Turds and Treasure

Trying to take this all in I’ve got one, two, three, four, five Senses working overtime Trying to tell the difference ‘tween the goods and grime Turds and treasure And there’s one, two, three, four, five Senses working overtime –XTC, ‘Senses Working Overtime’ Turds and Treasure. That’s the phrase that’s been kicking in my head […]

Trying to take this all in
I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime
Trying to tell the difference
‘tween the goods and grime
Turds and treasure
And there’s one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime

–XTC, ‘Senses Working Overtime’

Turds and Treasure. That’s the phrase that’s been kicking in my head since I dug into someone’s collection of Prog Rock nuggets here.

I assume we’ve all done it. Pulled out some music, (or even something other than music but let’s limit it for now) that we once liked, and listened with excitement and trepidation. Will it still be good? Will it still have what it had? Will I like it anyway?

I’ve done a lot of of over the past few years. I had a ton of vinyl back in the days of LP records. I still own most of it actually. I also had vast numbers of cassette tapes. This was when we had to tape things to play them in the car, so some of my tapes were just copies of my vinyl; but also, in those days since we were all set to copy vinyl to tape anyway, we’d pass records around. I also worked in record stores, so it was easy to buy and return. Some stores would even let us “check out” records to take home, so we had our own taping factories.

So a lot of my old faves from the seventies and eighties didn’t make the leap with me to CD. I’m trying to remember what my first CD was and I can’t recall now, though I remember the player.

My taste was changing anyway, and I had it all on cassette so it didn’t matter for a while. But then I started to phase these formats out, CD player in my car, then I put away my tape decks. I didn’t replace my turntable when it died. I was excited about CD, with it’s clean, skip-free sound. So I replaced things I played a lot, or things I had shitty vinyl copies of. But I didn’t go buy it all again, I was busy buying new stuff.

A few years ago, though, when dotcom money was flowing, I found places like CD Connection. And suddenly I didn’t care about the money, and could have any CD I wanted at a click. So I started buying stuff that I missed hearing, and searching for odd obscure bands I’d forgotten.

It’s kind of the same now. With shared music and streaming and napster/BitTorrent and the iTunes store and all the other ways we can get a song free or cheap, instantly, there’s a call to say I miss that, I should get it.

So we’re back to the “How will I feel about this, which I once loved” feeling. or sometimes, “Wow, better than I realized.”

I’ve done a lot of this, and sometimes it’s just a simple yeah, about like I remember feeling. Genesis; I knew they were good then, I got the CDs and they were just as good as I remembered (That’s Gabriel Genesis, Genesis up through Wind and Wuthering. Not that later band that still had some of the same guys and called itself Genesis but sucked rocks). Be Bop Deluxe was like that. Stellar then, Stellar now, just the same. But these bands, I knew they’d be like that. There was no doubt and no surprise.

The interesting ones are the complete flights of fancy. The ones where you have no clue if they’ll suck or rule when you go back and re-hear.

Kansas was a band I mentioned in an earlier entry. I loved them, loved them to death when I was fourteen. Could not listen to them enough. But a few years ago I bought Leftoverture and could not even listen to it. It was terrible. The players were good, and there were good songs, but the album was awful. The albums I played a week ago were the same; Point of Know Return held up better but wasn’t good, and Masque was just bad. I wish I’d never listened to them, now.

I had a conversation about Blue Oyster Cult with Gregg a couple years ago. Now, there was a time when they were my favorite band, but I’d kept up with them and realized that they were a band with maybe three good and one great albums (the great one being Secret Treaties), but a long list of great songs. But Gregg remembered them with the glow of time and argued that the albums from their late period were all wonderful.

“Dude,” I said. “They’re not.”

I had them and knew. He went back and dug them out and was saddened to realize that, even though Fire of Unknown Origin had the brilliant Burnin’ for you, it was a lame album.

