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Listener Magazine

Mark Johnson: 12 in a Room.
Produced and recorded by Mark Johnson
NotLame Recordings 10003
Website: www.marcjonson.com
It's too bad, and it's so sad that most of you never had the chance to hear Mark Johnson's music till now. The first time I heard Mark at Kenny's Castaway's on Bleecker Street in the late '70's, I thought "Why haven't I heard about this guy?" He was too good to be true. There were maybe 10 or 15 people in the audience, but Mark sang and played as if his life hung in the balance. He doesn't know how to hold back. I've seen him maybe 30-40 times since then, and he's always like that. Mark Johnson lives through his music, Just as you and I breathe in and out.


All it took was that first night, Mark's music was permanently burned into my synapses. His songs have an urgency to them, sharp desperate longings for connection, warmth, innocence, and you guessed it, love; they form a pithy catalog of impossible-to-resist pop. It's not just me; the Roches, Dave Edmunds, the Smithereens, Robert Gordon, and Paul Butterfield have all found something unique in Mark's tunes.


Mark's own recorded output has never gotten the distribution it deserves. He made his first record for Vanguard, "Years," in '72; I guess they were too busy selling Joan Baez or Country Joe and the Fish records to spend any time pushing "Years." Twenty years later Mark put out a CD on his own, "12 in a Room," and that one managed to make some ripples here and there, and garnered the lead review in the March '92 issue of Musician magazine. Kristine McKenna summed up Mark's gift this way: "How does one create three minutes of music, involving simple language and the same musical notes everyone else uses, that somehow tweaks the soul and seems mysteriously in synch with the most private dreams to create music: "A melody comes into my head 'da-da-dah-da, show me some mer-cy' and I start thinking is that some Motown song I heard in the sixties? And I go uh-oh, no it isn't, it's mine. When they come out pretty fast like that, they're usually pretty good." He's a student of the history of pop music, but the songs are very much his own.


"12" has been out of print for years, and believe me, it wasn't that easy to find the first time around. Now it's back, remastered, augmented with four unreleased tracks, and sounding mo' better than the '92 original. For the most part, "12" was recorded by Mark alone in his 11' by 14' living room on a couple of 4-track Teacs; yet he doesn't sound the least bit reined in by the relatively simple technology. Mark and Richard Lloyd mixed it, using vintage EQs, compressors and limiters to give "12" a late sixties saturated tape analog sound. It's Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" shrunk down to a densely packed tiny Greenwich Village apartment; MJ's "Closet of Sound." Layers of guitars, keyboards, bass, drum machines, and Mark's voice, doubled, tripled, multiplied, processed, manipulated -- stretched to the limits and back again. There is something about his voice -- the man possesses the sort of idealized rock/pop instrument that can do no wrong. He's singing pop, but his intensity is closer to R&B. You can hear him working stuff out through his songs. It's all for real.

When I queried Mark about the traces of Lennon and McCartney I hear in his writing, he thought for a second and said "No, I was influenced by the same music Lennon and McCartney were influenced by: Doo-wop, Elvis, Everly Bros, early Del Shannon, and of course Doc Pomus. Doc Pomus? - just listen to "Hey Jude" and "Save the Last Dance for Me" and see for yourself.

The songs go all the way back to stuff he wrote in high school right up to the late eighties. I'm not going to analyze all sixteen, but here's a quick round of impressions. "Desperate" immediately grabs your ears with Its jangly opening chords, propelled by a punchy Springsteen beat; it's Mark's most anthem-like tune. "King of Love" (covered by Dave Edmunds) Is a rockabilly rave-up that looks at love and sex in our times. No, it's not about Mr. Clinton's escapades, but when Mark belts out, "I think I hear the King falling down, down, down" I'm left wondering. Mark's pure pop-craft for now people grooves out on a bunch of tracks; check out "When I Fall," where he bounced his vocals seven times to fill out all of the doubled three-part harmonies and background parts, and "I Like the World" (when it ain't falling down on me), for its irresistible Nick Lowe-style hooks. Mark is some kind of "music mechanic" whose finely tuned ears keep even the biggest, fattest arrangements for! songs like "Lovely Liz" from misfiring. Sure, it's a Beatle-esque romp, but Jeff Lynne could easily pick up a few pointers from Mark. "Little Cricket" is a sparse little ballad, and I just love the lyrics: "She's a crazy little cricket/Look out for her/In the brushes and the thickets I always hear her stir/When all the stars are bangin' up against the dark/It's the sound from her laughing and the hope in her heart/I'm going to ask her to be mine."

