axe. This is neck-and-neck with Minor Threat’s “Good Guys Don’t Wear White” for best ’60s cover by a hardcore band. It’s too short, though. I’d listen to this for half an hour.
Volcano Suns cover the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” but this track isn’t the M-F-er that the original is. The vocals by David Kleiler are no match for Rob Tyner. But man, Peter Prescott (Mission of Burma) can pound that kit.
Next, Saccharine Trust rehashes Black Flag’s pseudo-psycho hit “Six Pack” in what feels like marketing to sell some back catalogue (my unopened copy contained a great SST mail-order form from 1990: LPs-$7.50; Cassette-$7.50; CD 13! Free Shipping!). It’s a straight-forward, sloppy live cover that also falls short of success, but the song itself reminds us of the primal effectiveness of thick-headed, cave-man, hamburger-eating rock and roll. The track is endlessly funny, doesn’t take anything too seriously, and steers clear of overly intellectual analysis: “I was born with a bottle in my mouth, SIX PACK! Now I got a six, so I’ll never run out, SIX PACK!”
The gee-shucks naivety continues as Side One comes to a close — Revolution 409 (Redd Kross in disguise) plays the Osmonds’ “Crazy Horses” giving it a punk/dance remix. Wha?
Side Two opens with my holy grail Record Store Day find and the best track on the album — “Just Like Heaven” by Dinosaur Jr. I remember reading that critics and fans alike were confused when this first came out. Were J. and Lou and Murph being ironic? Were they being sincere? Who cares? Even The Cure’s Robert Smith admits to loving this. While SST has never been known for good production values, the layered guitar sound here is superb. A steady acoustic holds the rhythm while a pinched single-note line forms the riff. Lou Barlow growls his massive “YOU” in the chorus, and then Mascis’ guitar masochism literally takes off (I swear the tone actually sounds like a jet stream) on one of those solos that never gets old to me. Then just when he gets ready to take off for a second flight, the tape runs out, the recording cutting off so quickly that I’m tricked again and again into thinking my receiver has busted its guts.
The Leaving Trains, perhaps best known for having a cross-dressing frontman named Falling James who was once married to Courtney Love, play Iggy Pop’s “The Horse Song” in what turns out to be the second mediocre homage to Detroit proto-punk on the LP. But c’mon, you have to wonder if Courtney played this album for Kurt. If you add everything on this album up like a math problem, you can feel yourself arriving at Nirvana.
Probably the best “grower” track on the album is Stone by Stone w/Chris D.’s cover of the Neats’ “Ghost.” The Neats were an under-appreciated Boston band that played haunts like The Rat around the same time that the Lyres, the Del Fuegos and Mission of Burma, were tearing up Beantown. The Neats’ sound was a cross between early REM’s shimmering guitars, the danceable rhythms of the Feelies and New Zealand bands like the Clean (not to be confused, with the Neat). The Duck and Cover rendition of “Ghost” has a serious garage rock bent. Chris D. has traded in his menacing nails-on-the-chalkboard Flesheaters voice for something far more tuneful here. I’m not one to put Chris D. in genius category like some critics do, but he chose the hippest obscure cover here, and there’s something to be said for that. He also didn’t sing like an alley cat, so cheers.
The Minutemen contribute their take on Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talking About Love.” Mike Watt, D. Boon and George Hurley are actually less than minutemen here as the track is no more than a burst premature-ejaculation testosterone that matches the machismo of Dave and Eddie. The song choice is pure “mersh” — but Watt’s incredible bass playing always leaves me wanting more.
Much mellowed from their early hard-edge punk of “Milo Goes to College,” the Descendents’ “Wendy” is one iconic California band’s take on another. Power chords and whiny vocals replace Beach Boys harmonies and in-between the notes you can palpably feel the dreaded demon birth of bands like Green Day and Blink 182 that would soon ruin the great pop-punk on exhibit here.
The album’s worst track is easily the Last’s take on Burt Bacharach’s “Baby It’s You”. While the Last were a West Coast garage/power pop band, this is just a lame take on the Wall of Sound. More like a Wall of S—. Closing out the album is Trotsky Icepick’s fine cover of Magazine’s “The Light Pours Out of Me.” Good post-punk, but nothing special.
Most comps make me get up and down off my couch to skip tracks, and I call this exercise, but even the low moments here are listenable. Jim had a bunch of these in stock, so get down to the Beat Shop, listen to some live music on a Saturday, and open a new/old record that you won’t have to wait in line for or buy off of eBay for some absurd amount of cash. Who cares if it’s not on white vinyl?
1. Husker Du – Eight Miles High
2. Meat Puppets – Good Golly Miss Molly
3. Black Flag – Louie Louie
4. Volcano Suns – Kick Out the Jams
5. Saccharine Trust – Six Pack
6. Revolution 409 – Crazy Horses
7. Dinosaur Jr. – Just Like Heaven
8. The Leaving Trains – The Horse Song
9. Stone By Stone w/Chris D. – Ghost
10. Minutemen – Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love
11. Descendents – Wendy
12. The Last – Baby It’s You
13. Trotsky Icepick – The Light Pours Out of Me
Essential Cuts: Eight Miles High; Just Like Heaven; Louie Louie
Best Deep Cut: Ghost
Scratch and Skip: Crazy Horses; Baby It’s You
Stay tuned for the next installment of vinyl archaeology coming soon from the Capital Land Crate Digger…