Posts Tagged ‘1977

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

I’m pretty sure I had this record in high school—I had a few ELO records—though I can’t remember exactly which ones, now. I didn’t remember it was a double album, though, so maybe not. Also, I didn’t remember that the rainbow space station cover opened up to reveal the inside of the space station—it actually looks pretty cool, you’d think I’d have remembered that. As an insert, there’s an awkwardly vertical poster included, with these kind of creepy, black and white, almost photo-realist portraits of the band members—and I totally remember that—there’s something strangely off about the portraits—which kind of makes them both repulsive and compelling. In my memory, this was the record, or maybe the one after, when I stopped liking ELO—but now I’m thinking I was totally wrong about all this, or maybe my tastes have changed. (Obviously, both of those things are true—everyone’s tastes change, over time, and I have been wrong about nearly everything.)

Anyway, forget the past, because I’m really loving this record now, and you could even say I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I put it on kind of randomly while cat sitting, along with some others, and this became the one that defined the time there, away from home, this point in time. You never know if, or with whom, it will happen—but it’s kind of like falling in love (ha, if it [falling in love] was only that easy). Because of the space station album cover and the occasional aural buzzes and beeps, shimmering synth sounds, and restrained use of the dreaded vocoder, you kind of think it’s all a sci-fi theme, but it’s not—it’s all over the place, really, with a healthy amount of love songs. The funny thing is, when I glanced at the song titles, the only two I remembered were “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (hits)—so I’m glad I even put the record on, because those are my least two favorite songs on the entire album!

As it turns out, there’s one great pop song after another on this record—I’m not even going to list my favorites—just say, all of them but the above two. Then I noticed what I consider the most significant feature of this record—side three is kind if set off as its own thing—a mini-opera, called the “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” as there is a weather theme running through the four songs. Weather! Is there a subject I love more? So, then I had to read a little bit about it—and I didn’t find much, nor dig too deeply, but what I read was that Jeff Lynne went to a chalet in the Swiss Alps to work on this record (didn’t he ever see The Shining?) and it just rained and rained and he had writer’s block! He thought he was washed up, was likely on the verge of running amok, when the sun broke through and he began writing like a madman. Now, anyone will tell you, there’s an inherent bipolar-like thing that runs through the creative process, it’s all valleys and peaks, and sometime the low lows lead to the explosions of creativity—if you’re lucky—and he certainly was, here.

For me, though, the real find on this record is the song “Big Wheels”—with that one, I was immediately in love—so much so that I figured it had to be either a past life thing, or maybe the song was used in some really genius way by an opportunistic, manipulative filmmaker—servicing an emotional story with strong images and the enormous shorthand of this beautiful song. I looked it up but could not find any evidence that it was used anywhere, so I don’t know. I did see that “Mr. Blue Sky” was used like many, many, many times in movies and on TV. Everyone loves “Mr. Blue Sky”—interesting, because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that song. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s jaunty as all fuck. It kind of highlights that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like the jaunty and those who don’t. Those who like sunny skies and those who like stormy skies. Those who like happy songs—while a sad song brings them down—and those who live for sad songs. And I suppose, never the twain shall meet. Well, it’s not just sad songs I like, but sad and beautiful, and the two are often hopelessly intertwined. And this song, “Big Wheels,” is not only the most beautiful ELO song I’ve ever heard, but one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard by anyone.

I could just leave it at that, but I can’t—I need to listen again and look at it a little more closely—why does this particular song affect me like it does? And what’s it about?—sitting there in the middle of this mini-opera, as it is, in-between songs about weather and love? First of all, what does “Big Wheels” mean, anyway? And why don’t people love this song? First of all, it doesn’t refer to the plastic toy that the kid’s tearing through the hallways of the mountain chalet where Jeff Lynne’s trying to write. My first thought is, because of the album cover, is it’s the space station, as the music has that smooth, slow-rolling feeling, but I don’t know—then what does the space station mean? I suppose it’s the Earth turning, and, you know, “I let the Earth take a couple of whirls,”—the patience that comes with maturity, knowing that things will change. I suppose the song does have a lot of sadness in it (“It was not enough for you” / “It’s rather sad” / “I think I’m gonna have to start again”), plus, there’s the silent tear, cold dark waiting days, and lots and lots of pouring rain! Plus, my favorite: “no one knows which side the coin will fall.” There is the sense of not being in control—that your fate is in others’ hands. And that the other side of “tomorrow is another day” might be, no matter how good things are going, it’s no guarantee they’ll continue. Most sad songs start with the sadness, but has anyone ever written one that says, tomorrow will likely bring heartbreak—it’s as inevitable as death. I guess this one. The more I listen to it, the darker it becomes—it really is kind of an amazing force of nature, the sadness in this song, right up there with the weather. But it’s just so beautiful.

