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Nazz “Nazz” (SGC, 1968)

Look at that cover—four heads floating in inky darkness—and try to distinguish the individuals, besides leader Todd Rundgren. Damn near impossible. That’s because Nazz were going for a unified look in haircuts, clothes, and, it seems, even facial features. This Philadelphia quartet basically started in the mid ’60s as a boy band geared for the teen-pandering rags of the time. But the songs on their debut LP were anything but LCD fluff. On the contrary, Nazz is chockablock with stunners of varying styles. Right here, the 19-year-old Todd established his prodigy bona fides with some of the most dazzling work of his long and idiosyncratic career.

Rundgren’s genius smacks you upside the noggin from the first seconds of lead-off song “Open My Eyes.” When I first heard this on the radio as a teenager, I was in a hypnagogic state; I thought it was a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” whose weird, supercharged energy had sent the song whirling off its axis. It’s simply one of the most exciting specimens of garage-psych ever waxed. The swerving rhythm, the mind-melting bass and guitar riffs careening around the bend, the handclaps, the cymbal splashes, the flanged vocals on “eyes” and “mind,” Rundgren’s sizzling guitar solo—it’s all too much, and yet you never want it to end. If Nazz had only recorded “Open My Eyes,” they’d still be all-time legends. And yet it only peaked at #112 in the singles chart. I’ve heard this song over 100 times, and each new listen turns me into a hyper ball of hyperbolics.

Despite such a blazing start, the album’s remaining tracks don’t at all seem anti-climactic. I think people underestimate how heavy Nazz were, because “Back Of Your Mind” finds them crafting hooky hard rock with a proto-grunge riff that Mudhoney surely lifted over 20 years later… and about which Blue Cheer must’ve felt jealous in real time, assuming they heard it. Another case in point is “Wildwood Blues,” a proto-glam strut that overtakes the titular blues, like some strange melding of Cream with prime-time Slade, years before the latter rose to prominence. I can imagine the freakout crescendo coda making a young Tony Iommi shout “Cor blimey!” Nazz‘s third-best song on the album, “She’s Goin’ Down,” is another proto-grunge adrenaline-burner with a killer chorus that foreshadows power-poppers Shoes. The action packed into its five minutes is off the charts (literally): wicked zig-zagging dynamics, freewheeling guitar solo, flowery and fiery prog keyboard action, euphoric vocal harmonies, Blue Cheer-like guitar/bass detonation, and a robust drum solo, to boot. The second-best song here, “When I Get My Plane,” aptly soars during the chorus, with the word “plane” extended and falsetto’d to dazzling effect. The dynamics are ingenious, with the build up to the chorus perfectly engineered for optimal vertiginous splendor. Plus, the “ba ba ba”s and “la la la”s are to die for.

Of course, Nazz had a tender, mellower side, too, as anyone who’s heard their most popular single, “Hello It’s Me,” knows. “See What You Can Be” offers complexly harmonic pop that could segue relatively smoothly with a Mamas & The Papas or Turtles deep cut, while “If That’s The Way You Feel” is a sumptuous ballad that strives for a Left Banke baroqueness, but isn’t quite as melodically inviting or subtle as that group. The strings bear a harshness and overbearing desire to knock you out with emotion, although the vocal lead and harmonies are luscious. As for “Hello It’s Me,” I prefer this version over the lusher, more MOR-radio-friendly one Todd issued on his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything? Nazz’s rendition is a lovely, spare ballad bolstered by Rundgren’s crucial vibraphone accents, gorgeous vocal layering, and heart-melting sincerity. “It’s important to me to know that you know you are free/’Cause I’d never want to make you change for me” is a pretty mature and reasonable sentiment for a 19-year-old male songwriter.

In his liner notes, Jon Landau observed, “To listen to the Nazz is to understand immediately what rock and roll is all about. There is an exhilaration and joyfulness to what they are doing which expresses completely the attitude that rock has always sought to express. They play with such finesse and solidity, it amazes me that anything can be so simple yet so complex at one and the same time.” I don’t often agree with a Rolling Stone writer, but Landau nailed it. -Buckley Mayfield

Golem “Orion Awakes” (Psi-Fi, 1996)

This album is draped in mystery and has been suspected of being a hoax. It allegedly was recorded in 1972-73, but some production touches make it sound more like it was done in the ’90s. In an interview reproduced in the liner notes of the 2016 vinyl reissue on Mental Experience, producer Toby Robinson can’t remember any of the details—and the same edition’s credits bear a “℗ 1976.” They can’t keep their stories straight… All the musicians recorded under pseudonyms, but are reputedly well-known krautrock figures. Alan Freeman, author of The Crack In The Cosmic Egg krautrock encyclopedia, speculates that members of Dzyan, Birth Control, Baba Yaga, and Sixty Nine may have been involved. All the rest of the CD reissues from the ’90s on the Pyramid imprint (Nazgul, Galactic Explorers, Cozmic Corridors, etc.) have similar murky origins.

Someone on Discogs wrote, “I have sources from a musician that he confirms played on this record wich [sic] was recorded back in 1995 in Croydon near London.” I can believe that! But ultimately, the music on Orion Awakes is so good, its back story is beside the point.

Whatever the case, if you dig freaky, vocal-free krautrock, you’re gonna want Orion Awakes. The title track approaches tentatively and ominously with delayed guitar shivers, then slowly blooms into a glimmering, methodical psych-rock stomp, replete with thick organ swirls. I can’t help thinking of the ’90s band Sundial and their awesome Other Way Out album when I hear this song. Similarly, “Stellar Launch” is a contemplative space-out that meanders with menace, marked by subtle wah-wah guitar and wispy Mellotron sighs. Gradually, though, it achieves a semi-funky midtempo groove and ascends to sublime heights of cosmic chaos. The shortest track at 6:32, the aptly titled “Godhead Dance” will get you spazzing and throwing ridiculous shapes. It features an unstoppable groove powered by over-the-top Hendrixian wah snarl. If you hear “Godhead Dance” under the influence of hallucinogens, all bets are off. No wonder it’s my go-to Golem track in DJ sets.