I suppose you've gotten the impression by now that I love this CD, and I do. It flat out amazes me how Mark just keeps keeping on with his music. It's not some sort of fashion statement, or a plot to make him rich and famous ( not that he would turn that down). "12 in a Room" has everything to do with producing something that moves people. Once those motivations have mutated you wind up waiting to be used in a movie soundtrack or sell some other product in a commercial. Why the world has ignored great music like "12 in a Room" is beyond my comprehension. If you feel as I do, "12 in a Room" could be the sort of record you'll always want to hear. It's simply music for people who love music.
                 
​                                      Steve Guttenberg

Last Night on the Roller Coaster

Perfect pop by a criminally under-appreciated artist. MJ crafts these melodic, heart-felt, toe-tapping, perfect pop songs that deserve to be heard by a wider audience. Gorgeous "ear candy".                                          link to review

Marc Jonson’s Quiet Triumph 


If one takes the proliferation of perfectly recorded music with liner notes as evidence
of anything significant, the making and marketing of popular music would appear to be
reaching ever greater heights of professionalism. In fact, the only things changing are the price tag and the technology. The essential creative issues of pop music remain the same as they were, and it’s challenge stands untouched by time: How does one create three minutes of music, that somehow tweaks the soul and seems mysteriously in sync with the most private dreams and longings?


On 12 in a room, Marc Jonson offers an able demonstration of how it’s done. An East Coast songwriter who’s been kicking around New York for more than a few years, Jonson’s written songs for the Roches and Dave Edmunds, but apparently that didn’t convince anybody to give him a record deal - he made this album at home and released it himself. However, it’s hard to imagine how a fat budget might’ve improved his music - it stands flawlessly performed as is. That’s hard to explain too because Johnson isn’t a particularly distinctive vocalist and his influences are fairly predictable (he travels a road paved by Buddy Holly, Phil Spector, the Bach Boys, The Beatles and Todd Rundgren) And yet using the most modest of means - a true heart and an ear for rhyme - he manages to build the perfect love shack.


Jonson’s central theme is of course, the finding and keeping of love. And he chronicles this quest with a song cycle that goes through wild mood swings. Beginning with an upbeat pledge of devotion called “Earn That Love,” the record traverses romantic ecstasy (the transcendently beautiful “Love Radiates Around”), lust (Thru the Void), sadness (When A Heart Breaks Down”) and utter despair ( “Desperate,” “Cold Weather”). Jonson wraps up the record with “Little Cricket” an ineffably sweet number that presents love as a force lurking in the brushes and the thickets. Waiting to pounce on those alert to its warning sounds and sighs. Like “Love Radiates Around” - a model pop song - “Little Cricket” expresses a yearning so universal and pure that it feels like a hymn.


Throughout the album, the persona that coalesces around the narrator is that of a sensitive shy guy, earnest, idealist, eccentric and oddly determined.  Pop music has served as a haven for these oddball types for decades, but it’s been a while since one of them became a full-fledged star - it would be surprising if Johnson were to buck that trend, too. Solidly built though his music is, it is nonetheless subtle-fragile even when measured against the big, beefy beat currently dominating the charts. Jonson’s probably aware of that(bigger stars than he couldn’t score hits with his fine material), and that gives his music, which was clearly created with little consideration for the marketplace, an added poignancy. This is a record you’ll have to work a bit to find, but it’s worth the effort. Marc Jonson’s songs linger in the mind like a haunting dream of an old flame. 

