I'm glad to have rediscovered so many forgotten songs that I am proud of in various ways, but I still think my last is my best, like all proper musicians except Chicago.
So here's the last three songs I coughed up.
guy with tits
- Not Again
- Who are You Here to See?
- Too Much Love
- Dionysian Volume #1
- Dionysian Volume #2
- Hurricane Party
Of those, the last was probably recorded after I abandoned the worktape model and began using my phone. As for the rest, I could probably remember "Not Again" without hearing the demo, and the two versions of "Dionysian Volume" aren't crucial, if my dim memory of them is correct. I don't remember "Too Much Love" at all, and "Who are You..." is another slooow song, of which I have too many already, though it's a good one, at least based on what I recall of it.
This tape was a standout of disappointment, not only because it squandered one of my favorite worktape titles; not only because the entirety of side A was previously-heard studio stuff (to be fair, this was predicted somewhat by the tape's clever subtitle), but because what remained was almost uniformly half-assed and boring.
"Lambeau is not Normandy" is the biggest exception, and that mainly due to the title and general idea of the song. Otherwise, there's a neat keyboard riff at the very end of side 2, and NPR's Nina Totenberg is chatting somewhere in the background of one of these flimsy song ideas.
But really, I have to ask: have we passed peak reclamation project? There still remains a few songs I'd like to find, but I do think at this point the majority of the songs I was looking for have been found.
We will continue however. The remaining tapes appear to be of the pre-Y2K era, possibly; that doesn't bode well necessarily. There are also a few 90-minute tapes that I'm loathe to wade through - 60 minutes is plenty long for a worktape.
Hard times may lie ahead. We shall see...
I remember being excited by this song because it was the first I could remember writing that had only three chords. It's worthiness goes beyond that, but it is true: it's only G, C and D, although with a variety of voicings being used which gives the impression of a greater number of chords.
If I've written any three-chord songs since then, I can't really recall them.So far that at least, this revisit to Righteous Digressions was well worth it.
I have retained two notebooks dating back from - when? - mid-90s, probably, that contain lyrics for a bunch of songs I was working on from back then up until - oh, who the fuck knows when, 2002, or something. Many of these lyrics belong to songs I've completely forgotten, and though I didn't really anticipate those songs being necessarily great once I rediscovered them in the process of this Reclamation Project, I thought it would be fun to hear them again.
So, ok, this worktape contains a bunch of these songs, and they aren't necessarily the lost classics I've really been on the hunt for during this project - they're mostly pretty decent.
But as far as true 'keepers' - songs I intend to add to the sainted "to do" list, they don't all make the cut, but a few might. They aren't officially titled, for the most part, so I'll refer to them by their most prominent lyrics: "exception to the rule," "I don't know you" and "I can't explain."
These are all good, solid songs that might move up to the next level; maybe not right away, but after the first wave of re-recordings are complete and I've completed all the check-cashing and award-accepting I can handle.
This is what real, honest work sounds like.
This tape bursts out of the gates with "you wrote your name in my book" (no caps when I'm unsure of title), then spends much of the rest of the time reeling out haphazard studio efforts or middling electric guitar jams.
But the studio versions yield some fun stuff: a vaporous version of "Measure Up" with Jackie on vocals, for one. I liked that. And there's also a really good song I forgot about that I'll call "Around," which appears first in acoustic form and ends up in a slapdash studio version that is still intriguing.
Also: "Marching Song." Man, this is one of the dumbest lyrics I've ever written or sung, but there's a lot to this recording that I love. At some point back there in time, I was getting really good guitar tracks, but since my entire studio approach is "whatever," I can't always recreate things, and I have no idea why I was able to get such loud, clear and noise free tracks.
It's also just a good song; catchy as I can manage, and with some cool riffs and the Korg Poly-800 bringing those vintage cheeseball synth tones.
