Archive for the '1970s' Category

08
Jun
18

Sly & The Family Stone “Greatest Hits”

I don’t think I ever owned a copy of earlier Sly and the Family Stone records, but I had this 1970 greatest hits record, it feels like, all my life, and everyone had it, and you know all the songs—they were on the radio, they were on TV, and they’re still being played here and there enough that you might hear one on any day somewhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if you put the vinyl record on your stereo and listen to it closely, like I’m doing, it actually sounds fresh, since the reality of the music is different from my memory—it’s actually rawer, more innovative, and generally more interesting than the version in my memory. Particularly the songs: “Everybody Is A Star,” “Life,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” “Stand!”—really, all of them. No matter how well you know them in your sleep, it’s amazing how much better they sound “in person” (just you and your hi-fi).

I remember this time in junior high or high school when Sly and the Family Stone were on some variety TV show the night before, and everyone was talking about it at school the next day. Imagine that! There was some kind of confusion when the band took the stage, because then, Sly, or all of them, left the stage, I think, before coming back and playing. I don’t know what was going on, and it might be possible to find a video of that now, and even people discussing it, but I remember that as a very unique, very real moment, that really separated itself from the usual, over-rehearsed bullshit. He seemed like he had a great sense of humor, was having lot of fun, and had great style. This record has a just terrible cover, you’ve seen it, but over time it’s become kind of a classic, I guess. But the back is better, just a huge picture of Sly with a red knit hat and the best teeth I’ve ever seen. And the album cover folds open (and there are some liner notes, which I don’t remember being there—pretty good, too) and there is a giant vertical picture of the band, kind of out of focus, grainy, weird perspective, and Sly with those great boots—really, one of the best band pictures ever.

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28
Apr
18

Manu Dibango “Soul Makossa”

This is a curious record because I don’t know what to make of it, but my first impression is that every song is good, while sounding nothing like the one before it, or anything I’ve had on my turntable in the last 15 days. The cover has a kind of bizarre photo (as if the camera is pointed up from the belt-buckle level) of a black guy with a striped shirt and sunglasses playing a horn (some kind of straight saxophone?) who I can only assume is Manu Dibango—who the record label tells me wrote and arranged all the songs—as well as penned the liner notes. The label is Atlantic and the year is 1972 (a year I’m quite fond of, and just got fonder). On the cover there is also a little gold box containing bold letters: “THE ORIGINAL”—implying what? That there are pale imitations out there that one must be aware of, deal with, and fend off?

The liner notes provide clues about this music we’re listening to, but I’m not going to sit here and retype the liner notes, but it’s briefly about how the music has African roots but is influenced by all kinds of other music, and ends by saying, “I am told that in the United States our music is now called “Black Ivory Soul.” So there you go. He also credits eight musicians and lists what they play and where they’re from, which includes: Guadeloupe, the River Congo, Cameroun, and France. There’s a picture on the back of five guys playing music in a place that looks like the end of a closed off tunnel.

The first song, “New Bell,” is an irresistible, driving dance number, or in my case, a song that compelled me to find something to make rhythmic percussion sounds with, which, as long as no one else is listening, I can get away with. There are some far off vocals, not in English, so it left me wondering what the title referred to. “Nights in Zeralda” perfectly evokes nights in Zeralda—which might refer to a neighborhood in Algiers, or perhaps a very special lady. “Hibiscus” really slows it down, and it’s even kind of melancholy, or dire, or at least very serious. It means you’re going to get a drink and turn the record over, for “Dangwa,” which could refer to the flower market in Manila, or someone or something I don’t know about, and I’m not going to know until someone tells me. This is a strange song, since it starts out with an intro, kind of evocative of something, and then it takes you somewhere entirely else. “Lily,” then, is a three minute story song—at least it sounds like a story—it could be about a lady—or it could be a very condensed epic movie.