                           

                               Kristine McKenna    MUSICIAN MAGAZINE



Last Night on the Roller Coaster

POPHILJuly 25, 2014
Posted by marcjonson Category: Reviews

YEARS by MARC JONSON   I own the CD reissue signed by Mark Johnson, aka Marc Jonson, of this enchanting record originally released on Vanguard Records in 1972 and now available on Radioghost as a special product.
This is a truly magic listening experience that reflects the very peculiar recording process if we are to believe Marc/Mark Jonson/Johnson himself: “I used left over harpsichords from classical sessions the night before. I hired string players and a string arranger. I even met a street player named Steven Gardner who played the recorder and set him to task on a long instrumental part of one of the songs. It was very ahead of its time in many ways” Amazing, isn’t it?
By the way, Mark Johnson later recorded three power pop CDs that are must-haves, even for earlier fans of the folk-psych-pop music found on ‘Years’.YEARS by MARC JONSON   I own the CD reissue signed by Mark Johnson, aka Marc Jonson, of this enchanting record originally released on Vanguard Records in 1972 and now available on Radioghost as a special product.
This is a truly magic listening experience that reflects the very peculiar recording process if we are to believe Marc/Mark Jonson/Johnson himself: “I used left over harpsichords from classical sessions the night before. I hired string players and a string arranger. I even met a street player named Steven Gardner who played the recorder and set him to task on a long instrumental part of one of the songs. It was very ahead of its time in many ways” Amazing, isn’t it?
By the way, Mark Johnson later recorded three power pop CDs that are must-haves, even for earlier fans of the folk-psych-pop music found on ‘Years’.

PsychedelicGuyJuly 25, 2014
Posted by marcjonson Category: Reviews

Marc Jonson / Years   Criminally under appreciated major label folk psych masterpiece! I only was turned onto this a couple of months ago, but it has been on repeat pretty much since then. Long Song is my personal favorite with it’s trippy arrangement and instrumentation. I hear Bob Trimble vibes on Rainy Dues, John Pantry Vibes on Autopsy, and the weirdness of David Stoughton on Munich…All while being completely original and strange. 


GAZHOO117July 25, 2014
Posted by marcjonson Category: Reviews

Marc Jonson YEARS  Criminally ignored by the retrospective 4 cd box ” Make it your sound, make it your scene, Vanguard Records and the 1960s musical revolution”. Tell us why, because “Years” is a forgotten gem of baroque pop, by a guy possessing a rightly thrilling voice and outstanding composer skills… The non LP single is stellar too. Another guy to add on the too long list whose lack of success is the big mystery.


By Carlos CastroJuly 25, 2014
Posted by marcjonson Category: Reviews

YEARS by MARC JONSON …. This record is fascinating in so many ways that it would take too much space for my lowbrow writing abilities.Anyway,what really baffles me is how snobs and connoisseurs spend their life salibating at incredibly rare,hopelessly dull,”coñazo”records while major label artists like David Stoughton,Bob Brown or Jonson himself are still undervalued by everyone(just google his name to check). How odd! It’s good to know there are still records out there that thrill me the way they used to in my youth. How great!


POL489July 25, 2014
Posted by marcjonson Category: Reviews

YEARS by MARC JONSON        It took me a long time to tame the harsh disk, morbid, dark and almost untamed. It was right there in case one of the greatest album of baroque revival of contemporary music already initiated by the miraculous “Goodbye and hello” Tim Buckley (1967) ” Pleasures of The Harbor” Phil Ochs (1968), the eponymous album Bill Fay (1970) and others who follow in the same vein.

