Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kinda Soft, Kinda Mean

On December 10, 1977, Dr Feelgood were filmed performing at Queen Mary College in London. Guitarist John "Gypie" Mayo is now completely comfortable in his role as guitarist, having replaced Wilko Johnson earlier in the year. The Nick Lowe penned "That's It, I Quit" is from the September 1977 release Be Seeing You, produced by Mr Lowe himself. ( Nick Lowe recorded the Feelgood's "Keep It Out of Sight" a year earlier).

Monday, December 11, 2017

Think Of A Number

In December of 1977, Wire released Pink Flag, my favorite album of the entire year.

Wire had one foot planted firmly in the punk rock gutter.  But the other foot was in the college educated, art rock. On Pink Flag, they play with the basic concepts of songs, how they should start, how they should end and how long they should be. 

The second track on Pink Flag is "Field Day for the Sundays". It is 28 seconds long.

"The shorter songs developed naturally," Graham Lewis told Rolling Stone. "When the words ran out, Colin said, 'That's it.' We went, 'Yes, why not?' It used to drive the punks nuts. They'd sort of get pogoing, and then it would stop. We always thought it was really funny."

Humor played a large role in what Wire were up to. ("Brazil" got its title because some members thought it had a rhythm that sounded like something off a Sergio Mendes record). 

"As we played, our skill level was going up and we were getting tighter, and the tighter we got, the funnier it was with the stopping and starting," said Lewis.

"As we played, our skill level was going up and we were getting tighter, and the tighter we got, the funnier it was with the stopping and starting," said Lewis.

Wire could do it all. Is there a faster punk song on record than "Surgeon's Girl"? Or a more melodic bit of power pop punk than the love song "Fragile"?

Called a punk suite by Robert Christgau, this 21 song album clocks in at under 36 minutes. It's the best 36 minutes of 1977.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Nah Pop No Style

In December of 1977, the Jamaican teenage reggae duo Althea and Donna released the single "Uptown Top Ranking",  a #1 smash hit in the U.K. The story about "Uptown Top Ranking" is well known.  Heading for oblivion, the single was accidentally played by BBC D.J. John Peel on his late evening show. Not sure how a D.J. accidentally plays a record, but in any case Peel received letters from people saying how much they liked it so he kept playing it. Daytime BBC D.J.s soon following the example and by February it was the top song in the U.K. 

It's a catchy song, sung over the dee jay track of Trinity's "Three Piece Suit", with indecipherable patois lyrics that turn out to be exactly the kind of thing teen age girls would write--  men who cat call them when they walk on the road (See me pon the road I hear you call out to me ), driving around in Mercedes Benz (See mi in mi Benz and ting Drivin' through Constant Spring ), dancing with the most popular guy in tan leisure suits. (Watch how we chuck it and ting Inna we khaki suit and ting ) And telling the world they don't care for pop music. They love reggae (Nah pop no style, a strictly roots ).

Sly and Robbie played on the album.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Yam! Bam!

In December of 1977 Belgian singer Roger Jouret, better known as Plastic Bertrand, released "Ca Plane Pour Moi", an infectious and silly international hit that was actually sung by the record's producer, Lou Deprijck. That would explain why Bertrand only received 0.5% of the royalties. 

This is not the only time a performer would find fame by lip syncing somebody else's vocals (Milli Vanilli anyone?), though it would be thirty years before Bertrand would admit it. 

 (Wham! Bam!)
My cat "Splash"rests on my bed
She’s swallowed her tongue
While drinking all my whisky.
As for me,
Not much sleep, worn out, bullied
I’ve had to sleep in the gutter
Where I've had a vision
Hou! Hou! Hou! Hou!
In four colours
 Let’s go!
One morning
A chick came to my place
A cellophane doll, chinese hair
A sticking plaster, a wooden face
She’s drunk my beer from a a big rubber glass
Hou! Hou! Hou! Hou!
Like an Indian in his igloo
 That’s cool with me
That’s cool with me
That’s cool with me, me, me,me, me
That’s cool with me

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cocaine Afternoons

Jackson Browne : Running On Empty

On December 6, 1977 Jackson Browne released the best album of his career, Running On Empty. I didn't ever feel a need to buy a copy of the album. It was blaring out of speakers pointed outside dorm room windows throughout my teenage years. But it's only when you listen to the entire album that you realize what a cool concept this is: A live album about a musician's life on the road, recorded onstage, in rehearsal rooms, in Holiday Inn suites and on a bus. Only complaint: David Lindley's lap steel guitar is almost too present on the record.

