Monday, November 20, 2017

A New Day's Dawn

In November of 1977, the British songwriter John Martyn released One World. Next to 1973's Solid Air, it may be his most cherished album. NME called it "mean, moody and magnificent". 

What you would never guess from listening to this man's soft voice and the experience of having his beautiful music wash over you is that Martyn was incredibly tempestuous. By 1977, following the death of friends Nick Drake and Paul Kossoff, Martyn was fully engulfed in his heroin addiction and heavy drinking lifestyle.

   One World was an opportunity to return to what he did best. At Island Records founder Chris Blackwell's Berkshire home, Martyn made a mesmerizing album with the help of Stevie Winwood and friends who helped on Solid Air.

When people talk about One World, they inevitably bring up the nearly nine minute closing track "Small Hours". It was recorded outside, near a lake, with Martyn improvising with his guitar and echoplex. The unmistakable sounds of birds ( Loons? Geese?)  can be heard. There's some percussion. Some organ from Winwood and Martyn singing " Keep on loving while your love is strong, Keep on loving 'til your love is gone away".

One of 1977's transcendent moments.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sleepy Head Kid Sister

On November 19, 1977 the other side of the new Wings "Mull of Kintyre" single entered Billboard's Hot 100 single chart at #83. It's a bit of a racy rocker from Macca who wrote the  lyrics about taking drugs and a sister who runs a "full body out call massage parlor" while vacationing in Hawaii. The single would peak at #33 in the US which ignored the UK phenom on the other side.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Standards Rule OK

On November 18, 1977 The Jam released their second album, This is the Modern World, just six months following their debut. The main inspirations remain The Kinks and The Who. ("Standards" uses an updated riff from "I Can't Explain"). The difficult second album? Not really. It's actually just more of the youth explosion that made the reality of In The City so hot!

Mick Farren wrote this review for NME :

So this is the modern world. I´m glad they told me. For an instant I´d thought I´d been transported back to 1965 ... He doesn´t need me to tell him (Weller) that The Jam are playing excellent, streamlined rock and roll. He also won´t want me to point out that the production by Vic Smith and Chris Parry is well on the thin side, that some of the riffs don´t stand up to the amount of repetition that they are subjected to and that after a couple of tracks the vocals do lean towards the monotonous ... What The Jam have in common with the rest of the British new wave is a kind of sullen gut level nihilism ... I doubt anything I could say would add to or detract from its obvious status as a hot item, buy wise. So roll the commercials.

From Chas de Wally writing for Sounds:

And people were trying to tell me that this was a lousy album and The Jam were all washed up ... It´s one of the best albums I´ve ever heard in a long time ... Admittedly Paul Weller´s voice still leaves a lot to be desired ... Not everything here owes a debt to The Who ... The Jam capture the essence of transistor radio rock. Bright and naive. Timeless. Brilliant ... Weller is a dry and impassive observer ... In some cases you might even call him genuinely and humanely perceptive ... The Jam are streets ahead of their rivals ... The Jam are young and brave ... Still as real and ingenious as it possible to be in the rock business ... As a live band they are quite one of the best ... It still isn´t their masterpiece.

And from Chris Bazier writing for Melody Maker :

The Who´s influence is marked on both the construction of the songs and the instrumental style ... much of the record suffers precisely because it´s typical Jam -- ´Standards´, ´Here Comes The Weekend´, ´In The Street Today´ and ´Modern World´ are all adequate but thoroughly ordinary and don´t represent any development ... Some of the songs are lyrically weak ... ´Standards´ seems to ridicule the kind of Tory attitude Weller once espoused , which is fine but the attack is too glib and exaggerated ... Existence does have its highs and it´s when Paul Weller is glorying in it that he seems to write his best ... The Jam spiriting us towards the second psychedelic age? ... Paul Weller should mature into one of our best songwriters, provided he keeps his mind open... This album only hints at what The Jam are capable of.

Finally there's Barry Cain from Record Mirror

Forget the sixties. Forget comparisons. Forget Jam, The Who, Beatles, The Kinks. Forget the naive neurosis of the plagiarists. The Jam are here. And now ... "This Is The Modern World" reflects a definite PROGRESSION (remember that?) a definite identity mould ... here Weller is making an obvious attempt at creating a Jam SOUND. He succeeds. Brilliantly. It is in fact a ceremonial uncovering of the post-pubescent metropolitan veil -- moth eaten but nonetheless sacrosanct ... The name of the game is simplicity ... It´s not that Weller is softening, it´s just that he´s learning ... His cracked pavement voice has often been a cause for concern in certain circles which I could never understand. It´s perfect for his songs ... he sings like he looks. Freddie Garrity could never say that.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Et Maintenant Ils Pleurent

Final albums can be fascinating. Bowie's Black Star remains my favorite and most emotional listen of 2016 and Warren Zevon performing Dylan's "Knocking On Heaven's Door" on The Wind is an act of sheer courage. Well in 1977, the theatrical French singing legend Jacques Brel was down to one lung thanks to a 100 filterless cigarette a day habit. He knew he had terminal cancer when he entered the studio to record Brel a.k.a Les Marquises.

