Why is Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks on my best 1,000 albums ever list?
Irony and kitsch beget musical admiration beget deep nostalgia.
What does Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks (Part One) mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?
This album means quite a lot to me, as I played it a ton shortly after moving to Berkeley, California in the late ‘90s after having spent most of my life up until that point on the east coast. Looking back, I think I got into Ultra-Lounge at first for the irony of it, the clear kitsch and comedy of these fantastically square orchestration-heavy cover song takes on 1960s rock and psychedelic classics originally performed by the likes of The Beatles, The Doors, Tommy Roe, and Strawberry Alarm Clock.
But very quickly, I simply and deeply enjoyed the songs for what they were apart from the originals and surprisingly “forgot” about the kitsch aspect. And as a whole, Ultra-Lounge became a standard go to while hanging out with friends, cooking dinner, or any other manner of household tasks that called for having some chill background music that at the same time was peppy and catchy enough to hold one’s musical interest.
And it occurs to me that this album, in addition to some others of the like (and, as a side note, there’s a large Ultra-Lounge series of albums with different thematic takes, though this one is the best of the bunch), held that kind of place in my life that later got replaced by electronic music and lo-fi hip hop.
The first track is a cover of The Doors’ arguably most famous song, “Light My Fire,” by Helmut Zacharias. It’s mostly an orchestral instrumental, featuring fine string stylings, but that hardly does it justice. From the groovy female vocals – which are the only vocals – chiming in with light my fire here and there to the bouncing bass beat and finely crafted and musically quite serious strings, this song hums along like its always been its own weirdly perfect little gem. And if you’re hardcore Doors fans, there’s also a fun and super groovy and kind of tripped out “Hello, I Love You/Touch Me” medley.
Other songs, like the cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” by Mel Torme, plays more as a tongue in cheek cover but, again, in time it settles into a groove that stands perfectly well on its own.
And I’m super impressed that Stu Phillips was able to take The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting For You” and turn it into something completely different.
I mean, the audacity to mess with The Kinks’ catalog at all is impressive, but then you get this weirdo string-based super slowed down orchestral version with like saxophones and stuff, and it’s slightly jaw dropping when you really stop to think about it.
Pop culture stuff that’s somehow related to Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks (Part One)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t In A Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, an album of metal covers produced in 1997 by Pat Boone, a guy otherwise known for gospel music and conservative political commentary. Here’s a representative example: Guns ‘n Roses’ “Paradise City.”
I’ll leave it up to you whether this falls on the comedy and/or musical appreciation scale, but I’ll reveal that I kind of dig it overall.
Personal stuff that’s somehow related to Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks (Part One)
As I mention above, Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks brings me back to my first days in California, and Berkeley specifically, located in Bay Area’s East Bay. My first place where was the rather spacious downstairs of a house, which I shared with my friend Adam – an old friend who I’d had many shared travels with adventures with – and his friend Felice, who had also recently moved out to California from New York.
While we were looking for a place to live, we had bad luck for a while. Rental housing was tight, demand at that time driven by students attending UC Berkeley (or “Cal”). So Adam and I were surprised when we landed a three-bedroom place on a quiet, pretty street near campus for the total price of $1,000 a month. (As strange as it sounds, the $333 we paid apiece turned out to be nearly double the price I had previously paid to live in Queens in New York City, but that’s another story.)
Our future landlord, who lived upstairs from the rental apartment and was a construction contractor, must have liked the fact that Adam and I had a shaggy appearance and noted that he was willing to let us rent the place because we looked like the types “who didn’t mind a little noise.” Desperate for a decent place to live, we readily agreed.
During the time that we lived there, the party upstairs started around 3 or 4 p.m. roughly five or six nights a week. The participants were big, construction-y dudes, and they partied hard. So hard in fact that it was not uncommon for us to se drywall dust poof out of the walls and ceiling from their stomping around. The music, predictably I suppose in terms of Berkeley’s cultural legacy, was jam band-y or psychedelic rock and it was LOUD.
The saving grace was that the party would always shut down at a surprisingly reasonable hour, and by 7 or 8 p.m. it was all quiet on Kains Ave.
Looking back, I suppose it was a healing balm to throw Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks on my little portable CD player after all of that went down. Adam and I would hang out, and sometimes Felice and her then girlfriend Jill as well, and we’d talk sometimes deep into the night. More than once I’d talk so long that I’d notice Adam had fallen asleep in the middle of the conversation.
So that’s another story from Berkeley, California for you.
Some stats & info about Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks (Part One)
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Lounge Music, Psychedelic Rock, Rock Music, Compilations, Pop Music
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
- All Music’s rating – 3 of out 5 stars
- When was Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks (Part One) released? 1997
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #955 out of 1,000
Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks (Part One) on Spotify
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.