Friday, May 31, 2013

Fourteen years...but is it still stuck in 1997?

Time continues to fly! It has now been 14 years since the day my website, Rarebird's Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews, was launched on May 31st, 1999.

I remember a visitor to my site making a comment back in 2004 that my site "looks like it's stuck in 1997". I must say I was amused by that statement, because at that point in time, 1997 did not seem like a long time ago at all. But his point was well taken: web design technology and standards had rapidly evolved during those seven years, and my website was looking like an antique.

I like to think my site is now a bit more pleasing to the eye than it was a decade ago, since I know more about web design now than I did in the beginning. But I've never felt the need for a complete overhaul on the look of my site. I've felt it was best to keep it simple, and it's worked fine for me so far. Is it still stuck in 1997? I'll let you decide.

But if my site is still "stuck" in the late '90's, then so be it. 1997 was the year when I began to use the internet, and some sites have noticeably survived and thrived since then without significantly updating their look. For example, eBay and Craigslist don't look much different now than they did in 1997. There's something to be said for simple old-fashioned websites, especially when it comes to issues such as cross-browser compatibility. As far as I know, my site is supported by most commonly used browsers and operating systems. Also, we all know how annoying it can be when a web page takes a long time to load, or when things pop up on the screen while you're trying to use it, or when a page will not scroll down. A site as simple as mine usually does not suffer much from such usability problems. I like to think my site is so simple to use that even a caveman could do it.

Besides, the simple design of my web pages has always served an aesthetic purpose as well. The pages of my site are meant to look like the slightly-yellowed pages of an old print magazine or record review book that would now be as old as the some of the albums you are reading about on the site. Many of the albums I've reviewed on my site are long-lost recordings from another time, so I actually like the idea of my website looking like it dates back to a long-ago time. My fellow record collectors probably get the point I'm making.

Some of my site's visitors have also brought up the point that my site does not include sound clips or mp3 files of the rare material I've written about on my site. First off, everyone should know by now that this practice is usually illegal. Even if the songs and albums are not currently available commercially, most of them are still protected under copyright. Also, downloading illegal files can potentially harm your computer, so it's best not to download illicit mp3's from any website.

Some have also suggested that I should embed YouTube videos of some of the songs, or at least link to the YouTube videos. I actually have toyed with this idea, but it has pitfalls of its own. YouTube videos often get removed, and if you have a website with large numbers of embeds or links to YouTube content, you can end up with many dead links and dead embeds, resulting in a webmaster's nightmare. While we're on that subject, many music-related videos get removed from YouTube because of term violations, and I wouldn't want my site to get mixed up in any legal complications that may result from those.

Like I said before, my site is modeled after old-media print sources that I used in the '80's and '90's when I looked for information about out-of-print albums. Back then, we were not able to immediately hear a song or watch a video related to the album we were reading about. The out-of-print album had an air of mystery that made me want to search for it and buy it. (That's what I said: buy it. Purchase it. That's what we did back then!). That sense of mystery may seem old-fashioned in this digital information age, but I would like to keep it alive, as much as possible.

Of course, there's no denying that the internet has also been a major benefit to collectors of rare recordings, because it has made it much easier to obtain or access rare music than it was in my younger years as a record collector. There are now plenty of advanced ways to find this "lost" music, right at your fingertips. Google is always a good place to start; the links on my resources page are also recommended.

If it's still possible, I'd like to encourage music lovers to attempt to obtain rare recordings the old-fashioned way: by buying them. In most cases, you'll need to purchase used copies of them. But merchants who sell such wares are a dying breed, and they need your patronage. Also, owning an album in physical form gives one a feeling of ownership that digital downloads just don't give. I don't want this feeling to become a thing of the past.

Thanks again to everyone who has visited my site over the last fourteen years. I hope to keep it alive for many more. And the site will probably preserve its old-school "1997" vibe, so that we may never forget what it was like to be a record collector way back then.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Three Hits "Pressure Dome" EP (2013 Record Store Day release)

Michael Kurtz, the co-founder and co-manager of Record Store Day, was once a member of a North Carolina indie-pop band called Three Hits, who issued two singles in 1984 and 1985, and an eight-song EP titled Fire In The House in 1989. Kurtz and his brother Danny were the quartet’s guitarists; the singer and bassist was a young woman named Sheila Valentine, who was influenced by both Blondie and rockabilly.

Being the co-manager of Record Store Day earned Kurtz the right to have a limited-edition vinyl EP of his former band’s recordings released on that day, and he was granted this wish in 2013. Limited to 1,000 copies and pressed in transparent purple vinyl, the 12-inch EP Pressure Dome contained the A- and B-sides of the 1985 single of the same name, as well as an additional track from the same Don Dixon-produced recording sessions, and two songs from Fire In The House. The EP also came with a download card that allowed the buyer to download mp3 files of those five songs, as well as two bonus tracks. In the liner notes, Kurtz reminisces about his youthful years in the band, telling a brag-worthy anecdote about sharing a bill with Alex Chilton, and being told by the Big Star alternative-icon that he liked his band. It would have been nice to report that the Pressure Dome EP turned out to be a good musical find, but it shows that the alternative pop sound of Three Hits was only mildly diverting.

The two songs from Fire In The House were given shiny production by Huw Gower, the former guitarist from the Records. The sound is like a middle ground between the Go-Go’s and 10,000 Maniacs, quirky but not arty, easy to take but not exactly mainstream. The Kurtz brothers provide offbeat guitar playing, but Gower’s glossy presentation makes it hard to notice.

The EP’s second side contains the two songs from the 1985 “Pressure Dome” single (originally issued by Hib-Tone, catalogue number HT-8501), and an additional song (“Picture Window”) from the same sessions. The band is heard to better effect on this side. Producer Don Dixon brought out some of Valentine’s rockabilly side, and her vocals are reminiscent of Debbie Harry’s without being an exact copy. The Kurtz brothers’ guitar playing is more straightforward here, doing a better job of propelling the songs along. Jim Biddell's new wave percussion gives the songs extra charm. These three songs are still nothing special, but they’re pleasant enough.

The two bonus songs available through the download card were described as “previously unissued”, although one of them was the B-side of the 1984 single “Sharp Focus”, which was also produced by Dixon. That song, “Just One Of The Guys”, is a rather awkward new wave tune about a tomboy; it sounds almost improvisational, as Valentine talk-sings around her bass lines. The other song, “Wild Volcano”, is the best track of the seven. It’s more like the Go-Go’s-meet-the-Maniacs songs from Fire In The House, but with notable energy from all of the band members, as well as lead guitar work from Mr. Gower, it’s quite an enjoyable romp. Now that song could have been a hit.


Three Hits “Pressure Dome” EP (Omnivore OVS12-63) 2013

Track Listing:

SIDE ONE

1. Cage Of Gold
2. Lori (Last Girl On The Beach)

SIDE TWO

3. Numbers
4. Pressure Dome
5. Picture Window

Download Card Bonus Tracks

6. Just One Of The Guys
7. Wild Volcano