In retrospect, I should've dedicated some tapes solely to trying out mixes of these songs (most of which have gone on to join the proud Oxford Boys family of completed recordings, currently housed at chuckzak.com). As youthful regrets go, this is a minor one of course, but vast swaths of Copiously Odious (misspelled on the tape case, fyi*) consist of these dry-run mixes.
But among the other stuff, there is one clear winner: "The Shoulder," or as it's probably more properly called, "Let Me Come Back Home," which is kind of a sad sack title that I don't really care for. Still, I've been waiting to find this, even though I already remembered the melody, lyrics and most of the chords.
Other than that, there's a brief bit of a song I'm calling "Daredevil" that clearly had possibilities, but wasn't developed enough to warrant pursuit at this point. There's also two songs whose current recorded versions are sub par to say the least ("The Other Shoe," and "The Way You're Made") that may get a revisit someday if the good lord is kind enough to grant me the time and resources to do so.
* actually, Gubernatorial is also spelled incorrectly as "Gubnatorial" on the tape itself. That's a very rare, possibly singular, instance of a double misspelling on a tape/case title combo.
No matter, neither those two songs, nor any of the other previously unrecorded tunes here are usable for our current aims. That includes "Trickle," a cute idea for a song and an okay melody/chord-progression, but not something that rises to the level of must-have.
I remember being quite fond of "On Your Side" at some point, and it is a tight little song. It's probably the best of the lot, though the others - "California," "Nothing Has Changed" and "Never Had This Happen" - are all worthy contenders for b-sides or, at the very least, box set filler.
Trawling through these tapes has prompted me to relearn a few of the older songs that I've forgotten the chords to. It's been fun to play through these songs again with just acoustic and voice. Time for an ultra-rare Oxford Boys open mic appearance somewhere? It wouldn't take all that many drinks to make it happen. Just sayin'.
But on this tape, I return again and again to the central idea, trying to perfect some overblown transition between verses. I abandoned it at some point, but not before spending an inordinate amount of Bedridden Aquanaut tweaking it, to no avail.
My writing is better (usually; not always) when it simplifies the changes, something that "Like She Says You Do" proves pretty well - though I never did like that title. This is one song that I had on my radar for this project, and I'm happy to have tracked it down and found it a good fit for at least a B-side.
The other keeper here was one of the first songs I remember writing, at least in the style I eventually found for myself once my metal days came to their none-too-soon end. "The Moment Is Right" is traceable back to my mid-20s, a time when I was probably still writing a fair amount of crap, but this song holds up. The surprise here was the bridge, which I had forgotten, and which I like a lot. In fact, this bridge is probably the reason the song even appears here - I'm pretty sure it was new, while the verse and chorus date back probably ten years or so before the recording of this tape, but that's a rough guess.
There are some other songs here that I've discovered on other tapes, so they aren't counted here. But all in all, a rewarding listen.
Again, some older tunes whose recorded versions lack perfection are here ("Sight of Seeing You," "Let it Ride") along with some other, better preserved foundational Oxford Boy tunes ("The Screw," "Lazy Eye"). They all deserve a proper studio recording, but barring a lottery windfall, that's hard to envision happening. The best I can do is keep the versions I have alive and wait until they are inevitably (re)discovered and disseminated to the world's pop fans. Music will never be the same, I'm sure - we just all have to survive long enough to get there.
There is a recording of a Robyn Hitchcock profile that ran on an episode of Terry Gross' eternal NPR chat show, and it was fun to listen to that, for sure. It was a reminder of how much he's influenced me, though I don't think it's obvious.
There are proto versions of some favorites ("Quasar's Revenge," "Sister City," "In The Dark") and fully worked out versions of others ("$6000," "Sincere"). There are not, however, any worthwhile ideas that fit into the reclamation project's goals, but that's ok. It's enough that Byelorussian Cornrows confirms that even in the midst of whatever manifold personal crises I was enduring at the time (self-inflicted, of course), I was still capable of churning out hit after hit.
This is my redemption, people. You gotta let me have it.
Both "Malls of America" and "Fat of the Land" were forgotten to have even existed, but I did, at some point, have enough sense to write the lyrics down. That made it much easier to identify them once the chords, melody and lyrics came tentatively through the headphones.
