Reclamation Tape #40: Felt Balls (Gaseous Design/Gaseous Stance)

Lotsa stuff here that went on to greater fame as finished versions to be found on chuckzak.com - including a couple ("Your Hell," "John's Letter to Jane") that could really use a re-recording. No undiscovered gems however.

Side B is interrupted by a long take of some drum-and-bass song that I liked at the time, repeating the words "love the one you're with" over and over. Very fetching, and an example of my embryonic interest in electronic music and its particular compositional strictures. I had clearly mastered pop music by this point, so it's no surprise that I was ready to move on as a listener.

So, at this point, it might be a good idea to namecheck some of the remaining songs I'd like to find on these tapes. I can't truly consider the reclamation project complete until I do. They are:
  • 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.


Reclamation Tape #39: Ivied Melodae Grown Over (Conceptions/Executions)

The reclamation project giveth and the reclamation project taketh away.

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...

Reclamation Tape #38: Perception Thwart (Reluctant Comp)

This tape was an almost complete wash, mostly because it contained only 3/4 of side A and nothing else. Blank tape is a commodity, dude - you just pissed 45 minutes of it away!

My iron-clad sense of duty and righteousness might compel me to refuse inclusion of this tape into the annals of the sainted reclamation project were it not for the one worthwhile song it does include: "Jiang Zemin." This is certainly a song I've been on the lookout for, and I feel a little relief that it was included here, leaving me no choice but to give Perception Thwart its own place in the project.


Reclamation Tape #37: Righteous Digression (Credibility Factor)

Aside from the usual embryonic versions of future classics, this worktape contained only two ideas worth a single check-mark each. And of those, I think only "of all the things the lord has given me" has a chance to make to the big leagues.

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.

Reclamation Tape #36: Rabelaisian (Gratuity Included)

Rabelaisian (never read a word of Rabelais in my life, btw) reintroduces a bunch of the songs whose lyrics were collected in the two totemic notebooks I've described elsewhere. If you missed that post, I'll recap below:

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.


Reclamation Tape #35: Re: Her (The Dirt On Bud Abbott)

Solid entry in the series, here. Real contenders like "Exception to the Rule," and "Oxford Soul" are highlights, but so are the sketches of songs that we've introduced on other tapes, songs that reappear in refined versions here, like "Robophobe" and the merest squibs of future classics ("Inevitable Ruin," "World Outside").

This is what real, honest work sounds like.


Reclamation Tape #34: Corpse-Fed Harlequin (Too Good For One Tense)

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.

Reclamation Tape #33: Larry Flint Sings (Music to Inspire Legislation)

This tape didn't seem as focused as previous tapes; a lot more half-ideas that come and go. A lot less digging in and working out an idea to fruition.

But that's ok - I only need a few good finds per tape, and Larry Flint Sings (yes, misspelled) has them. Some songs have existed in a finished state forever, like "The Restaurant Game; good songs but with not enough of my own commitment to get them recorded. Others, like "Not Again!" and "The Union," have stayed remembered but unfinished for equally long, submerging and resurfacing again and again over the years, teased into a slightly more complete state each time they reappear, then cast aside again. 

But then there's "Philosophy" - I completely forgot this one! I like it, it's a complete idea both lyrically and musically. It's going on the to-do list.

There's also a funny NPR bit with Robert Segal talking about "sadcore" and American Music Club from who knows when, 1998? And a fair amount of chirping birds, too. I love birds. Not as pets, necessarily -- who the fuck needs a bird for a pet? But as beautiful creatures, perhaps the beautifulest. 

I love birds.


Reclamation Tape #32: Copiously Odious (Gubernatorial Presence)

One problem I'm running into with tapes from this particular era of the Oxford experiment (I'm guessing this is somewhere around 2000?) is the number of 'studio' run-throughs of songs that turn up. These are various attempts at getting a decent mix, something modern technology has made easy, what with your flash drives and various portable media; but back then you had to get stuff down on a cassette, or possibly a CD-R (but then those were toast after burning just one mix to listen to in the car).