“Soul Makossa” starts out sounding like a familiar James Brown song, then doesn’t, and it’s just a really happy, four and a half minute repetitive, funk, dance number, with more of this very crystal clear sax (it’s on every song). I really like the sound of this horn—it’s hard to explain what’s so good about it—it’s fairly obvious sounding, yet there’s a little subtle something, maybe some kind of blatant feeling that seems less blatant in the context. Maybe the internet will tell me more about “Soul Makossa”—and it turns out there’s quite a story—which you either already know, or can read about for yourself—but since I find this kind of thing irresistible—okay, so someone started DJ-ing this 45 in New York in 1972, and then a guy heard it and played it on the radio, but since it was impossible to find, like 23 bands did covers of it. Eventually Atlantic records saw dollar signs and released it. The other interesting thing is how many bands used the repetitive vocal line (wordplay on “Makossa”)—you can start scrolling down that list, but make sure you don’t have anywhere to be.

Finally, “Oboso” closes out the record, and it’s again a pretty jaunty tempo, funky, repetitive funk number, this time with far off horn and some up front psychedelic electric guitar. I think Oboso might be a name, and interestingly, it occurs to me that it’s also the word “Toboso” without the “T.” Toboso is a town in Ohio, and a name that I eventually used for my publishing company—it’s a long story, how it came to that—and ultimately an incomplete one, because I never did look into the origin of that as a place name. I mean, there’s Dulcinea del Toboso, a character in Don Quixote, and I suppose people may have been more literary minded back when they were naming towns and all, because there was no TV, and yet people had to have something to do in the evening, when they came home from chopping down trees and killing the native people—but now I’m on a tangent that’s not doing anyone any good.

31
Jan
18

Captain & Tennille “Love Will Keep Us Together”

I was kind of excited to put this one on, as I’ve never been able to bring myself to pick it up at a thrift store because of the bludgeoning familiarity of that title song, and the hideous cover—which is actually a pretty great album cover with beautiful dogs, one of whose head is bigger than Toni Tennille’s. And her teeth (TT’s, not the dog) are amazing and not airbrushed looking. The Captain is wearing some horrible sunglasses and an expression that looks like he’s barely able to hold back from punching the photographer. Tennille is actually wearing bib overalls, and a shirt that looks like it was sewn from someone’s kitchen curtains.

I did not realize that Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote the title song, which had to be one of the biggest songs of the year (1975), and it’s a good enough song, I guess, that I get some genuine nostalgia from it. It’s interesting, it seems like their official name is “Captain & Tennille”—though he’s known as “The Captain”—and also, his real name is Daryl Dragon. If your name was Daryl Dragon—if you were that lucky—wouldn’t you go by Daryl Dragon, and not some cheesy stage name like “The Captain?” (Though the captain’s hat is a nice touch, for anyone.)

Tennille and Dragon wrote a few of the songs, together, and separately, and there are also some Beach Boys present (a nice cover of “God Only Knows”), and Bruce Johnston’s “I Write The Songs”—which was a monster hit for Barry Manilow—and so bland that I never really thought about it—but hearing Tennille sing it kind of highlights the lyrics, since it’s obviously written from the point of view of a man, who claims to now be “very old,” and maybe even God—I mean, it’s supposed to be metaphorical, right? He wasn’t really writing a song, as God, I don’t think? It does say, “I am music, and I write the songs”—but if “music” wrote the first song, who wrote music? (If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so heavy that even He Himself cannot lift it?)

Most of the record is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable, and I’ll probably not be compelled to pick up a copy. If you never have to hear the song “Broddy Bounce,” consider yourself lucky—I thought the room had been invaded by animated trolls. And “Disney Girls” isn’t much better. For me, the real standout on the record is “The Way I Want To Touch You,”—written by Toni Tennille—I mean, it’s kind of sexy, even, if kind of dumb, but has that really killer chorus, “you are sunshine, you are shadow” etc. That takes me right back to somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but I was maybe drinking grape Kool-Aid, or eating Lucky Charms (saving the marshmallows for last), newly in love, and there was an AM radio playing.