The three-part, 14-minute suite “ Jupiter & Beyond” is powerful, surging psychedelic rock music geared for large venues. The album’s finale, “The Returning,” probably should’ve been left off of Orion Awakes. The fat drum sound and trademark indie-rock guitar tones really give away the ’90s provenance of Golem. This song sounds like something on Drag City, Matador, or Merge more than any subterranean German label. It’s also the least interesting work here. It’s not a good way to persuade anyone who suspects this LP is (mostly) a well-executed prank. -Buckley Mayfield

Earth, Wind & Fire “Open Our Eyes (Columbia, 1974)

The first popular Earth, Wind & Fire album, Open Our Eyes went gold and topped the R&B charts, but Maurice White and company still hadn’t made the leap to superstardom. That would come in 1975 with That’s The Way Of The World, with its hit singles “Shining Star,” “Reasons,” and the title track. But the Chicago group’s fifth LP, Open Our Eyes, represents their last stand of stripped-down funk and R&B before their act inflated to a soul revue for stadia. As such, it’s an interesting transitional work and a solid entry point into the EW&F universe.

White front-loaded the LP with two hits. “Mighty Mighty” is the better of the two: fleet, flinty, feel-good funk that hints at the supernova soul to come soon after. Very much in the vein of early-career Kool & The Gang, the song boasts a chorus (“We are people of the party/party people of the sun.”) that can’t help lifting your spirits. It reached #4 on the US R&B chart, #29 on the singles chart. “Devotion” is a silky Commodores-like ballad that verges on innocuous, although Philip Bailey’s supple falsetto and equally smooth backing falsettos are undeniably sweet. This one reached #33 on the singles chart.

Co-written by Rotary Connection mastermind Charles Stepney, “Fair But So Uncool” rolls out some bittersweet midtempo funk that could’ve comfortably slotted onto Sly & The Family Stone’s Fresh, while “Kalimba Story”’s strutting, coiled funk showcases the titular instrument’s enchantingly wonky metallic timbre. The album’s zenith comes on “Drum Song,” a deep, sinuous, kalimba-enhanced afro-funk jam that sounds nothing like future big-budget EW&F smash “September.” The slow, sleazy funk of “Tee Nine Chee Bit” is the closest EW&F ever came to emulating early Funkadelic and Ohio Players, and therefore is great. The closing title track surprises with its slick, Latin soul-jazz and bubbly scat singing, somehow bringing to mind Santana and early Chicago.

Obviously, Earth, Wind & Fire released a lot of amazing music after Open Our Eyes, but they definitely lost some of the gritty charm exemplified by the best moments of this important 1974 record. -Buckley Mayfield

16th Anniversary Sale!

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SAVE THIS DATE: Join us on SATURDAY NOVEMBER 12th, 10-9, for our 16th Anniversary Sale! All used vinyl & CD’s 25% off. All new vinyl 10-20% off! Plus: receive a FREE hand-screened, glow-in-the-dark poster with any purchase. Spend $100 or more and get a special glow-in the dark T-shirt! (While supplies last.)

The Raincoats “Odyshape” (Rough Trade, 1981)

The Raincoats hold it together just as much as their Delta 5/Au Pairs contemporaries, but the atmosphere provided by The Raincoats is much more melancholic and spacious. Known to many Americans as one of those bands to check off their Kurt Cobain-faves list, this London post-punk group was really one of the most adventurous bands emerging in their day.

While the other popular, predominantly girl bands had punk and funk flair to match or better Gang Of Four, The Raincoats instead went an alternate route, swapping many little instruments that enfolded tentative, folky vocals. The centerpiece is probably “Only Loved At Night,” all chimes, percussion, thumb piano and tinny guitar occasionally punctuated by bass tones.

Each song offers new sounds, new instruments, guest musicians including Robert Wyatt… This is the idea of post-punk as sound-on-record with little regard for continuity. Are you a fan of PiL, early Scritti Politti, the jazz of Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Don Cherry, far-out dub? If that sounds good, and you aren’t a Raincoats yet, this one will do the trick. -Wade

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Some of the feedback we’ve been getting in our store is that some of you on Facebook are no longer seeing our posts as regularly. We still post daily! Facebook requires that you “like” or comment” occasionally so that it knows you wish to see our content. It’s part of their effort to keep your feed relevant to your interests. (Don’t worry we never post spam, and we keep store-related news to bare minimum — it’s all about the music.)

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Seattle’s Helix Magazine

View covers from our growing collection of Helix, Seattle’s first underground newspaper.

Helix was founded and edited by Paul Dorpat in 1967. Many of the covers were illustrated by Walt Crowley who also served as a writer and co-editor. Its articles were wide-ranging featuring anti-war stories, philosophical ramblings, poetry and artwork. The paper didn’t just cover the scene, it also organized and promoted concerts including the legendary, three-day Sky River Rock Festival in Snohomish County. A total of 125 issues were published before the the paper folded in 1970.

Additional issues would be greatly appreciated. Please contact Jive Time if you have issues to donate, trade or sell. Visit the gallery›

New: Even lower CD and DVD prices!

It’s never been a better time to buy used CD’s and DVD’s in Seattle: We’re buying heavier than ever, putting out several hundred killer titles weekly, lowering our base prices up to $2.00 and expanding our popular $3.00 (4 for $10) CD and DVD clearance sections! (Be sure to also check out our huge 99¢ CD section across the street in our Clearance Annex!)