Molten Wax

 LeAnn Rimes
LeAnn Rimes
(Curb Records)

October 26, 1999: Perhaps stung by the criticism that her "Purple Rain" cover on last year's presumptuously titled Sittin' on Top of the World made her sound like an aging and incoherent drag queen, LeAnn Rimes releases an eponymously titled album of country standards. (Among the selections: "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Faded Love" and a rather unfortunate rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee.") Rimes, hoping once more to capture lightning (or ashes) in a bottle, again slides into Patsy Cline's hand-me-downs and performs "Crazy," "She's Got You" and "I Fall to Pieces." Jealous, fellow teen twang diva Mandy Barnett promptly heads into the studio and begins recording "Blue," beginning a bitter feud between these two Patsy Clones; Rimes, in fact, goes on CMT and refers to Barnett as an "ass master." Record-buyers steer clear of Rimes' self-titled fourth album, since they know exactly what the record sounds like before they even listen to it. It ships platinum, returns platinum.

December 3, 2000: Rimes, against father/manager/producer/food-taster Wilbur C. Rimes' advice, ditches the whole teenage-country-girl shtick and releases her long-awaited glam-metal album under the name "L.A. Rhymes." She affects an androgynous appearance by cutting her hair, taping her breasts, stuffing her pants, and growing out her rather thick mustache. Her first album as L.A. Rhymes, Glycerine Queen (an homage to longtime hero Suzi Quatro), features such songs as "I Like It Thick," "The Space Between My Legs," "Unicorns and Feet," "C'mon, Zion Bitch" and "Succubus Sally." Her Curb Records bio makes no reference to her early albums, and, in fact, manufactures an entirely false history for the former star, beginning with her birthdate: midnight, January 1, 2000. The album does well, topping at No. 3 on the Billboard charts. At the beginning of 2001, Rimes goes on tour with Marilyn Manson, who has since changed his name to Neal.

"I Fall to Pieces, Bitch": The artist soon to be formerly known as LeAnn Rimes.
ABC Booking/Charlie Gillett Collection
"I Fall to Pieces, Bitch": The artist soon to be formerly known as LeAnn Rimes.
Gary "U.S." Bonds: Arguing the finer points of Nietzsche thanks to digital technology.
Gary "U.S." Bonds: Arguing the finer points of Nietzsche thanks to digital technology.

June 12, 2001: L.A. Rhymes goes into the studio with Busta Rhymes to record the single "My Feets Don't Smell." The success of the song, which debuts at No. 1 on the charts and remains there for six months and one week, leads to L.A.'s first hip-hop disc, Sounds Like Ass. Dr. Dre comes out of retirement after the failure of Chronic 2001, which sold 1,932 copies back in '99, to produce the disc. It scores four Top 10 singles: "I Fall to Pieces, Bitch," "She's Got You, Bitch," "Walkin' After Midnight With My Bitches" and "Crazy Bitch." An ill-fated tour with the reunited N.W.A ends after three shows, when Ice Cube tries to "cap" L.A.'s ass.

August 28, 2002: On her 20th birthday, Rimes divorces her third husband -- Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst -- and goes on CMT to announce her return to country. She goes into the studio with Wilbur to begin work on what will eventually be her masterpiece: a random series of blurts, squeals, pops and farts backed by a pedal steel. It goes triple platinum in a week. -- Robert Wilonsky

Various artists
Frank Guida Presents If You Wanna Be Happy: The Best of the Norfolk Sound
(Varése Sarabande)

Thought they couldn't out-digital digital sound, didn't you? Just take a gander at the strides they're making in audiophonic filtration down in Norfolk, Virginia. Forty years ago, Norfolk was breeding ground for some of the sludgiest recordings ever etched in wax. Who could forget Gary "U.S." Bonds' "Quarter to Three" and "New Orleans," Jimmy Soul's "If You Wanna Be Happy" and Tommy Facenda's "High School USA," all humungous hits that sounded as if they were recorded from inside a sealed oil drum dropped down a well.

Who could forget the hoopla and hand claps that canceled out any other sound signal above 27 dbs, ride cymbals that whooshed like an air hose at the corner Chevron, flubbed bass lines that sounded like someone moving heavy furniture up stairs, guitars that clacked like a baseball card in bicycle spoke -- all sins willfully committed by record producer Frank Guida in the pursuit of the ideal party atmosphere. Instrument separation, shmepparation -- no doubt Guida vetoed any idea that even separated his core of musicians from the beer trough. In rock 'n' roll, that's known as a hero.

Now, thanks to Varése Sarabande (the company that's given us countless easy listening reissues), what was once believed to be unintelligible is now within range of human comprehension. Forty years of gunk 'n' junk have been painstakingly and lovingly removed from these rapidly deteriorating master tapes like a parent scrubbing behind his child's ears. Marvel at the sonic engineering that now allows you to be a fly on the wall of some of the greatest rock 'n' roll parties ever held in the confines of a recording studio.

Clear, improved sound proves we were too quick to brand Jimmy Soul a misogynist's misogynist! Sure, he sang "get an ugly girl to marry you," thus ensuring he'd remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. And yeah, Jimmy preceded that chauvinausea with "Go Away Christina," where he and his no-good hoodlum friends damn a would-be Soul mate with faint praise like "your face like an ape and you ain't got no shape." But ladies, please, put down your torches and listen to the coda of the remastered "If You Wanna Be Happy."

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