Archive for the ‘Opal’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

On one or some enchanted day(s) or evening(s) in 1984, a ragtag group of Paisley Underground pals came together at the Radio Tokyo recording studio in Venice, Ca., for an endeavor said to have been dreamt up by David Roeback, co-founder of Rain Parade. The idea: pay homage to those artists and songs that had inspired him and his compatriots.

I should mention that “pals” and “compatriots,” in this context, translates into members of Rain Parade, the Bangles, Three O’Clock and Dream Syndicate.

The Magnet article “One Nation Underground: The Story of the Paisley Underground” delves into the weeds of the scene, Rainy Day and Danny & Dusty’s equally cool and essential Lost Weekend (which, unlike Rainy Day, is available on Apple Music and Spotify). Two quotes stand out. The first is from the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio, who explains himself and his friends: “We were all record collectors who played music. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was certainly a big deal to us.”

The second quote is from one of those friends, the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn: “We were all big music fans and pretty diligent about the things we thought were cool or weren’t cool. We felt more like messengers for music that matters than rock stars.”

That’s evident on the Roeback-produced Rainy Day collection, which was stamped onto vinyl in 1984. It curates classic – but, “Sloop John B” aside, not necessarily well-known – tracks from the Beach Boys, Big Star, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan (by way of Nico or Fairport Convention, most likely), Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground and the Who.

Here’s Susanna Hoffs fronting “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” for example.

In today’s world, one can learn about most songs in seconds. For instance, the Wikipedia entry explains that Bob Dylan wrote “I’ll Keep It With Mine” in 1964, and never released it until decades later; Judy Collins issued it as a single in ’65; and Nico covered it on her 1967 album Chelsea Girl, followed a few years later by Fairport Convention, who recorded it for their What We Did on Our Holidays LP and also released it as a single.

In the ‘80s? It could take weeks, months and even years to figure out a song’s recorded history, let alone track down and hear the different versions. Nico’s Chelsea Girl was long out of print by then, after all; to acquire a copy meant one had to hope an area used-record store had it in stock.

Back on point: Just like Chelsea Girl, few folks actually bought Rainy Day. It was released by Llama Records in the U.S. and licensed by Rough Trade for the U.K., and though some of us recognized – or would soon recognize – the names of the players, most folks had no clue as to who they or their bands were.

Make no mistake, however: It’s a sheer delight.

Another highlight: Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” one of two Neil Young-written songs on the collection:

That’s Kendra Smith on lead vocals. At the time, she was in Rain Parade with David Roeback; they’d soon leave that band and start Opal. Speaking of Roeback, his rendition of “On the Way Home” (the second Neil-penned tune) is also a marvel:

Another highlight: the cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” the second track with Susanna Hoffs singing lead:

By 1989, when the collection was issued on CD, Susanna Hoffs was likely the best-known entity thanks to the success of the Bangles. But she’s far from the only reason to search for this gem; each of the nine tracks adds something unique to the original.

Here’s the track list:

I’m sure it won’t stick around YouTube forever, as it was uploaded by a user and not the label, but here’s the album in full…enjoy it while you can.

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Last night, with some time to kill prior to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I found myself surfing the algorithmic waves of YouTube thanks to a hankering to hear Best Coast’s title song to their 2015 album California Nights. I’d never heard of the band until reading a review of the album in, I think, Mojo; and I was instantly smitten with that trippy song’s thick and hazy tones, which creep in like a dense fog at dusk. I ordered the CD the same day and, a few days later, featured it in this post – while mentioning its similarities to Opal and Mazzy Star.

And after listening to it yet again last night, I found myself diving head-first into Opal’s sonic undertow. Their 1987 Happy Nightmare, Baby album, as I’ve said before, is a true lost treasure. For those unaware of them, the band had its roots in L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, and – if they’d stuck together – could’ve carved out a Sonic Youth-like career. But, while on tour promoting that LP (their one and only), lead singer Kendra Smith quit the band and, after releasing a few albums over the next few years, disappeared into the woods of Northern California, never to be heard from again. A true shame, as she was a talented artist and that version of the band was intense.

Dave Roback, Opal’s remaining musical architect, recruited Hope Sandoval to step into the void in order to finish the tour. They were already friends, having worked together on never-released recordings for Hope’s folk duo, Going Home. (In the clip above, that’s her to the right of Roback in the studio intro.) Here’s a full set of that version of Opal in 1988 Italy –

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I’m sure it was difficult to sub for Smith on such short notice, but Hope pulled it off – and then some; and, as the decade faded into the next, the group morphed into Mazzy Star. While they maintained the same languid shoe-gazing psychedelia, Hope’s vocals are far more dreamy, ethereal and inviting than Smith’s. And, too, the dark-hued dissonance was imbued with splashes of color. (Or something like that.)

Here’s “Halah,” from the 1990 Mazzy Star debut, She Hangs Brightly.

Three years later, they released the So Tonight That I Might See CD, home to a classic song that (almost) everyone of a certain vintage will remember: “Fade Into You.”

There’s far more to the story, of course; and the Wikipedia entry does a thorough job in explaining it. For the purposes of this post, though, while jumping from one video to another to another last night – such as this one, “Flowers in December,” from a 1994 appearance at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert –

– I discovered that, last year, Hope collaborated with Massive Attack (for the second time) on the song “The Spoils.”

She also released the album Until the Hunter with her own group, the Warm Inventions – which will likely be most of what I listen to for the next few weeks. Now that I’ve listened to it not once, but twice, I can say: It follows the Opal/Mazzy Star blueprint; and is, in a word, amazing. Here are two songs from it:

For those who aren’t familiar with Opal, which is one of the great lost rock bands of the ’80s, they were the precursor to Mazzy Star (“Fade Into You”). They released a few EPs and one LP, Happy Nightmare, Baby, which is where these two songs hail from.

The album is long out of print and not available on the streaming services, but is well worth tracking down. “Soul Giver” is just tremendous –

And “Supernova” is, too.

For anyone who wants to check out the album as a whole, someone uploaded it to YouTube:

5) Best Coast – “California Nights.” There’s a heavy dose of Opal/Mazzy Star in this trippy wonder along with a wee bit of Liz Phair. Quite the combination, and quite intoxicating.

4) Houndstooth – “No News from Home.” This Portland, Ore., group echoes Opal, as well. Close your eyes and you’re (almost) hearing Kendra Smith.

3) Opal – “Soul Giver.” And since I’ve mentioned Opal twice above – they are the band that morphed into Mazzy Star, of “Fade Into You” fame. Opal was as moody as Mazzy, but more…menacing, to be succinct. Very reminiscent of the Velvet Underground.

2) Jax – “My Generation.” I fell in love with the American Idol contestant’s voice at her audition, when she sang a pleading version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” In the months since, that first impression has become a lasting impression – she has a great voice and seems to have a firm grasp on rock-pop music history, and also possesses all the ingredients for a lasting career. I’ll buy her album, at any rate. Anyway, she has a lot of fun with this Who classic, which was selected for her, not picked by her. It’s nowhere near as threatening as the original, mind you, but it does rock. (I think “The Real Me” would have been a better pick for her, but that’s me.)

1) First Aid Kit – “America.” This is from Late Night With David Letterman on Thursday, May 7th. I’ve written about them before, so won’t repeat myself here. That said, our summer concert series, thus far, stacks up like this: Paul McCartney, Neil Young and First Aid Kit (along with a bunch of other acts at the XpoNential Festival). The one I’m most looking forward to? Well, that’s difficult to say. Paul, most likely. But, in some ways, it’s these two sisters. They’re tremendous.