Each has a chorus that does a bit more than its share of the work, and I doubt they'll be among the first I tackle once this phase of the reclamation project has wrapped up, but I'm glad - very glad - to have them back.
There is also, if I'm not mistaken, exactly zero acoustic guitar on Pro Flirting Tips. This means that a fair amount of the tape ends up in meandering electric jamming, most of which is not worth discussing. An upside to all the finished ideas here is that there are few genuine song ideas that didn't get worked out to completion, which is a change from back when I couldn't be bothered to work a song beyond a verse and half of a chorus.
This would be a good place to pause, recollect the songs from the these past two or three tapes and get at least a simple acoustic/voice recording down, but the relentless momentum of the reclamation project compels me onward. We might only be a third of the way into the trove of worktapes, and as frustrating as it can be to sit through one half-idea after another, I still can't wait to hear what's ahead.
These are songs ("The Wrong Girl," "The Other Shoe," "Race the Sun" and "It's Clear" to be specific) that I cherish, but tellingly, none are featured anywhere on our Bandcamp site (and have you visited oxfordboys.bandcamp.com? It's lovely.) - even though I've posted a fair amount of less-than-ideal material there.
That's because each song has, despite their often cringe-worthy flaws, some inimitable element that binds me to it. It might be a unique feature of the recording environment, like the squeal of brakes coming from the buses that stopped at the corner of Dauphin and Cedar, that then seeped into the recording and lent it an unpredictable uniqueness. It might be a featured instrument that I no longer own, like the clavinet patch on that Casio I foolishly left behind at the old house. Or maybe just some burst of improvisation that's impossible to recreate.
So do I now add these songs to the to-do list, straining an already ambitious schedule of recording? Probably, why not? Ok, maybe the choice isn't so vexed after all; I'll do them.
This dilemma of course can't help pique my long simmering fury at that dastardly 2006 hard-drive crash that forever ended the possibility of just re-mixing or tweaking these tracks. But I am yet very thankful at the bounty, the utter fecundity of the Oxford Boy catalog, which gives and gives and gives, asking so little in return.
But the big question I had while dragging myself through Score The Funk is "what the fuck was going on in my life at this point that I was so uninspired?" It isn't until deep into side B that we at last stumble across "Far Away" and the previously - but very poorly - recorded "Too Easy." OK, those are worth waiting for, sure, but I have to admit, I was pretty despondent by that point, a condition made only more acute by the heartbreaking appearance of a mewling Ninny during one of these wholly unworthy-of-Ninny snippets.
Our lamented beagle Zola also makes a brief, somewhat startling appearance, but sadly not during the song written in her honor ("She's A Girl"), which also turns up in embryonic form on side B.
We got a couple of could-be candidates out of this tape. "One Thousand Days," "Louis had my dream first," are both worth consideration, but the real winner of A Padded Affair is "On Your Mind," an innocuous title affixed to a super-fine tune.
There's no real knockout on a par with those from the last tape, but "Put the Call Through" gets a nice airing (though, to be fair, this first reappeared on Demands), and the very much forgotten "That's Life (in Sodom)" is found and found not wanting at all; it's pretty good with a good lyric.
Worth mentioning too is a studio version of something I'm calling "5/4 Riff" that incorporates microphone feedback in a fun way. Not what I was looking for, but this was something I definitely remembered existing and it was gratifying to unearth it. Plus, there's a fair bit of squeaky mewling from my lamented cat Ninny, who thankfully piped up long enough to be preserved for as long as these worktapes persist, which is likely to be a long time.
At this point, 15 or so tapes into the project (out of an estimated 60), with a bunch of the songs I'd been looking for now found, it might be time to pause and begin recording some of these. After all, the point of this whole thing is to get these forgotten songs recorded, not simply to re-find them.
Once that recording begins, I'm not going to begin with anything from Assuring Atomization, but it's a fair document of where I was at this time.
