Reclamation Tape #24: Pre-Emptive Encore (Three Words)

A respectable worktape, yielding only the the forgotten "Never Too Late" at its very end, but with 60 minutes or so of honest craftsmanship leading up to it.

Reclamation Tape #23: A Career Of Feeling (Platonic Monuments)

Another abbreviated tape, with barely a side B at all, but with at least two rescue-worthy tunes.

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.


Reclamation Tape #22: Pro Flirting Tips (Preyed-Upon Melodies)

As in the previous tape, we have no reclaimable scraps or lost favorites here, but there are a bunch of great songs ("Let Us Live," "Product Shot," and "Let it Ride" in particular) that have since come to their fruition, but alas, only in lamentably imperfect recordings.

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.

Reclamation Tape #21: Mining The Finite (Stentorian Bent)

So this tape, and the next one (I'm lagging a bit in my posting), present a vexing choice for me. Though there were none of the lost songs I was looking to rediscover here, there were a number of previously recorded favorites, but almost all of which are preserved in fatally flawed versions.

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.


Reclamation Tape #20: Pumped Retiree (Proper Pop 'n Roll)

After starting off with a monstrous sneeze, Pumped Retiree settles into a comfortable groove of decent half-ideas and tentative versions of soon-to-be highlights of our live show (which has never happened).

If I were incapable of still producing top-shelf material, I'd be more tempted to revisit the stunted tunes that begin, but don't fully develop, here. But my gifts are undiminished; these very respectable tunes need attention that I just cannot spare now, and I anticipate having to work far too hard at raw survival during my golden years to spare the time and energy these ideas require. 

Now, if we lived in Rhodesia...

Reclamation Tape #19: The Griot (Actual Crap)

This tape was recorded over a previously recorded WPRB broadcast, so if you hang around long enough, you get to hear some interesting shit from the Fall, as well as some other post-punk goodness that has little to do with the Oxford Boys brand of melody-minded geek pop. 

Sadly, my own efforts here, while producing a few already-recorded favorites ("The Body Begins," "Pendulum"), don't offer up much worth pursuing for this project. 


Reclamation Tape #18: Score The Funk (Creampuffs & Qualifiers)

It's hard to believe that a tape that both begins and ends with versions of an enduring Chuck Zak/Oxford Boy staple ("Buyer's Remorse") could otherwise be so very shitty.

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.


Reclamation Tape #17: A Padded Affair (Repatriated Clydesdale)

This was a fun one. In addition to some decent throwaways, there was some interesting studio stuff - including the long lost "Prom Night Car Wreck." Turns out it's an ok song, not a great one, and the studio version is dodgy for sure, but it at least brought closure to a long search for this missing ditty.

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.


Reclamation Tape #15: Assuring Atomization (Misuse of Music)

Though the previous tape has undoubtedly been the peak of this project so far, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss Assuring Atomization as "that tape Chuck listened to right after Demands For Allegiance."

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.

Reclamation Tape #14: Demands For Allegiance (Odd Infinitum)

On a normal tape, the rediscovery of a song like "Wheels in Motion" would be enough to send the crowds outside my window into ecstatic frenzy. But if anything can be said to be better than normal, Demands For Allegiance is it.

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.

Reclamation Tape #13: Chump Story (Preserved Heritage)

Though Chump Story, like some typically underperforming tapes, has only one song worthy of the coveted 'two checkmarks' - a song called "Cornered Animal" that I can not recall at this moment, distressingly enough - it does have a lot going on that distinguish it from more uninspired tapes.

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.

Reclamation Tape #12: Full Coverage (Help Daddy Floss)

It's inevitable perhaps, that thrilling highs be followed by dispiriting lows, and Full Coverage is the latter.

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.

Reclamation Tape #11: Doing Stuff With Things (Belle's Lament)

This is more in line with that I was expecting to find on this journey. Forgotten gems, the hatchlings of  soon-to-be classics, all nestled among interesting ephemera and noble, if doomed, efforts.

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.

Reclamation Tape #10: Beyond Feedback (Boxes & Boxes of High-Quality Weed)

This tape is especially disappointing, lacking as it does in both salvageable ideas and tunes that have since gone on to join the Oxford Boy canon proper, with maybe one exception.

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.

Reclamation Tape #9: Rueful Graffito (Stars Dig Deep)

Another tape whose authority is compromised by the fact that it ends on side B with about 20 minutes of blank space, Rueful Graffito is also hampered by the lack of a true standout.

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.

Reclamation Tape #8: Cauterized Stretchmarks (Peripheral Daypart)

This tape may have very well followed the previous one in a temporal sense, as it contains some of the same snippets, only somewhat further developed. However, what the previous tape lacked in buried treasure, this one has more than its share, at least in terms of quality, if not quantity.

"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."

Reclamation Tape #7: Of the Hump (Rusty Bidet)

Public domain poetry has often been the source of lyrical inspiration when mine own has run dry, and this tape has more than its share of dead poets represented. 

But, since the purpose of this project is to find forgotten and unrecorded songs, this tape must be seen as a lost cause, regardless of the many gems it inspired (most notably, the timeless "Talking Dog" - which did NOT rely on some fusty Victorian for its lyrical brilliance). 

"The DJ's Pity" manifests itself here in numerous versions - not all bad, but of such an overwhelming variety that the very fecundity of the idea may be its own undoing, as I have no stomach for sorting through all the many variations. 

Reclamation Tape #6: Straight in the Desert (Green Was My Aftershave)

This tape returns us to the era I'd most wanted to re-investigate, and the rewards are for real.

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.

Reclamation Tape #5: Dragoneering (Painless Surgery)

If ever this project was going to go completely off the rails, it would've been here. Dragoneering offers only "Out of the Loop" for further review, while numbing my ears with waves of electric buzz caused by some technical glitch somewhere in the ether.

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.

Reclamation Tape #4: Hapless Bid (Stag Motor)

The project threatens to enter a deep rut here, with another tape that offers no gems worth further versioning.

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.

Reclamation Tape #3: Escarole! (Impersonal Correspondence)

This tape represents the more challenging aspects of this project, as its yield of quality unrecorded tunes was far lower than the previous tape.

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.

Reclamation Tape #2: Crab Stanzas (More Muttoncore)

Now I've managed to whipsaw in the other direction, with a tape I estimate to be from circa 2010, surely one of the latest in this series of tapes.

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!

Reclamation Tape #1: Random Ideas Whilst Lounging (Creativity Blooms)

So, I chose to begin the project here although I guessed (correctly) that this tape predated that era that I was most interested in re-mining.

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?

Reclamation Tape #16: Solid Waste (Stew-Fueled Miscalculation)

This was something of a disheartening experience, not only because of the dearth of decent tunes, but because my casual mention (barely heard in a palimpsest-y portion almost completely recorded over) of John Geilgud's death marks this tape with cruel precision as having been recorded (at least partially) in May 2000. That's a while ago.

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.

Reclamation Project

After a brief ten year lull, I'm reviving this blog to track the ongoing Chuck Zak Reclamation Project whose goal it is to rescue unrecorded and forgotten gems from the Oxford Boy past and bring them to some kind of wholeness.

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.

We'll see...