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.


Reclamation Tape #31: Desk Job In Zion (For The Masses)

I have a pretty low tolerance for waltzes, and this tape pushes that limit far into the red. Most of it is just one melody that keeps going even after the original lyric morphs into a completely different melody/chords/rhythm. Then that same waltz I began with becomes the vehicle for a whole new set of lyrics.

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.


Reclamation Tape #30: Foge Fazio Faves (Signed, Sealed & So On)

Another worktape with its share of treasures. Though none of the rediscovered songs here can be considered true overachievers, they all belong on the to-do list, even if they aren't among the priorities for recording.

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'.

Reclamation Tape #29: Bedridden Aquanaut (Post-Angst Return To Psychedelia)

A good, solid worktape with evidence of my sometimes overly complicated writing, particularly in the many attempts at "One Night Out of the Week." It's a fine song that has a recorded version somewhere, but I don't recall it being a version that couldn't be improved upon.

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.


Reclamation Tape #28: Sapphic Content (Recitation of Numbers)

I have to mark this tape at around the turn of the century (the last one) due to the welcome inclusion of "When it Was New," which I'm pretty sure was my Y2K ballad. I'm very happy with that tune, and only slightly less so with "Every Side is Down," another song that's been on the wanted list.

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.

Reclamation Tape #27: Way Behind The Curve (Violated Bosom)

"Zombie on the Inside" turns up on this tape, and it's good, a keeper!

I should briefly explain that I have a notebook with lyrics written down of many of my top tunes from back in the day before I had any real means of home recording, and this has acted as my guide to some of the songs I'd like to rescue from the past. "Zombie on the Inside" was one, but it was a song I didn't remember the melody to very well, and I wasn't sure it was going to be worth resurrecting if and when I found it. It is, and it has a brief pre-chorus that I'm especially chuffed about.

Not a whole lot else here that hasn't already been recorded, although with the usual caveats about the quality of those recordings and the impossibility of simply remixing due to Hard Drive Crash 2006. 

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.

I feel like I came to the end of side B very suddenly. So if ever proof emerges that I've been abducted (finally) by aliens, it may have happened as I was listening back to this tape.


Reclamation Tape #26: Byelorussian Cornrows (Live @ The Mithraeum)

The Oxford Boys were clearly firing on all cylinders at this point in our history. There are more germs of gems here than I can count, almost all of which have since been recorded in fairly decent versions (and are available at chuckzak.com).

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.


Reclamation Tape #25: Candidate For Absorption (Tolstoyish)

As I worked my way through this tape, one snippet kept reappearing, with muffled words I couldn't understand, but with a naggingly familiar melody. Turns out it was the infamous "Fat Balloon," a fine, if overly ambitious ballad that has left would-be bandmates who shall remain nameless (because I totally don't remember the dude's name, if he even had one) aghast at its melodic sprawl and general too-much-ness.

Basically, some dude was interested in working with my erstwhile partner and me, until he heard this tune, then he was definitively not interested anymore. Well, he was wrong; it's a damn good tune, but at a syrupy tempo that strains patience.

So fine, ok, it's not for everybody. But look what else we dug up: the mysterious tale set to music otherwise known as "What's In The Box?" This one's a bit slow, too, but with a bit of a lilt that keeps it moving. So that's two unearthed gems for Candidate For Absorption - might there be more?

Actually, there is, and it's a song that, while a model of pop craftmanship, is also a very painful listen. It's the tale of my own misbehavior toward an undeserving friend told from the point of view of the victim, and unsparing in its skewering of the victimizer (which was me). 

It was difficult to listen to, and forced me to recall that particularly unpleasant evening and its aftermath, and ponder those awful events that I alone brought on myself. But, here we are years later; and after karma has dealt me successive blows again and again, I'm still standing, still deluded in all the right places, and now the proud owner of "The Passenger," a tune wrought out of a young man's folly and soon to be an only slightly less young man's triumph.