This is the 70's so it should be no surprise how often cocaine is mentioned :

In "The Road ": Coffee in the morning cocaine afternoons
 In "Cocaine" : Cocaine, running all 'round my brain
In "Nothing But Time : I got a broken white line (I'm still sober)

From Rolling Stone's Paul Nelson:

As our finest practicing romantic, Jackson Browne has been stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again for so long that the road probably looks like a realistic way of life to him. Whether or not he knows it, he's been writing about highways and their alternate routes since his beginnings, so the subject matter of Running on Empty aren't all that different from those of his first four LPs. But the approach is. This time, Browne has consciously created a documentary, as brightly prosaic as it is darkly poetic, with a keen eye for the mundane as well as the magical. Running on Empty is a live album of new material about life on the road as conceived and recorded by a band of touring musicians in the places they spend most of their time (onstage, backstage, in hotel rooms, even on the bus). Since there are two separate concepts here, the audience gets an unprecedented double feature: ten songs they've never heard Browne sing, and a behind-the-scenes look at the "the show they didn't see." Ostensibly, the Gawain of rock and roll has scaled down his heroic obsessions, re-covered the Round Table with Formica and invited us in for a cup of truck-stop coffee, thus proving a point we knew all along: that small gestures can be just as meaningful and revealing as large ones.

 Ironically, when Browne tries for specifics, he achieves both facts and universals. But his inclination to ease up makes sense here because he's really running two different, very dangerous races: one positively mythopoetic (the Road and its metaphorical implications), the other presumably maudlin (musicians on the road). The first can barley be done justice to within the confines of a pop record, while the second has rarely risen above its inherent cliches.

If a full-fledged mythology of the road didn't exist, we'd undoubtedly have to invent one, but the job has already been done by the same people who gave us the sky and the sea: i.e., practically every artist and thinker who ever lived. On the road, there's that old gray magic, asphalt camaraderie and the special language of musicians who mark time by gigs and guitar cases. Section guitarist Danny Kortchmar's "Shaky Town" captures perfectly all the desperate exhilaration of playing "a thousand bands" on "those one-night stands," and Browne raises the hair on the back of your neck with his passionate singing. There's "Nothing but Time" on the bus and "Cocaine" in the hotel room, both recorded on location. On one song, tour photographer Joel Bernstein sings harmony on the chorus. Funny things happen when you're subtle, rueful and witty "Rosie" (written by Browne and his production manager, Donald "Buddha" Miller), a groupie the sound mixer craves leaves with a star, so the mixer must, if he wants any loving that night, once again take himself in hand. In "You Love the Thunder," Browne forges a temporary relationship with a kindred spirit, only to realize "You can dream/But you can never go back the way you came." Browne looks back on his life in "Running on Empty," a pragmatic hobo's lullaby and the hymn of the Harvard cowboy. It's what daydreamers have nightmares about: 

Sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own 
I don't even know when that road turned onto the road I'm on.... 
You know I don't even know what I'm hoping to find 
Running into the sun but I'm running behind. 

Best of all, there's a finale. "The Load-Out" is Jackson Browne's tribute to and summation of every aspect of live performance: the cheering audience out front, the band playing hard-nosed rock and roll, the backstage crew loading up the trucks -- and, always, the road to the next town. Packed to capacity with the data of first-rate reporting and with music so warm and soaring it belies the album's title, this song flows triumphantly into Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay," where Browne tells us he doesn't ever want it to end. 

 What I really like about Running on Empty probably has little to do with the generosity or genius of its dual concepts, with the songwriter's craftmanship skill, with how much I admire the music of David Lindley and the Section, but rather with Jackson Browne himself. In other words, as impressed as I am with Jackson Browne's art, I'm even more impressed with the humanity that shines through it. Maybe they're inseparable, but I doubt it.