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17
May
19

Television “Marquee Moon”

When I started writing about my record collection back in 2006, I was determined to go from A to Z, so like, I was never going to get to Television—but with this new random system I have, it’s sure taking a long time to get to certain albums, anyway—but maybe that’s good. This one is kind of hard to write about, actually, because it’s maybe one of my favorite 10 (meaning 100) records of all time, and it’s kind of like a force of nature, so it’s a little like you’re photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting someone to pay attention to your snapshot when people have done time-lapse, panorama, satellite, helicopters, drones, parasails, jumping it on a motorcycle, and as they died falling in. So, if you’re reading this, and it’s the highly unlikely case where you’ve never heard this record, either you are going to have such high expectations that it will necessarily stumble, or you’ve hit the jackpot in life—you get to hear it for the first time, and you can only do that once. And then the second, third, etc…

It’s from 1977, I suppose the best year of punk rock, and it comes from the New York punk rock scene, but it sounds nothing like any of the other bands from that place or time, or really anywhere. There had to be a lot of people who hated this when it came out; I bet some were then won over, some weren’t, still aren’t. Bands were playing fast, short songs, for one thing, and these songs are long (longest is almost 10 minutes!) and there are extended guitar solos. It’s complex; it’s practically jazz. It’s weird to think this record came out the same year as Steely Dan’s Aja, but you can’t imagine them on the same plane, much less the same year—but the same people were buying them—and in a way, they are quite similar. Eight songs only, four per side, and one could make a strong argument that if you ranked the songs from best to worst they would line up in the exact order they are on the album—which might seem kind of dismal, except for the fact that they’re all great songs. I’ve definitely listened to side one more than side two—but the one nice thing about that is that I feel like I might still be able to discover something on the second side. The first side is so ingrained in my head nothing less than brain damage is ever going to allow me a fresh listen.

I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics—though, and I’m not likely to at this point. That’s not true, there are a few lines that stick with me—it’s just that I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. But I love the line: “Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops…’” And a few others. I’m not going to talk about the guitars, okay? It just struck me that this could be the ideal record for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and if you wanted to spend a few excessive hours while giving it a few listens, use the internet and try reading all the ways people have used words to try to describe what those guitars are doing. I’m going to make this quick, though, by mentioning the cover photos—first there’s the kind of classic band photo, them all looking like they want to be the next one to make love—but it’s this high-contrast color that makes their hands look really crazy, kind of like one of those early Aerosmith records. I never bothered to look at the photo credits before, and it says Robert Mapplethorpe—I guess that guy knew his way around a camera.Then on the back there’s a photo of something that I’m guessing is abstracted by contrast—it’s credited to Billy Lobo. I think it’s supposed to represent the near death high you get, supposedly, from heroin, but I’m just guessing. Then, the inside sleeve band pic is very odd—it’s a great b&w photo, really, but printed weirdly, so the drummer and bass player have turned into shadows, while the inside of the drums are lit up. That the two guitarists are siting on kitchen chairs facing each other probably says more than bucket of liner notes could. And then, for as much as the photo is obscured in darkness, kind of amazingly you see all these details in hardware, chairs, amps, and shirts—really, it kind of simultaneously demystifies these guys as just regular schmoes, while elevating them to some kind of god love. Depending on who you are, you might focus more on Richard Lloyd’s guitar, or Tom Verlaine’s shirt, or everyone’s hands. I’m torn.

27
Feb
19

Sammi Smith “Mixed Emotions”

It might be hard to believe, but I had never heard of Sammi Smith (well, I probably had—after all, I used to listen to the radio and watch Hee Haw—but over the years a lot of brain cells have been eradicated, I’m afraid, and Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout had more prominently ghosted my radar, apparently), but I saw this older record of hers at the used bookstore (I haven’t written about it yet) and it had a very personality-rich cover, so I bought it, expecting it to be unlistenable, but it was great. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for Sammi Smith records. She was country and western singer who put out 17 or 18 albums in the Seventies, then moved on to other things. You can easily find a brief history on the internet if you’re interested. But I have a feeling that, just with my brief exposure to her, she was a fascinating person—maybe someone will write a biography about her.

The cover of this album (on Elektra records) is odd in that I would have guessed it was from the Eighties, just by the layout and graphics, the colors, the style. I admit I’m considerably more of a fan of things from the Seventies than the Eighties, in all forms of culture—including record albums and album covers. So I almost didn’t pick it up, but then I noticed it was Sammi Smith, and I looked at the back expecting to see a later date, and was kind of surprised that it was 1977. There is actually a really great photograph on the cover, but for some reason it is kind of weirdly cropped and vertical, with several inches of border on either side— why? A square version of this photo, blown up, would have been a much better cover.

The first song scared me because of its prominent use of a kazoo—never a good sign. Never judge an album by the first song, though. The next song is great—it’s called “Touch Me” and is a classic Nashville sounding song—I tried looking it up, to see who else did it—but do you know how many people have recorded songs called “Touch Me?” When I start writing songs again, the first thing I’m going to do is write a song with that title! Then a really nice, slow, old-fashioned sounding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the Don Gibson classic that I most associate with Ray Charles. Next is “De Grazia’s Song,” written by Sammi Smith—I don’t know who De Grazia is (a painter), but he/she wrote the brief, but glowing liner notes. The last song, then, is jaunty to the point that she refers to someone as “you little booger”—making this one of those famous, “skip first and last song records”—though that’s just the first side. What will the second side hold in store for us?