23
Jan
18

Pink Floyd “The Wall”

I am on vacation in the “North Woods” once again, but this time staying at a place with the internet, so I can’t use ignorance as an excuse like last year, but I’m also only here for a few days—at this rustic cabin with a stereo system and some vinyl records—enough records, in fact, to overwhelm me a little; I just spent an hour trying to devise a random system for picking out a record, but seeing how my time is limited, I decided instead to just browse through until I see one I’m curious to hear, then write about that—but limiting my writing time to the time it takes to play. The first thing that caught my eye was Pink Floyd’s 1979 LP The Wall, which I’m sure many of my contemporaries know backwards, but I’ve never actually dropped a needle on, as it came out after the Pink Floyd had fallen out of my favor—for whatever reason. I loved this band a decade earlier—if I’d been asked to guess, I’d have guessed this record was from the Eighties, but not quite. The cover, which is a simple depiction of a brick wall, is more depressing than oppressive, and as it’s a double album, the inside reveals the wall being penetrated by some stoner art, which is little relief. Most of this I feel like I’ve never heard before, so that’s interesting, but it sounds, naturally, like Pink Floyd. The song, “Another Brick In The Wall,” however, I’m more than familiar with, and it’s a song, if I reached the end of my life without ever hearing it again, that’d be just fine.

It’s funny, I was thinking about this record earlier today while I was getting my tire fixed in a remote survivalist style outpost up here, while CNN played silently but closed-captioned and I happened to see the news of this Trump character’s “tweet” about “the wall” he wants to build—seemingly desperately, at the Mexico border. It was my impression that Trump apologists, wanting to alleviate his apparent insanity, keep scrambling to explain that he’s on one hand a “street fighter” who just can’t help his crude and offensive speech, while on the other he’s a sophisticated user of metaphor, and when he talks about “the wall” it merely means “security.” This explanation, however, seemed to enrage him, and he tweeted, “The Wall is the Wall”—emphasizing that no, he means an actual physical structure. This got me thinking about this record, and wondering what it all meant, since I didn’t get immersed in it back in the day. I don’t think this is the time for me to find out what it’s about though, because I’m just listening to it once through, without focusing on the lyrics—which are actually printed on the inner sleeves, though all but unreadable, in a font that might be called “Ralph Steadman.”

It’s weird—in a way, this doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd to me—in a way. Didn’t the band members start feuding with each other at some point?—could this be the beginning of that, or the result of it? Okay, here’s a beautiful song—it’s the first one that grabbed me—called “Comfortably Numb.” This band can put together a lovely pop ballad when they want to, that’s for sure. I realize I’m being kind of dismissive of this record, which I’m sure for some people, this was the record of their youth. It’s okay, call me an idiot. Anyway, thinking about the Trump Wall got me wondering about the similarities of the Reagan years (which this record butted into) with the times we’re now suffering through. I just mean—the support of Reagan—who was obviously brain dead for much of his presidency—if only because of the blanket of power he provided those bastards. I suppose one thing all presidents want is to build monuments to themselves, which maybe isn’t so different than rock stars. But Trump wanting to build this actual wall as a monument to him—that would almost be refreshing, in it’s simplicity and stupidity, if it wasn’t so depressing and frightening.

17
Jan
18

Three Dog Night “Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits”

I don’t usually care for greatest hits records (Chicago IX is a big exception) but I picked up a clean copy of this one for a couple of dollars for listening because I love some of their songs. I had a copy of the Harmony LP when I was little and I pretty much wore it out. It’s funny, this unadorned (no pics!) 14 song record strikes me as totally contemporary, in a physical object sense, but it’s 44 years old! The songs on here are from the years which I think of as the pinnacle of Western pop culture, and a few of these songs, to me, are as good as Top 40 radio has ever been. They were a huge band, but I don’t ever remember seeing them on any of those late night music shows, and I would not have recognized any of the guys. From the few pictures I’d seen, I thought it was a perfect band name because they all looked a bit lycanthropic and sleepless. I always assumed that the expression “three dog night” had something to do with heavy partying, but Internet tells me it means a night that’s so cold you have to take three dogs to bed with you for warmth! Thanks Internet.