But they’re not all like that. Sometimes there’s a fucking treasure. One of my great finds of this type was Fish out of Water, the only solo album by Chris Squire of Yes. Yeah, it’s a prog-era opus, but it’s brilliantly done and I can listen to it now not for nostalgia, but because it’s a very, very good album. Another favorite band of mine from slightly later, Thin White Rope, I’d sort of forgotten. But I pulled out a tape one day when I was driving a car that had a cassette player and they wowed me, I had to guy buy their catalog. They’re fantastic.

I could make lists but that’s not the point. What I’m talking about is the experience. “How will it hold up?”

There are a lot of CD’s I’ve picked up for this reason that I can’t evaluate fairly. A couple favorites are FM (A Canadian prog band, not the euro-disco outfit of the same name), and Horslips, the Celtic rock pioneers. FM used to open for Rush, and I thought they were wonderful. Horslips had a minor rock radio hit with Trouble with a Capital T and I loved them to death. I have CD’s by both of these bands, recently re-released, and I love them, but I honestly don’t think they’re good. They’re not horrible, not by any means, but I just can’t see the flaws through the glow of how I liked them then. You’d have to really, really want to hear these bands for me to loan you the CDs or send you a track.

Then there’s Rush. Oh. My. God. How much did I love Rush? Well, I was a pot-smoking teenager in the mid seventies, I was a rebel, I was a loaner. How could I not like Rush? I was in love with them from the first power chord of 2112, and loved them like family up until I gave myself over completely to punk and new wave in the eighties sometime. My first tattoo was gonna be their logo. I had about 20 rush t-shirts. I went to see them over and over, payed obscene amounts of money for good seats. They were MY BAND. But then one year, I saw them three nights on the same tour, and the show was note-for-note identical, including the between-song banter. And I just went — wow, I’m over it. I walked away and didn’t listen to them for years.

A few years back, my family were out of town and I was alone, and I thought, I need to hear Rush. And I bought a couple CDs and found in fact I still loved them. Not like I did, that’s teenager, but still, they rocked, they made me smile. The songs still go through my head and I still always, always turn them up to 11 on the radio.

So what are some other bands in the turd/treasure list? Bands that we find don’t hold up or do.

A great surprise for me. I don’t like Peter Gabriel as much as I used to. He was brilliant, but the albums just don’t speak to me the way they did. Genesis still does, so I’m at a loss.

Oingo Boingo. Wow, I thought these guys were brilliant. And Elfman clearly is. But the albums are so terribly, terribly dated and self-conscious.

Cheap Trick — there’s a funny one. The early albums are better than I recalled, the late ones, much weaker. Not the band I remembered, but still, how can you not like Heaven Tonight?

Gun Club — lord, how did I forget about them. How? They were brilliant.

Husker Du — Wow, I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was two bands. One great, when Bob Mould was singing, one lame and kind of forgettable when the other guy (Grant Heart?) was singing. I still love them, but it’s such a huge split.

I just bought the first Love and Rockets album, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven. I remember loving it, but I’m terribly afraid it’s didn’t age well. I’ll be listening to it on the way home tonight.

I’m digging in my memory and having trouble finding the turds. I have the treasure all in my iTunes library so it’s easy to see it. I’ll have to look at the CD collection at home later and post more Turd/Treasure picks. Feel free to either add your own in the comments or post your own in your own blogs, I’d like to get a conversation going on this, see what music people have gone back to with similar trepidation or ambivalence.

0 thoughts on “Turds and Treasure”

  1. Hmmm. Yeah. BOC. A Problematic love affair, to be sure. Gotta disagree at least a little bit, though:

    Fire of Unknown Origin had THREE great songs: Burnin’ for You (natch), Veteran of the Psychic Wars (which was just fuckin’ COOL, man, and still is), and Joan Crawford (which is just a cool fuckin’ hoot, man).

    They had *2* GREAT albums, not just one: Secret Treaties *and* Agents of Fortune. I still listen to every single second of Agents of Fortune, and I must have listened to that album at least 600 million times by now. It’s great. Greatly great.

    After that, well…. yeah. There’s a tremendous batch of singles, spread out over about 6 albums. After Agents, they basically became a single band. One or two good-to-great songs per album, and a LOT of filler. If you’ve seen them live inthe past 20 years, you know what I mean: they sleep walk through their set. It’s clean and professional and drained of blood. I mean, they’re still fun, but there’s no fire.