Brel's health was failing so much he could only manage three takes per song. If you think you're hearing a bad note, that's because you are. Tant pis pour toi! 

Brel had written many of the songs in the South Pacific where he had retired to sail around in his yacht. His home was in the French Indonesian Maquesas Islands.

To avoid giving interviews, Brel returned to the Marquesas Islands but in his home country of France, word of the new album spread. A million fans placed advanced orders for Les Marquises.

Brel lived for eleven more months. The only comment he ever publicly made about the album is that he hated the cover.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Big Bosom Lady With a Dutch Accent

In November of 1977 Rod Stewart released Foot Loose and Fancy Free, his eight solo album. And like every album since his masterful Every Picture Tells A Story, it follows a formula. Big rocker at the top ("Hot Legs") . A Motown cover (a lugubrious "You Keep Me Hangin' On), and some singles featuring acoustic guitars ("You're In My Heart", "I Was Only Joking"). The album sold well but nothing could prevent the inevitable disco album, Blondes Have More Fun, from following up.

Writing for Rolling Stone, critic Joe McEwan suggested Rod the Mod was a man out of his time.

There's something to be said for the New Wave rebellion against (to borrow a phrase from the not-so-young-himself Willy De Ville) "old meat." Even if this reaction is mostly confined to England, it seems very healthy. There are a lot of kids in England who don't care what kind of fashionably gauche trinkets decorate Rod Stewart's high-class, Hollywood home or what the exact terms (if any) of his separation from Britt Ekland will be. They do care that Stewart has lost touch with them, not only musically but culturally as well. And for Rod Stewart this dilemma seems particularly complex. After all, it wasn't too long ago that Stewart (who began his career idolizing Sam Cooke, David Ruffin and Ramblin' Jack Elliott) was digging graves for a living and feeling a little testy himself. 

 To his credit, Stewart decided not to take the easy way out this time. Instead of returning to Muscle Shoals and American sessionmen for a comfortable followup to A Night on the Town, Rod opted to form a band and cut an album of mostly rock and roll. Foot Loose and Fancy Free is the result. But there's just one problem: the record falls flat.

Part of the trouble is the band, which sounds stiff and not particularly inspired. Guitarists Gary Grainger and Billy Peek dredge up familiar "Brown Sugar" chords on "Born Loose" and "Hot Legs" (a hedonistic revel that might have worked five years ago but now sounds only lecherous and silly), and "You're Insane" tries to combine funk and reggae but dies because drummer Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge) just can't pull it off. The Faces rhythm section was creaky, too, but at least it made up for the lack of swing with an energetic, good-humored sloppiness. 

 Then there's the inclusion of a seven-and-a-half-minute version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (with, yes, the Vanilla Fudge arrangement), an odd lapse of taste for the normally scrupulous Stewart. A cover of Luther Ingram's "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right)" comes off much better. Where Ingram sounded forlorn, Stewart is damned positive he's making the right decision. And when he sings the hook in the third chorus, the pull of his voice is still capable of creating Herculean emotional drama. Finally, there are the separation songs, which are drenched with a bitterness the arrangements don't always bring out. It's hard to be discreet when the disintegration of your romance is fodder for every two-bit publication in the world. But Stewart doesn't even try. "You're in My Heart," the current single, is a cheeky, none-too-subtle put-down that deserves awkwardly tacked to a singsong narrative. The subdued "You Got a Nerve" is more straightforward and features this chilling couplet: "Oh what pleasure it gives me now/To know that you're bleeding inside." It's been a long year for Rod Stewart.

According to Greil Marcus, Graham Parker (who was pumping gas in England until two years ago) is quite content traveling between current U.S. tour dates on a bus -- a big improvement over the station wagon that carried Parker around last year. The press notes for the current Stewart tour advertise that his entourage will also be making the rounds by bus. But you can bet Graham Parker isn't lugging around 64,000 pounds of equipment, a seamstress, a masseuse, a tour photographer and a makeup "girl." As for Foot Loose and Fancy Free, it's sure hard to care much about "Hot Legs" with Elvis Costello and the Sex Pistols around. Even Rod Stewart can't get lost in this rock and roll. It's pretty vacant.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Music Loud and Women Warm

On November 15, 1977, a full month before the movie came out in theaters,  RSO Records released the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. The first side of the double album would be inescapable in the year that followed. I first heard the soundtrack at a dinner party given my some friends of my father and the woman who would become my second step mother. They were in the first giddy months of their affair, and she actually thought I'd want to dance in these people's living room. It was only the first time I would disappoint her and my father. 

