Tuesday 18 June 2013

free vinyl records: the turtles, rick wakeman, and donovan reviewed

What follows here is the expanded version of an advertisement that was initially destined for my Facebook page.  Enjoy.



This week, rather than obtain health insurance, I decided to re-organise my record collection and get rid of a few unwanted titles. Six albums made it to a short-list for expulsion.  Three survived; three did not.

If you want any of these, please let me know, otherwise I will take them to the second-hand store to further inflate Melbourne's vinyl bubble.

To aid your decision, I have written a short review of these unlucky records below, each prefaced with an excerpt from an amazon.com customer review of that album.  

The Turtles: The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands / Elenore
"Surprisingly, [some of these songs] were sampled by hip hop artists. That the Beastie Boys were even aware of this album (let alone could find anything useful here) is testament to their brilliance."
Most bands would be happy to record even one hit song over the course of their musical careers, and then grow fat and happy off the subsequent Twix chocolate bar advertising royalties.  Not the Turtles.

Following the worldwide success of their 1967 hit "Happy Together", the Turtles came under intense pressure from their record label, the aptly named "White Whale Records", who turned a blind eye to irony and instructed the band to pursue another hit record at all costs.

Noting the minor success recently achieved by the Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—on which John, Paul, George, and Ringo divested themselves of the pressure that came with being the Beatles by pretending to be the fictional band of the album's title—the Turtles decided to one-up their trans-Atlantic counterparts by releasing an album on which they would pretend to be not one, but eleven fictional bands.  Playing eleven different musical genres.

Tip some bourbon and bitters on me, mash me with a stick and call me old-fashioned, but I reckon it might be prudent for a group searching for success to concentrate their efforts on being one band (fictional or otherwise) as opposed to eleven—unless, of course, the goal is to make the musical equivalent of eating an icecream-topped meat pie afloat in a saucer of vodka with only chopsticks as cutlery.

But greater people than me have their doubts about this album, namely, over half of the Turtles themselves, a fact that I gleaned from some rudimentary psychological analysis of the record's artwork.

Here (with my annotations) is the front cover of The Turtles Present:

And here (again with annotations) is the back cover:

It is clear which of the Turtles were the drivers behind this shemozzle of an album—the fellows marked "A".  On the album's front cover, they beam with smug pride at the wry artistic statement they've made with The Turtles Present.  Flip the sleeve over, and Turtles "A" (standing together, united!) are again buoyant with genuine enthusiasm for the album (and the costumed dowager at stage right).

But the enthusiasm stops there.  The rest of the Turtles know they've recorded a stinker.

Turtles "B" were apparently so terrified at the idea of The Turtles Present that, for the sake of their own sanity, they decided to dope themselves into oblivion prior to the photo shoot.  I'm guessing the lack of lighting on the album's front cover is done less for artistic reasons than it is for practicality—enabling the near-catatonic Turtles "B" to be held upright by an elaborate system of ropes and harnesses long enough for the photo to be taken.  By the time of the back cover photo shoot, Turtles "B" are sufficiently less stoned to enable them to stand under their own power, but have developed a serious case of the giggles.  Look at those eyes.

Turtle "C", however, is sober, and seriously worried.  On the front cover, he wears a facial expression approximate to "oh f***, this ridiculous album is going to kill my career".  On the back, Turtle "C" displays a forced smile that would put the efforts of most politicians to shame, while simultaneously holding out (unlike the others) both hands to the camera—silently imploring YOU, dear reader, to have pity and take this album home.

Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
"If Anne Boleyn could have known that this album was on its way in the future, she'd have spared Henry VIII the trouble and simply hanged herself."
Since I'm sure many of you take your music very seriously, I must say for the record (yes, yes, I know): I did not make this list in haste.  Before I made the final decision to get rid of any album discussed here, I forced myself to re-listen to the entirety of said album at least twice.

Except, that is, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which did not even make it through one listen before being violently ripped off the turntable.  Let's find out why.

Released in 1973, this progressive rock album contains six instrumental tracks, each named after a wife of Henry VIII.  This artistic flourish gives The Six Wives a rare opportunity to offend me on two levels: as a lover of music, and as a lover of history.

Rick Wakeman explains the album's concept a little further in a blurb on the album cover: 
 "This album is based around my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII.  Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments."
To those that can't be bothered deciphering this twisted prose, what Mr Wakeman is actually saying here is, well... nothing at all.  With one strike of the printing press, Rick Wakeman has both proposed and then subsequently annihilated the possibility that this might actually be a real concept album replete with historical linkages and reccuring stylistic and musical themes. 

Instead, The Six Wives is a thinly veiled excuse to pack as much self-indulgence, wanksmanship, and showoffishness into vinyl grooves as possible.  Who cares that Jane Seymour never was that much into phat synthesizer leads?  She bloody well likes them now.

I think it was somewhere in the early stages of track 6, "Catherine Parr", that I realised this album was (to revisit my tortured food analogy) the musical equivalent of a siamese twin hot-dog eating contest—with the overall purpose of showcasing just how fast Rick Wakeman can play multiple keyboards simultaneously.  Occasionally, there are moments of what appear to be coherent structure, but it soon becomes apparent that these are merely segues from one keyboard trick to another (which I suppose would be the equivalent of one of the eating contestants regurgitating semi-digested sausage all over the stage).

For a visual example of Rick Wakeman's needless pomposity, take a look at the photograph found on the inside of the album's gatefold cover, a photograph that is almost pornographic in its appeal:

But this is more than mere keyboard fetish—what this photograph attempts to do is convince us, the paying public, that this awful, awful album was actually recorded by Rick Wakeman's hands, instead of (as I am much more inclined to believe) Rick Wakeman slapping his keyboards with his erect penis.

"Oh, come on," you say, "there is nothing sexual about Rick Wakeman and his keyboards!"

Well, I invite you (and I am very sorry to do this) to take a closer look at an enhanced version of the gatefold photograph:

Those keyboard instruments sure do stir a fire in one's loins.

Donovan: Essence to Essence
 "Donovan indulges his spiritual side. And I do mean indulge." 
As an apology for the preceding photograph, I will keep this one short.

On this, his eleventh studio album, remarkably persistent hippie Donovan manages to further agitate the burgeoning punk rock scene through the horrifically overwrought preachiness of such tracks as "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" ("Do be kind to your vegetable friends / You are the gardener of Earth garden").

Appropriately encased in an album sleeve featuring an earnest Donovan bowing solemnly whilst cloaked in white meditative robes, this album is perhaps best reviewed in (hackneyed) haiku form:
If you think Bono
Is a messenger of hope,
Please. Have this album. 

Do you have something else to contribute to these reviews?  Are you Rick Wakeman's lawyer?  Wouldn't you know, there's a comments box below.


  1. I lasted to 1:03 of 'Catherine Parr.'

    I believe Hilary Mantel listened to this album every day while writing 'Wolf Hall.'

    1. Hmm. As I've (oddly) had no takers yet, perhaps Hilary would appreciate a spare copy. In return I don't think it's too much to ask for a signed copy of one her books; I'll even take a non-prizewinning one.

  2. Post-script: finally took these into the record store.

    Clerk 1: What are we giving for the Rick Wakeman album?
    Clerk 2: The one we're looking for, or the usual one?
    Clerk 1: Yeah, the bad one.
    Clerk 2: Two dollars.
    Me: This is the worst album of all time, isn't it?
    Clerk 2: Yes.

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