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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Back in the day an album was not a trifling expense, and it wasn't so easy to discover cool new music. I'm talking about the early 70's here, before high school I guess. Back then the daily newspapers would occasionally run a review or two of a rock or pop record, and Robert Christgau was getting started, mercifully in Newsday, but if you were seriously looking for something a little different, something that wasn't Top 40 your go-to was going to be Rolling Stone. I know how weird this sounds today, but back then Rolling Stone was just barely a step above underground press, and it was absolutely an "alternative" publication. There were ads for rolling papers, and for places that would make you a Universal Life Minister, and-- best of all-- record reviews and advertisements for new releases that never made it to the radio, not even WLIR. An additional complication was that there weren't so many stores around that sold music. Grants, on Main Street, had, now that I think of it, a better selection than I gave it credit for at the time, but most of the time I had to go to Korvette's which was the next town over. Lots of times I'd read a review, or see an ad in Rolling Stone, then hunt fruitlessly for the record. This phase of my life ended once I started working in The City and had access to J&R Music, but that day was in the unknown future.

One summer-- it must have been 1972-- I was holed up in a bedroom in the cabin my family had rented in the Adirondacks reading a copy of  Rolling Stone when I came across an ad for, well, see for yourself:
Obviously this was big stuff. Man, I can still remember that day, the musty smell of the cabin and the pines. I set out to find a copy of The Album of the Year, but I was an undergraduate when I finally came across a copy of it in the cut-out bin at Buzzo's Music on Main Street in Geneseo. I rushed back to my dorm room clutching my treasure under my coat, slit the shrink wrap and dropped the needle on what I was sure was going to be pretty great.

It was, with the possible exception of John Cale's Vintage Violence, the worst record purchase I'd ever made-- not even worth the buck ninety-nine. It was so bad that my roommate laughed aloud about four bars in. It was so bad that I couldn't bring my self to play the second side until days later. At some point, years later, I read Christgau's review: "I won't get maudlin," Ackles promises midway into the second side, locking himself inside the barn as the dappled stallion gallops to join his brothers and sisters on the open range with his mane flying free in the breeze."

Christgau was generous. Sure, the lyrics are as sappy as a forest of birch trees, but OMG the music. You can listen to it on Spotify here, and maybe you should. Maybe I'm wrong. It seems to have acquired a kind of cult following, although, having just listened to it myself for perhaps the third time in over thirty years I cannot say that the passage of time has changed my opinion. I'm so, so happy that I didn't find it and spend $5.99 of my allowance money on it.

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