The pieces started on this work by their brilliant creator, Marc Jonson are all meteors that echo in our ears until scan the interior of the universe lurks in us, that blanks unexpected sensations. These are more than pieces, melodic sketches are linked together and wobble our reason, but rather fragments of dreams come directly tormented visions of their author. The album revolves around three monumental pieces by the complexity of their orchestration, and their harmonic power, it is “Rainy Dues” and crescendo full of fury, “Mary” second piece that routed by its introduction minimalist, naked, wild (again) which is superimposed an arrangement that is breathtaking. Finally, “A Long Song” closes the debate with regard to recognize the genius of Marc Jonson throughout this work. The art of Marc Jonson is all a gift, to make a timeless and repetitive folk minimalist record and drowned in it, a lightning orchestration of beauty again.

A powerfully driven, dreamlike and timeless record, too good to be appreciated in the time it was released, then suddenly lost, without the success it deserved. This is probably one of the reasons for his terrifying failure. A disc that has been said by a former member of REM was a “cathedral.” If I can confirm that the symbol used by the enlightened person, I can also extend these few words.
reviews can be found here     
http://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/marc_jonson/years/



WHY I JOINED A CULT LISTENING TO MARK JOHNSON

by Vincent Collazo

IN 1978 LYNN SAMUELS had a free-form radio show on WBAI called “Part of the Act”—between discursive monologues and lively discourse with her audience she played music, and the most-featured artist was an extraordinary talent named Mark Johnson.
It doesn’t take much to fall in love with his music—ethereal and familiar, Mark Johnson sings from and of the human heart: his lyrics describe love’s extensive permutations, with music to match these rich emotions. The music I heard on Lynn Samuels’ show was not available in record stores—at the time Mark Johnson had one album, Years, released in 1972 on Vanguard, that was out of print. I kinda freaked out, but recorded on cassette from the radio, eventually compiling about thirty minutes of his music.


When I went to see him in concert I found a wild man, a performer who sang each song as if his life depended on it. The experience of hearing Mark Johnson at Folk City, standing less than ten feet from me, in black pants, white shirt, tight cowboy boots, crying/screaming/spitting out the words to his song “Noreen,” gives me chills a quarter century later.
After the show I asked him if he had any plans to make another record and he mumbled something about working on some tapes, but he didn’t sound particularly serious, and I was furious with him for depriving the world (and me, mostly me) of his music. He clearly had lots of songs, and while I used a little Panasonic walkman to tape his live shows on the sly, the clinking of drinks and bar chatter ruined the listening experience.


Lynn Samuels left WBAI, Folk City closed, and ultimately Mark Johnson stopped performing at The Other End, Kenny’s Castaways, and the Speakeasy. I lost track of him and was left with my half hour cassette, which began to deteriorate from overuse. I dubbed copies to play and kept the original as my “master tape.” Grateful to have these few gems, I despaired of ever getting more.
Mark Johnson resurfaced in 1992 with a CD, 12 in a Room, on his own label, Tabula Rasa Records. This is Mark at his best—in the “studio” (a small apartment above the Cornelia Street Café) with himself at virtually all the instruments and vocals—mixing and matching, using the musical genius RCA Records recognized when they offered him a contract as an artist and producer at age 20, when he walked in off the street with a homemade demo. (Years, the album from this time period, is a classic which holds up amazingly well some thirty-five years later—it is mind-boggling that this sophisticated music came from someone barely out of his teens).


12 in a Room is brilliant, containing songs I already loved and others I soon would. “Cold Weather” is the down-and-out-in-the-Village masterpiece after which Mark’s music publishing company is named; “Desperate” is a musical exegesis of the heart-wrenching experience of trying to regain a relationship lost to petty misunderstanding. The album also includes “Larry Stein,” a reworking from the RCA demo. Yes, Dave Edmunds recorded “King of Love,” and the Roches covered “Love Radiates Around,” but no one sings these songs like Mark. Naturally, one must hear this music to appreciate it, but I’d describe it as the work of a folk-rock singer-songwriter pop music troubadour, with melodies as gorgeous as his words.


