My First Record with Rachel Taylor Brown

Rachel Taylor Brown is possessed of one of the best singing voices on the planet, one that is capable of cooing calm and expressive fire in the course of one four-minute song. Brown uses it on her equally fiery and cooling songs that beautifully meld together influences from literature and modern pop culture, as on her 2009 album Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes, which spun fascinating and occasionally sordid tales about your favorite comic book characters. She’s currently wrapping up the recording of her next album, but was able to take some time away from the studio and the stage to write up a My First Record Post for TVD:PDX.

I’m the sixth of seven kids–four boys, three girls. Thanks to my music-crazed siblings (all four brothers had bands) I was exposed to loads of music. They had great taste.

I, on the other hand, have to admit my first album may have been The Fifth Dimension. In my defense, 1) there were Raggedy Ann dolls on the cover, and I really loved Raggedy Ann, though I always forgot her out in the yard and the dog chewed her up and the second time I did that my mom refused to ever get me another one and glued Raggedy’s drooly pathetic chewed yarn hair back on her head and that was the end of that. And, 2) I had the good taste at least to like the Laura Nyro song best (“Wedding Bell Blues,” pat pat of self-congratulation). It was either that, or The Carpenters’ “Close to You.” I was small enough that it was very frustrating that I couldn’t sing as low as magical Karen Carpenter, no matter how I strained. “Crescent Noon” put me in a trance. Still does.

I have my parents to thank for my everlasting love of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (danced to a lot, by me, in the living room). And Tom Jones: Live in Las Vegas. “I’ve been in Vegas three days….That’s right–THREE days….and, ALREADY…… I NEED A WOOOOOOOOOMAN!” He burns it up.

I can still sing every part of Jesus Christ, Superstar: The Concept Album. The Concept Album, the Original London Concept Album, not the musical. One of my brothers (the Deep Purple fan) got it. I still can’t believe I can love something so much that has the unholy stench of Andrew Lloyd Webber anywhere on it. But whoever put together this album was a genius and overcame the Webber-ness. I will steal the helpful words of an Amazon reviewer to try to explain: “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s showtunes-y, over-orchestrated bombast is nowhere to be found here. This is the original London Concept recording featuring Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan as Jesus, and Murray Head’s wonderfully anguished (and sometimes downright unsettling) performance as Judas Iscariot.” Gillan and Head are fucking amazing. And the guitars are so deliciously skronky, the band so excellent. I wanted to be Jesus and Judas both–Jedus. My sister still fights me over this.

One of my very own first 45s was Aerosmith–“Last Child.” Steven Tyler scared me (still does, but maybe now for different reasons). Remember when they made a Sgt. Pepper movie with Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees? It’s all so wholesome with the Bee Gees bopping around and George Burns and then Steven Tyler comes on and sings “Come Together” with the sexual energy of a thousand teenage boys and people in the movie theater begin coughing uncomfortably. Steven Tyler pretty much redeemed that movie with his scary sexy snaky self. Here is where I admit I bought the album. I mean the movie album. We already had the real one. I don’t know what else to say about this.

A “thanks” goes to my brother Casey (the trumpet player) for teaching me foosball to Tower of Power’s “Urban Renewal,” Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chaka Khan. More thanks to the rest of the family for The Beatles, Carole King, Sly and the Family Stone, James Taylor, The Police, Michael Jackson, Edgar Winter, The Stones, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Queen, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Yes, Steely Dan (also Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Zappa and The New York Dolls but I wasn’t really up to them ’til much later). I had a serious love affair with early Billy Joel because my sister-in-law grew up in Massapequa, Long Island and knew of him from local bars before he hit it big. She bought me Turnstiles and The Stranger. I eventually learned “Italian Restaurant” and “Vienna Waits For You” and “Summer Highland Falls” and “James” on the piano by ear, driving my family nuts with all the needle-dropping.

Oh, jeez–I can’t believe I forgot early Elton John! I learned a lot of his songs by ear, too. Esp. stuff from Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic. My friend Anne Moller’s mom had me banned from their house because I was “too rowdy” when I played Elton John on their piano. I should probably also note that my brothers, I think, had a lot deeper record collections than I ever knew. I was far less adventurous, rifling through their stuff as a kid.

This list is incomplete, but I’d like to give the final nod to Tubby the Tuba. My folks had the Hans Christian Andersen/Tubby the Tuba album featuring Danny Kaye, and all I have to do is think about it and I get a funny feeling in my stomach. Not nausea–I think it’s wistfulness. It’s a beautiful record. Tubby and “Inchworm” still make me cry in all their beautiful beauty.

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