    But still, a few great songs on several albums: Godzilla, Golden Age of Leather, and RU Ready to Rock from Spectres; Dr. Music from Mirrors; Ummm, well, nothing from Cultosaurus Erectus (although Black Blade is a campy treat); Burnin’/Veteran/Joan from Fire; and Take Me Away and Shooting Shark (still a favorite) from Revolution By Night. All terrific work.

    And Imaginos was a messy, fun piece of noise. Nothing to be ashamed of.

    And while Oingo Boingo’s catalog as a whole is a dated mess, Best O’ Boingo perfectly distills the brilliance that was scattered througout and sounds perfectly fine and fresh (well, mostly).

    I’ve got my own list of turds n’ treasure cookin’. I’ll post it later.

  2. (This was an email to gregg but I decided to put it here)

    > Fire of Unknown Origin had THREE great songs

    Here’s the thing — on a scale of great rock songs, Burnin’ For You registers. It’s brilliant. The other two are good BOC tunes but we’re talking different strata of great, different orders of magnitude.

    > They had *2* GREAT albums, not just one: Secret Treaties *and* Agents of Fortune.

    Again, different strata.Agents has Don’t Fear the Reaper on it. There we have one of the best rock songs ever. Everything else on it is good, but not fantastic.

    Secret Treaties is, song for song, one of the great rock albums of the era. I listened to it again last week, three times through. It’s a spectacularly good album, but virtually unknown by the rock audience because the biggest hit was Dominance and Submission. But it’s a vastly better album than Agents, a whole different level.

    Agents was one of their better jobs. But Treaties is their pinnacle as an album, as Reaper is their single-song pinnacle.

  3. I’m thinking this is a karmic moment; everyone I know is either reminiscing about the songs of their teenage years (REM: Fables of the Reconstruction & Life’s Rich Pageant, although you could name anything that was released in the 80s) or the songs of their memories (Neil Young by an obscure Canadian lake).

    Do the CDs you take out every two years count? The ones you can remember exactly where you were when you cried listening to them? The ones you take out, over and over, and think: this used to make me feel better. I wonder if it will help this time? (Richard Buckner: Bloomed; cried while driving through Napa Valley. “The well went deeper, dear, when you brought your water here.”)

  4. I think we’re entering the good ol’ “we must agree to disagree” zone. I know you like to fight to the death and all that, but we’re really into the opinion zone now.

    In MY opinion, Agents is actually a stronger overall album than Secret Treaties, but they both have significant advantages over the other.

    See, I’ve always felt that the middle of Secret Treaties (ME 262 and Cagey Cretins) is cool but kinda uneven when compared to the great opening trio (Career/Subhuman/Dom+Sub) and the astonishing ending trio of Harvester/Telepaths/Astronomy. It’s a great album, but it’s got a comparitively weak middle (a soft white underbelly, if you will…).

    On the other hand, Agents of Fortune is incredibly solid throughout, with a higher high-water mark (Don’t Fear the Reaper is, absolutely, one of the finest rock songs ever) and no lows that I can pick out. If there’s a problem, it’s that the terrific writing oon the rest of the album gets kind of blown away by just how good Reaper is. Maybe you’re letting the fact that Don’t Fear is far and away better than anything on Agents, or pretty much anything else in their entire catalog, obscure the quality of the rest of the album?

    While it doesn’t hit the roaring strides that Secret Treaties does (only the run of Don’t Fear/ETI/Vera Gemini comes close), it also (for me, at least) doesn’t have any songs which make me start thinking about hitting the Fast Forward (ME 262 leaves me pretty cold).

    And it sounds UNBELIEVABLY good. Plenty o’ cowbell.

  5. Have you heard Curse of the Hidden Mirror? I’ve read some really strong reviews (full of the usual “return to their heyday/nearly as strong as their old, great stuff” kinds of reviews? Curious if it’s worth checking out….


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