After the spurt of activity that came with 12 in a Room, I once again lost touch with Mark and his music. Another decade passed before I came upon him in cyberspace through his website http://www.mark-johnson.com, where I discovered he had a new album, Last Night on the Roller Coaster. Is it better than 12 in a Room? Maybe, but mostly I’d say it’s different. 12 in a Room is a bunch of hits nicely strung together whereas Last Night feels more like a themed album, one song flowing into the next with musical logic. On this CD one can hear the many musical styles Johnson effortlessly embraces: to my ears “Suddenly Sunshine” evokes George Harrison, portions of “So Wonderful” are reminiscent of 50’s doo-wop, in “Coney Island Night” I hear shades of Billy Joel at his best, but all of the songs, whatever tradition/influence/homage they may suggest, have the distinct stamp of Mark Johnson. Throughout this musical journey Johnson’s voice changes with each song—he’s as comfortable with a sweet ballad as with a hard-rocking tune, and everything in between.
Johnson has since released Mark Johnson and the Wild Alligators, which documents the collaboration with his rock band in the early eighties, when I was hearing him live on a semi-regular basis. The immediacy of the performances on this CD gives it the feel of a live recording, with the sound quality of a studio album. I was surprised to find that a few of the songs such as “Precious Love,” “Bad Love” and “Six Nine One,” were actually by Mark Johnson—I was sure they were covers of top-forty radio hits until I checked the credits. These songs weren’t on my “bootlegged” cassette, but were so engrained in my memory that I could easily sing along with them some twenty years later.


Johnson is currently working on a new CD, which must be a daunting task since he’s set the bar so high with his previous releases—there are no “throwaways” in any of his four major albums; even songs which might sound “lite” at first, gain depth upon repeated listens.
Recently Johnson has supplemented his oeuvre with songs for companion CD’s for the Disney movies Finding Nemo and Cars. His songs continue to be recorded by other artists—if he’s the best-kept secret in pop, he’s well known within the industry. Mark Johnson’s success, while substantial, has never matched his talent; he awaits “discovery” by a larger audience—meanwhile he has attained cult status, and I, for one, happily, giddily, ineluctably joined the cult.


12 In A Room


If you like hummable pop melodies, Mark Johnson is the one-man show Big Star wishes they'd been as a group. This endlessly listenable collection includes rockabilly Dave Edmunds covered ("King of Love") and

a stunning ballad the Roches covered ("Love Radiates Around"), as well as major-league productions that bring to mind the big pop recordings of the 70s and 80s (think: Air Supply with more complex lyrics and arrangements). And the songwriter played most of the instruments and created all of the recordings. So if you like pop recordings that sound like Brian Wilson meets Phil Spector (because Mr. Johnson is exactly that), you have to own this one.                                                                                                                    link to review

                                                                                                           

12 In A Room  (ONE OF MY FAVORITE ALBUMS​)

This album is AWESOME! that's all I can say.  I feel so lucky to have found your music, Mark.

                                                                                                                             link to review

12 In A Room


From a small room comes this wonderful record. I have no words for the beauty and quality of these "underground"-songs. Great songs, great voice and unforgetable melodies. Can be described as the middle between Brian Wilson and ELO                                                                                       link to review

Articles & Reviews

The Voice Of The People

This CD and 12 In a Room are two of the finest pop albums ever made almost totally self-recorded by the genius and apparently eccentric Mark Johnson. Great writer, vocalist and guitar player! I discovered this just by chance when I read a review in I think an old Goldmine magazine. He also recorded an impossible to find record album in 1970 when he was still in high school. The last I heard he was living in Austin, Texas. If anyone finds out where he is and what he is doing let me know,,,jgself@yahoo.com. If you are ever lucky enough to find one of these CDs spend whatever it takes to get it.