“I’ve Seen Better Days” is a good one—it’s written by Red Lane and Danny Morrison—I’m sure I’ve heard it, but I’m not sure where—a lot of big names in country music did it—but I’m going to say, hearing this version, if someone can show me a better version than this one, it might be my favorite all-time song. “Hallelujah for Beer” is a song that you probably get the idea from the title—a song that is probably playing right now on a jukebox in Milwaukee. “Days That End in ‘Y’” is another beautifully heartbreaking country song—but I’m getting tired of looking up who else did these songs. It’s another title I’m going to steal, but change it to: “The Days That End in Why” (if no one else has). “A Woman Left Lonely” is my favorite song on the record—it’s just undeniably a killer song, written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham—the most famous version, of course, being Janis Joplin’s. And I love Janis Joplin and her version of this song, but it’s an interesting comparison, her version and this one, because I’d argue that Sammi Smith’s is better, because it’s more about the song, while Janis Joplin’s is more about Janis. I don’t mean that critically, I love that about her—she could sing “Old MacDonald had a Farm” and break your heart. But I love how this version is also emotional, heartbreaking—but really, you love the song and the singer in equal parts. The last song, then, is the Tom Jans song, “Loving Arms,” and a beautiful, lovely way to end the record.

17
Jun
16

The Band “Islands”

Even though I’m a HUGE fan of The Band I know very little about their records  except “Music from Big Pink” which is my favorite, though I didn’t listen to it until decades after it was released. It wasn’t until the movie “The Last Waltz” that I really knew anything about The Band, but that movie is one of my favorite music documentaries ever; I’ve probably watched it a dozen times and will hopefully watch it a dozen more. Sometimes when I think about The Band I wish they had called themselves “The Honkies” (as Richard Manuel, in that movie, said they’d considered)—I don’t know why, the name “The Band” always seemed kind of unfortunate to me, but then, I guess most band names seem a little silly for anyone over 12 years old. The Honkies, though, that would have been kind of amazing. Maybe I’ll just call them that from now on, and anyone who knows me will know what I’m talking about.

It always impressed me how much these guys were ahead of their time, though in this case it’s not necessarily a good thing; I can often predict the general date of a record by looking at the album art, and I was thinking this nailed the dreaded 80s, but no, it’s 1977. If you didn’t see the words on the cover you’d guess it’s sunburned margarita sipping easy listening from the Miami Vice era, and in the picture on the back, the guys look like they all just had their hair styled. This very much sounds like a record recorded to fulfill a record company contract, especially the instrumental, “Islands.” Still there are some really good songs here that you would not get confused with anyone but The Band. The thing I always liked about them is their three singers. I’m always happy hearing Levon Helm sing, even on not that great songs. I like Rick Danko even more, and just because of his singing and some nice accordion I was really enjoying the last song on the first side until I actually listened more closely to the lyrics. And I like Richard Manuel most of all—there’s a special quality to his voice, and I hate to think it has anything to do with pain. Maybe it’s just that he really loves singing. I love him in “The Last Waltz”—he seems like this grizzled old-timer, but he was what, like 33? What’s really shocking is that he died when he was only 42. I’m kind of getting depressed. Time to move on to something else.

26
Dec
08

Jeff Beck “with the Jan Hammer Group Live”

If that title makes you say, “Uh-oh,” you’re right. You’ve got to love the live album, though. By 1977 people still weren’t embarrassed by it, I guess. The rising crowd noise, obviously manipulated, the out of breath utterances of the rock star… There was never any need to make “Spinal Tap 2” because you have all the endless, endless shit that Spinal Tap was making fun of.

This is the Jan Hammer that did the excellent Miami Vice Theme, so I don’t think he’s so much to blame here. There are these sections of pretty listenable light funk, but it always devolves into some kind of pretentious, unpleasant statement of virtuosity. Every song seems like two songs, an okay one that teases you, followed by utter crap. During one song on the second side they momentarily go into the “Stoll On/Train Kept a Rollin’” thing, and it sounds just right and heavy, but it’s just like the sugar to attempt to make palatable the unbearable jazz/rock fusion to follow.

Most notable is the back cover of the album with a photo of Hammer and Beck, presumably playing live, slapped down with the most amateurish cut and paste technique I’ve seen in recent memory. I mean, these days, even quickly done grocery store newspaper inserts are pretty sophisticated, but this bit of nostalgia is back from when it was done by hand. But was it done by hand WHILE DRUNK, or what? It literally looks like the photo was cut out in about three minutes– a six year old would do a much more careful job. And weirder, great care was taken to cut out the microphone that is over the drums, but where is the drummer? Cut out completely! It is actually too weirdly bad to accept that it was just sloppy; I have to think it was purposely evoking cheap Kinko’s flyer style of the time, and in that, it’s pretty excellent!




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