3rd in a series...

The Record: Herman's Hermits, "Blaze" (1967 MGM), $2.00
The Wine: The Evans Wine Company, King's Valley Cabernet (Australia) 1998, $5.00 (discounted)

I kept reading how this was the "serious" Herman's Hermit's record, so I always made a mental note to pick it up. I saw a so-so copy at the Salvation Army in Jamaica, N.Y., so I grabbed it. I always try to convince these people that they're charging too much for records. $2.00? Who are they kidding? Records are always now one dollar and under. I make a stink and they point to the sign: "Records: $2.00."

Just like me, they're living in the past.

Finally, though, we have a big winner in the grape department. More damaged-label sale stuff at the snobby wine store. Five bucks a pop, enter at your own risk. The selection seems to change every few days, and things I intend to buy disappear. Sometimes there are three or four bottles of the same wine and sometimes, like with tonight's selection, there is a single sample with a ripped label. This had a beautiful nose the second the cork came out. Nice, sweet blackberry jam tones. Very strong smells! The taste right out of the bottle did not disappoint either: lemon peels, wildflower honey. I got really lucky this time. I tried to do some internet research on this wine, but I came up empty. So many bottles by so many different wineries. Like hunting down LP's in thrift stores, no matter how much you think you know, there's always stuff you've never seen hide nor hare of before. I'm in a real cabernet mode these days. Good cabernet sauvignon can be pushed in any direction the wine maker wants. Most classic Bordeaux is a blend that predominantly features cabernet. This is surely God's grape.

This LP is not in as bad shape as I thought. I love these old MGM labels. They're so foreboding to me, with a picture of the same lion that greets us before the "Wizard of Oz." This and the old United Artists label are very intimidating to me for some reason. I keep remembering all these dark heavy soundtracks in my parents' collection. The first song on this is called "Museum." The label has the composer credit to "Leitch," so I'm assuming it's by Donavan, especially because the record is produced by Mickie Most. The first line is double-tracked Herman (Peter Noone) singing, "I drink sweet wine for breakfast." Good for Herman. Or Donavan. As much as I like this stuff, drinking a sweet wine for breakfast smacks of alcoholism to me. I realize that wine is a slippery slope. Like pot, this is a gateway drug. Probably I'll be writing "Thrift Store CD's & Rotgut Vodka" in a few years.

Ha, this record is fucking good. Either that, or it's exactly what I'm in the mood for. Very unpretentious, not what I expected. It's very simple for 1967. Not a backwards guitar in sight. I've heard that Herman & the boys had a big hand in producing this record. Like the Monkees' "Headquarters," this was the record where they insisted that they play and write the majority of the material themselves. The second song is a cover of Graham Gouldman's "Upstairs, Downstairs." The Hermits already had a hit with Gouldman's "No Milk Today" on the previous LP. I love the original of this on Graham Gouldman's early RCA solo LP, but this stands its' ground. Noone is a GOOD singer. He's very economical, but his pitch is excellent and he has great phrasing, a very clean singer. Almost like a clearer, less-vibrato laden Robin Gibb.

This is also very good wine. I've always wanted to go to Australia. Australia always seemed to me a place where someone could make a new start in life. After staying open for about a half an hour the honey aroma from this wine is ridiculous. This is one of the reasons to get into wine. These kind of smells are just totally intoxicating, mystical. It's amazing how wine is made from grapes, and how the smells and tastes suggest a million things, but rarely what one associates with the fruit of its origin.

The third track on this LP, "Busy Line," is one of the group composed numbers. It's an innocuous bit of fluff, but the middle eight is very sophisticated and the second time it comes around there is a very songwriterly key change on the last bar that leads into the last verse. Instrumentation is very sparse, but the earnest qualities of the song are well served. The next song, "Moonshine Man" sounds like it came from some 60's LA Byrds knockoff band. There is nothing English about this cut. There is a vague Taxman thing happening in the bass, but it sounds like it crossed the Atlantic before it hit tape. There is a line about drinking homemade wine and I assume the song is about a bootlegger. I drank moonshine once. It was pretty nasty, but it tasted like nothing I ever tasted before or since. Sort of like Southern Comfort, but much, much stronger.

After the honey scent starts to fade, I'm noticing a faint aroma of violets. Am I in love? People often talk about good wines having balance. This has so many competing, yet muted flavors of sweet, tannic and sour. No oak here, though. My wine friend, Jay, tells me that an oaky taste is an essential component of really great wines, that the barrels they are stored in add to the complexity. I'm probably just a vulgar neophyte, but over-oaked wine tastes disgusting to me. I'm probably connecting with an unfortunate experience I had with Jack Daniels in my youth, and every time I taste that smoky flavor in a drink, I get nauseous. He says I'll grow into it.

The second side of this record is super. The first song, "Don't Go Out Into The Rain" is just bass, guitar, drums and a sparse string arrangement. There are some very inspired call & response vocals and a great, melodic hook. The acoustic guitar sounds a tad distorted in places. Mickie Most was legendary for cutting his tracks to the brink of breaking up. The next song, "I Call Out Her Name" is another Byrdsy thing. The influence is sort of like "I've Just Seen A Face" filtered into the West Coast and back into England. Weird. It's very reminiscent of "Time Between" from the Byrds' "Younger Than Yesterday" LP. The next song, "One Little Packet Of Cigarettes" is another sweet tune. All these songs have the beautiful sound of an acoustic basic track complimented by colorful string charts. I could picture the Harper's Bizarre doing this cut. On the next cut, "Last Bus Home," the added electric guitar adds much color by contrasting the acoustic sound of the previous tunes. Again, very cool background vocals and inventive harmonies. They sound like they're having genuine fun throughout this LP. But the last cut is the real corker. "Ace, King, Queen, Jack," like the previous cut, is written by someone named "Cowap." Both tracks could have easily been written by Graham Gouldman. This last one is total Yardbirds from "Roger The Engineer." And what an album that is! The bass on this track is intentionally distorted, like they were shooting for the sound on the Yardbird's track "Lost Woman." Yet Herman, like Keith Relf, is laying back and understating the vocal. Cool as ice. I love this stuff. Classic line: "I called her a trollop/She gave me a wallop." Herman's Hermits? Is that who I'm listening to? They should have made two or three even greater albums after this one. They were just getting started.

OK, I was good tonight. I left a little less than half the bottle. My wife thinks I'm imbibing a bit too much. The American Medical Association says two glasses a day will do me well. I cut out the articles and show her, but she just looks at me & makes a face...

--Lane Sternberg

next: 4th in a series--
The Record: Nyiregyhazi Plays Liszt (CBS) 1978, $2.00
The Wine: Chateau Timberlay, Bordeaux, 1995, $5.00 (discounted)

Last update: March 30, 2006