Perhaps the same scene was happening in 15 million other living rooms?

Susin Shapiro wrote the review for Rolling Stone, which still stand up to day

While the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever is generally uninteresting, the Bee Gees are an exception. The brothers Gibb not only have the best falsettos in the business, but also the keenest sense of disco's potential for transcendence.

 The Bee Gees have everything going for them: lyrics that don't insult, a band that can open up and utilize each and every electric and/or acoustic possibility without sounding overproduced, great harmonies, superb dance music. Indeed, "You Should Be Dancing" comes as close to disco perfection as anything I've heard, save perhaps Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Bad Luck" and Labelle's "Lady Marmalade." The Bee Gees are very busy on Saturday Night Fever. They perform six of their own songs (four new, two old) and wrote the record's only other worthwhile track, "If I Can't Have You," sung by Yvonne Elliman, who sounds authentically resonant enough to give it the necessary poignancy.

Generally, however, this double album is irritating when it's supposed to be exciting, funny when it's supposed to be dramatic. "Night on Disco Mountain," adapted by David Shire (who did most of the scoring) from Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, is but one example of high hilarity, while K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Tavares and MFSB are better represented by their own LPs. 

 Though Saturday Night Fever is more dross than gloss, it winds up being saved by the grace of the Bee Gees. God bless 'em.

From Billboard:

An all-star lineup, spearheaded by the Bee Gees, join forces on this two-record soundtrack from the forthcoming flick starring John Travolta. The Bee Gees perform on six tunes including its fast-rising "How Deep Is Your Love" while penning five new ones, one performed by Yvonne Elliman. The other contributors are Tavares, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, the Trammps, Kool and the Gang, Walter Murphy, Ralph McDonald, M.F.S.B. and David Shire. The music contains something for everyone, from disco to soft jazzy instrumentals to out and out boogie to ballads and rockers. Singularly, the Bee Gees are the standouts and nucleus, yet collectively this album is filled with bundles of talent. Best cuts: "How Deep Is Your Love," "Staying Alive," "If I Can't Have You," "More Than A Woman," "Night Fever," "Boogie Shoes."

Our pal Robert Christgau gave the soundtrack a B+ review.

So you've seen the movie -- pretty good movie, right? -- and decided that this is the disco album that you're going to try. Well, I can't blame you. The Bee Gees side is pop music at a new peak of irresistible silliness, with the former Beatle clones singing like mechanical mice with an unnatural sense of rhythm. And the album climaxes on a par-tee even non-discoids can get into, beginning with the best of David Shire's "additional music," then switching almost imperceptibly to something tolerable by MFSB and revving into all 10:52 of the Trammps' magnificent "Disco Inferno." But I find the other two sides unlistenable, mostly because the rest of Shire's additions are real soundtrack-quality stuff -- he even discofies Moussorgsky without making a joke of it (compare Walter Murphy on side two). And there's one more problem. While you're deciding to buy this record, so is everyone you know. You're gonna get really sick of it. Maybe you should Surprise Your Friends and seek out Casablanca's Get Down and Boogie instead.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Rebel's Last Stand

It was actually in July of 1977 that Steve Harley released the double live album, Face To Face, the day after he announced he was breaking up the band. The recordings came from eight-date UK tour in December 1976.  Harley told Record Mirror he was excited about the shows: 

"We did eight concerts and every night was great. I'm not just saying that. Jimmy had left to join Rod Stewart's band and Jo Partridge brought new energy. It was our fourth major tour and the fans were on my side from the word go. They're a great audience. It was the best concert tour I've done in my life. I've never enjoyed playing so much in my career."

Audience participation plays a big role especially in the final cut, Harley's UK #1 smash hit "Make Me Smile ( Come Up And See Me)" . As the band leaves the stage the audience sings the chorus to "Tumbling Down".

Geoff Barton of Sounds says the album gets better as you get deeper into the trackss.

"Although his career at the moment appears to be at its 'lowest ebb', Harley can still fill halls to capacity. I count several Rebel concerts to be amongst the most emotional and enjoyable I've ever seen. Side one gets off to a slow start, non-atmospheric and yawn-prompting, Cockney Rebel sounding curiously leaden. Side two suffers from the same kind of problems. By contrast, side three and four are magnificent, compulsive. The involvement builds and builds until, towards the end, everyone sings along in fine football chorus tradition. Highly charged, sincere, spine-tingling stuff. The latter half of "Face To Face" is quite magical, strikes a deep emotional chord. And I can't think of many albums that do that, can you?