The aforementioned song comes early, and though it struggles to find its footing throughout the tape, it has some obvious charms. But by the time we reach the end of side A, we have reintroduced to our world two more songs whose shadowy existence propelled this entire endeavor.
"Somehow, Dollar" is first, and it is everything I hoped it would be based on my half-remembering of its chords and melody. Soon after, "A Chord From Laura" emerges from the mysts of thyme and even those two composers directly or indirectly referenced within (Paddy McAloon and David Raskin) must be somewhere smiling, though they know not at what.
There's still more to recommend here, but I'll leave further reflections to wait for the eventual, mammoth box set to pen those.
There are more than a few vestigial classics here ("Rock 'n Roll Cake," "Pedaltone," and "The Fat Man's Ghost" among them) along with studio versions of songs not listed elsewhere in the O'boy catalog, and also some interesting keyboard jamming.
Of personal interest, there is a brief snippet from NPR that captures whoever that woman is that pronounces "poem" funny and a studio version of a song from a former bandmate.
Time will tell if "Cornered Animal" really deserves it's high ranking here, but regardless, Chump Story is a satisfying peek into the creative process that fuels the Oxford Boys to this day.
A couple of old favorites ("Stars in the Backyard" and "A Dying Man") did draw their first breaths here, so it's not without merit, but in terms of lost classics, it is fairly bereft. There is proof near the end of side B that I did really pen a song called "Robophobe," and it isn't bad, but I've since heard that portmanteau elsewhere, and it no longer brings a smile to my face.
Numerous attempts to wring a song out of the Gormenghast novels lead more or less nowhere, and even now, mere days after previewing this tape and taking notes, I cannot remember the melody of any of the titles I have written down.
Really there's only one true keeper that slipped off the radar - that's "People Hurt Worse," which was once such a mainstay of the slate of tunes awaiting their studio moment that it even got played in a very rare open-mic performance! This was definitely performed at the Fire in Northern Liberties, and may have even been aired out in one, or both, of the only other two open-mic performances I can remember playing (one in Manyunk of all places, and the other in pseudo-Fishtown).
However, DSWT is filled with other top-shelf bric-a-brac - including not one, but two covers! The Gordon Lightfoot cover might not be so surprising, but the Heptones?! Yup, it really happened.
What it does have to redeem it somewhat is "All My Life," which I do half-suspect might be demoed somewhere else, but under a different name. To keep this tape from being a complete waste of time, though, let's mark the genesis of that particular song here. A poignant tune, it has one glaring flaw in a recurring augmented chord that completely throws the mood. This is easily remedied however, and we can guarantee Beyond Feedback at least a little of the eventual Oxford Boy glory.
There is, of course, yet another version of "DJ's Pity" - this one earning one check, so it may be worth working on - and a couple of B-listers in "After the Violence" and "Lump Sum."
But it must be said, I was relieved to run up against that vast amount of silence after so much uncharacteristic Oxford mediocrity.
"One Less Lawyer" is the exact reason I decided to do this - in the hopes of finding a fully-formed song of exceptional quality that had completely fallen off the radar. The inspiration can be traced to Doylestown, PA, the seat of Bucks county, though the incident itself is shrouded in either mystery or opaque banality.
Nevertheless, and allowing for the fact that it is a slow song with a nearly catatonic tempo, it's a vivid tale of karmic readjustment whose antagonist's sufferings are observed from a comfortable third-person vantage.
Other possible re-invesitagtees include "The Runaway" and my brutal takedown of Thomas Kinkade, aka the "Painter of Light." His eventual death revealed him as a pill-popping boozer, which made me respect him much more than his ghastly paintings, so I'm less inclined to pursue that particular tune.
Also, yet another version of "The DJ's Pity."
It doesn't really get going until side two, but once there, we discover the epic "Story of Some Dead Guy," composed around the time of my enrollment in the songwriting course that I shamefully dominated while attending Temple U. This song alone is worth the entire tape.