This was a band with three lead singers with distinctive styles, but I never knew their names or who was singing what, and I still don’t, really. It’s a tight band, and I like the sound. What is most remarkable and interesting is the vast array of songwriters they did songs by. You can spend a rainy afternoon looking over their discography songwriting credits. My favorites here, first are the songs from Harmony, “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” written by Paul Williams, and “Never Been to Spain,” which is written by Hoyt Axton, as well as “Joy to the World,” another of my favorites. Probably my favorite song on the album is Allen Toussaint’s “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”—which is one of those songs that’s a bit corny in your memory, but loud, through good speakers, is like a new song. The sad thing is, my favorite TDN song, Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” is not on this record. It was, however, on their first greatest hits album. If you think about it—for a band whose first album came out in 1968—that this was their second greatest hits album—that’s just totally nuts.

One other odd thing I’m reminded of is there are a couple odd things that always kind of drove me crazy, as much as I love these songs. One is in Harry Nilsson’s song “One,” the lyric, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” I guess that’s more on Nilsson than TDN, and I’m sure people think that’s great, but it makes me think of someone out at restaurant, saying, “I’ll do the wings with the Sriracha aioli dipping sauce”—for some reason that’s always bugged me. And on “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” on the wind-down toward the end, where they’re singing, “Just an… ol/love song, just an… ol/love song”—kind of mixing the word old and love… if you listen to it again you’ll hear what I’m trying to describe. For some reason that just always bugged the shit out of me. I mean it still does—it bugs the living shit out of me. And I love that song.

19
Dec
17

Vikki Carr “Nashville by Carr”

Vikki Carr has always been there, it seems like, but I realized I knew nothing about her. I was reasonably certain that Mr. and Mrs. Carr didn’t have a daughter and name her Vikki. Her story is kind of fascinating, and you too can read about her on the internet if you’re so inclined. I hoped for more from this record, the pun of the title kind of implying it’s her “country record,” but it’s not really very country, though she does do some great songs by some great songwriters, and it’s recorded in (you guessed it) and some heavy studio guys play, but overall, the arrangements strike me as flat as the photo collage on the back album cover. The problem is, the surface of this album cover is a very porous cardboard—actual textured surface, like something you do pastels on, but when you reproduce photos on it, especially smaller ones with a lot of detail, you get fuzzy, flat, sadly unimpressive images (and it doesn’t help that she has a Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle, like the guy singing with the James Gang in 1974—maybe he was influenced by Vikki Carr). The album opens up, revealing a 12 by 14 inch panoramic photo of Vikki Carr sitting on the white fence of a horse farm; the problem is, the art department was so obsessed with symmetry, they put Vikki right in the crease, making her look like a Mad Magazine inside back cover “fold-in.” It’s an appropriate album cover given the arrangements.

Overall, this record strikes me as so uninspiring that I’m listening to it over and over, thinking there must be buried treasure there somewhere, because I expect more from 1970. I keep listening, but no. I guess the one thing that’s good is I can play this record and not get annoyed by it—but is that what you’re shooting for, as a musical artist?—to not annoy people? Okay, here is one interesting thing—she does Kris Kristofferson’s pretty great and fairly over-the-top song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” Now, this isn’t a gender-specific song, but there is something about the imagery that you just really picture it being a man singing, there, in first person. Is that sexist of me to say that? I don’t mean that I disapprove—in fact, this is the world that I want: women wandering alone through the park, half drunk, watching a father with his son, smelling bacon cooking somewhere, and longing for something from the near or distant past. I guess if I was a DJ, like in public, what I’d aspire to do is play songs that blew people’s minds—just a little bit. So I could see playing this one. It’s a really vivid song—and I have no idea if Vikki Carr was a drinker or not—but it’s kind of hard for me to imagine her chugging beer for breakfast.

18
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.




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