The son of top Nashville session bassist Bob Moore, R. Stevie Moore began doing his own one-man home recordings as a teenager. Over the course of three decades spent perfecting his technical, musical, lyrical and conceptual skills, Moore’s omnivorous, individualistic pop blender has dug into his awesome — and seemingly bottomless — well of talent and produced, since 1981, several hundred (!!!) tapes of his original work, self-released and sold exclusively via mail-order from the author’s home studio in New Jersey. Since the early ’80s, his scattered stream of vinyl and CD releases (all but two are imports) have nearly all been assembled, with little overlap, from his cassette- club tapes. Suffice to say, aficionados of fertile pop imagination, resourceful home studio technique and more stylistic diversity than most record stores can offer are highly recommended to get with Stevie. Start anywhere, and be assured that if you like what you hear on any of the discs, there are countless hours more of equal quality where that came from. (To not overstate the case, it should be acknowledged that the albums favor the cream of the cassette crop, omitting the more esoteric ramblings, personal indulgences, sonic experiments and radio-show elements that find their way into Moore’s handmade missives.) “Unsung hero” only touches on the injustice of obscurity for this wry, heartfelt artist whose limber genius, vitality and productivity make him a far more profound cultural asset than any number of next-big-things with maybe two good albums in ’em. Why no major label has ever signed him is one of the modern era’s mysteries.
Moore’s unveiling to the music world came via Phonography, a rudimentary but obviously brilliant overture. Issued twice with different artwork, it consists of early efforts, dating from 1974 to 1976. Some of it is fairly rudimentary, but the Bonzo Dog Band-like “Goodbye Piano” displays Moore’s incipient brilliance, and a massed-guitars rendition of the Andy Griffith Show theme is classic.
Stance is a three-song 12-inch, running time around fifteen minutes. Recorded in ’76 and ’77, top-to-bottom improvement is obvious, from the moody, mostly instrumental “Ist or Mas” — an interpretation of awakening (theme for a ballet perhaps?) — to “Manufacturers,” a rollicking jazzy rocker.
Delicate Tension is excellent: great songs of astonishing variety, all tied together by his idiosyncratic, gentle perceptions of life and smooth, versatile voice. There are hints of Zappa, Rundgren, Townshend, McCartney and countless others; Moore’s limitations, if indeed he has any, have yet to be encountered.
Moore’s tape club’s issue is staggering in sheer volume, variety and consistency of quality. (His catalogue includes well over 150 titles!) More like eclectic radio shows than straight collections of music, he includes anything and everything on the tapes, and they collectively provide an in-depth self-portrait of a truly prodigious talent.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know is a disjointed two-record compilation sampling a decade’s worth of back catalogue with originals, covers (of Slade and the Big Bopper), strange experiments and sublime successes. The historical liner notes are purportedly by Robert Christgau. The more concise and better conceived What’s the Point?!! is an ideal introduction, containing such gems as “Part of the Problem,” “Puttin’ Up the Groceries,” “Bloody Knuckles” and “World’s Fair,” the last three of which are also on Everything.
Released by a small UK label, the erratic but gem-strewn Verve compilation (early-’80s tracks — including an in-concert live recording from ’83 — chosen by the artist) quickly became a rarity. Glad Music, a proper studio album recorded in 1985, reprises “Part of the Problem” and adds a dozen more examples of Moore at the top of his creative powers. There’s real C&W played with mock-seriousness (“I Love You So Much It Hurts”), an unnervingly precise synth- flavored version of the Association’s “Along Comes Mary” and witty, hand-clapping rock’n’roll (“Shakin’ in the Sixties”). Yet another anthology, (1952-19??) assembles 21 tracks recorded between 1973 and 1986, including such Moore classics as “Delicate Tension,” “Goodbye Piano” and “Satisfaction.” Some of the items are tossed-off fragments, others excellent achievements with full-fledged arrangements. The punky “Jesus Rocks” and the reflectively acoustic “Back in Time” are among the previously unvinylized treasures.
Teenage Spectacular includes covers of Dr. Hook (“The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’,” half of it performed a cappella) and Dr. Dylan (the anti-boxing classic “Who Killed Davey Moore?” given an ironically upbeat folk reading) amidst the original pop musings, witty balladeering and brief mind-altering tape experiments (“Non Sequitur I — V”). The simple musical constructions on guitars, keyboards and drums reveal traces of Moore’s many influences — from the Beatles to Todd Rundgren to the Bonzos to XTC and back again — and huge chunks of his monumental creative grasp. “On the Spot” is satiric big band bar-room sleaze in the key of G sharp; “Blues for Cathy Taylor” is a delightful love song of a different sort; “Baby on Board” castigates childless drivers with those yellow stickers on their car windows.
A collection of ’86-’87 home and studio productions, Warning includes remakes of several RSM oldies (e.g., “Manufacturers”) as well as a rendition of the Beatles’ “Getting Better.” Has-Beens and Never- Weres, which samples a decade of Moore music going back to the mid-’70s, includes a tribute to the Residents and a song entitled, with typical industry-taunting wit, “Bonus Track (LP Only).” Despite the dumb humor of the title, Greatesttits is a monumental 24-track retrospective of Moore’s most appealing pop originals (“Why Can’t I Write a Hit?,” “Debbie,” “U R True”) and covers (“Chantilly Lace,” “Along Comes Mary,” “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone'”) — a perfect introduction to his wonderful world. The American record industry’s failure to recognize and promote the unique gifts of this giant talent is a case of criminal neglect.
Moore’s prodigious output slowed for a time; cassette titles like Unpopular Singer (which contains “Why Do You Hate Me So Much?” and “Fuckin’ Idiots Everywhere”) and the despairing liner note in the Contact Risk compilation (“If you don’t like this, I quit”) allude to why. Cult stardom can evidently be a lonely and frustrating state. Although it was assembled in 1993, there’s nothing more current than two band tracks from the fall of ’90 on Contact Risk; amazingly, except for a hissy, weird dose of 1968 pathos, the 1975-87 material sounds relatively contemporary and would be impossible to audibly segregate by decade without the artist’s detailed production information. A typically spectacular hodgepodge, the set caroms around perfect popcraft (“Under the Light,” “Play Myself Some Music”), bizarre poetry (three installments of “I Could Be Your Lover”), goofy country (“Elation Damnation”), sultry loveman funk (“Times Have Changed”), radio fund-raising (“Pledge Your Money”), kinetic falsetto gimcrackery (“You Can’t Write a Song”) and echoey acoustic folk (“Hours of Delight”). For all the inconsistency in audio quality, Moore’s melodic powers never falter, and the hour floats and swoops by with the delightful, unpredictable grace of a kite.