The indefatigable "Norman's New Pain" first appears here, too, to be picked up in a later tape, and which refuses to accept its initial designation as O'boy offal. I'm still not convinced it warrants a new version, but it makes an enthusiastic case for itself.
Hard to listen to, but it does introduce an element of surprise (the pun here will be obvious to serious O'boy/Chuck Zak devotees) by complicating my songwriting timeline: some songs I had guessed were from earlier in my career actually seem to bump up against others that I had tagged mentally as coming from one of my many, later phoenix-like resurgences into artistic viability.
At any rate, this tape seems to come from an earlier, largely infertile period, a supposition confirmed by its dearth of good tunes.
My Iraq War triptych is here, though, so it's not as if Hapless Bid is of no interest historically. There is a large amount of blank tape on side two, however, which complicates the idea that this is a complete tape. While the lawyers work out the details of where this tape belongs in the library (possibly destined for a bottom drawer marked "lacunae"), we can safely move on to the next candidate.
Judy's lyrics dominate the worthiest bits here, many of which still await a proper demoing, but which are already accounted for in my list of "to do" songs. There are a couple of ideas here which did make it to the big leagues, poem-based songs from the likes of Lord Byron and at least one stone classic of O'Boy neo-Merseybeat genius ("Before & After"). Sadly, no takeaways for this project, though.
But this is closer to what I was looking for: not mumbled half-ideas from 1997, but completed (or nearly so) songs that never received even a rough demo beyond these tapes. Big finds are: "People Playing Games," "Did You Ever Get the Feeling?" "Counting Cans," "One Cloud Over," "Ulysses," and the verse of "i take the bus every day" - (lowercase indicating a song with no official title).
Something pleasant that this tape helped confirm is that my songs have gotten better over the years. I'm not trying to recapture some golden age from my youth, because my golden age is still on the horizon (the one in front of me). It's pointless to ignore the powerful role that mortality is playing in this project, goading me to direct my otherwise fathomless energies into remaining immobile on the floor, gargantuan headphones atop my head (Samson SR950s), while inching my way through these tapes (some of which will be substantially more tedious to endure than this one).
Ok, yay Crab Stanzas, and yay 2010!
I may have been too eager to anoint these snippets as being worthy of follow up; I have an awful lot of these marked down for further review. But really, I think there are just two serious takeaways from this tape: "Looking for Angels," and the partially uncovered "Reno."
Doubtless, there are other good ideas here, but no better than what I could whip up today, so why bother?
There are some lost studio efforts in here, including a completely forgotten song we will refer to as "Anisette" - which isn't worth recording again. There's a proto version of "End of the Reel" which has the title "Steps" here, and different lyrics.
Otherwise, the only unrecorded songs with any bounty on their head are "In defense of all I ever believed," which I remember a bit, and "California," whose lyrics I actually wrote down in one of the two codex that serve as my lyrical guide through this journey. The former earned one check mark as a possible future patient; the latter, none.
This effort consists of trawling through the mountain of worktapes I've managed to hold on to these past two decades, even while I've surrendered just about everything else to the abyss. These tapes are all titled on their case, with a subtitle on the tape itself. I'd like to at least post once per tape, though now that I'm fully 16 tapes into the project, I have to consider grandfathering in some of these recordings.
At least, I want to find the recordings of a few particular songs I know I've written and get them down in a more professional manner. If, in the course of that effort, I discover other tunes I've completely forgotten, that will be gravy.
Ideally, I'd love to resurrect the feverish productivity I enjoyed when last this blog was active. If I lower my recording standards, and commit to at least a decent recording of guitar/vox, that might be possible. But it would be criminal to ignore full productions altogether, as my skills in that area have only gotten better over the years.
Another important goal is to rerecord as much of the half-assed versions of good songs I've put down, the raw files of which were lost in the infamous hard-disk crash of 7/2007. Songs like "Another World" or "Your Hell" which suffered various fatal flaws - easily remedied if I had only remembered to back up those files before the drives died - and which now exist in only infuriatingly imperfect versions.