From Robert Christgau's B+ review ( the best scire he would give any Jackson Browne album):

Out of the studio -- this was recorded on tour -- Jackson sounds relaxed verbally, vocally, even instrumentally. He cuts his own meager melodies with nice ones by Danny O'Keefe and Danny Kortchmar. He does a funny and far from uncritical version of "Cocaine" and a loving and far from unfunny version of "Stay." I consider this his most attractive album. But his devotees may consider the self-effacement a deprivation. 

From Billboard:

Presented here are 10 new selections from this gifted singer/songwriter, all recorded live onstage, as well as in hotel rooms, from a recent cross-country tour. The material deals mainly with experiences of the brief road encounters, loneliness and roadies -- all done with Browne's evocative, haunting and penetrating insight. Music is a mix of soft rock ballads and pounding, uptempo tunes with the Section (Craig Doerge on keyboards, Danny Kortchmer on guitars, Russ Kunkel on drums, Leland Sklar on bass, as well as David Lindley on electric fiddle and lap steel) supporting Browne's piano. Best cuts: "Running On Empty," "The Road," "You Love The Thunder," "Love Needs A Heart," "The Load Out."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Just A Passing Thing

On December 6,  1977 Al Green released The Belle Album, his first recorded without his legendary Hi producer Willie Mitchell. In fact, Green played guitar and used a pick up band  and his own home built studio to record an album that seems to grow in reverence every year among music critics and fans.

Al Green wasn't just changing how he recorded music. He was changing the entire direction of his life. He bought a church,  the Full Gospel Tabernacle, in Memphis and made himself the pastor. Fans didn't need to be listening too closely to know Green was a religious man. 1973's Call Me had "Jesus Is Waiting". 1974's Livin' for You had a song on it called "My God Is Real" and Al Green Explores Your Mind had "God Blessed Our Love". On The Belle Album's title track, Green sings“It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need.” 

I've always thought Al Green might have been more eccentric than the Willie Mitchell produced sides ever gave away.  Listen to the way the Hi Records studio band responds to Green's exaltations "We Got the Feelin' Now!" with "Shut up Al Green" at the beginning of the 1969 recording of The Beatles "I Want To Hold Your Hand". Willie made sure Al came across as the smooth loving man but there was more going on there . Here, eight years later, is Al Green at his most eccentric.

Did the music critics understand what they had on their hands or were they confused. Robert Christgau gave the album an A, writing

Since 1975 Green has been making albums on which two or three real songs were supplemented by material so vague and unpredictable it almost announced itself as filler improvised in the studio--which is not to say I didn't find much of it hypnotic. Now, on a self-produced album focused around his own (frequently acoustic) guitar, the filler comes front and center with new assurance and perhaps even its own formal identity; the real songs themselves--his best in years--sound improvised in the studio. And more than ever, it all holds together around Green's agile rhythm, dynamics, and coloration and his obsession with the soul-body dualism at the heart of the genre he now rules unchallenged.

  And Rolling Stone's critic, Greil Marcus, suggested this may be Green's best album.

In rock and  roll, nothing seems easier or more obvious than a good beat, but nothing is more elusive. We may someday look back on The Belle Album as Al Green's best — it's too soon to know; the man has a lifetime ahead of him — and if we do, the beat will be the reason. Whether or not the seemingly effortless religious conviction of the songs Green has written for this record lasts as long as he does, the beat will never wear out. 

 "All n All" is the number that not even a reprobate could deny; like the Sistine Chapel or Bessie Griffin's "Too Close to Heaven" (on The Gospel Sound, Volume 2, CBS), it carries a sense of liberation and purpose deep enough to make the sinner envy the saved. The beat is very light; in terms of gospel, soul or rock and  roll, the beat seems so natural as to be preordained. If it's true, as the Coasters announced in "That Is Rock and  Roll," that "in the beginning...there was nothing but rock," then this is what the deity had in mind when the message came rolling down the mountains: "Nothin fancy."

 I blaspheme, but "All n All" makes me giddy. Green floats with the music, picking up momentum — but so subtly you don't notice that the song is increasing in force until he breaks the tune open with high, perfectly timed wails so surprising and unfettered he sounds as if he's hitting a note he's been reaching for all his life. I was stunned hearing this: I half-expected Green to start speaking in tongues, but, in a way, he already was. 

 This is a completely idiosyncratic album — Green produced it, cowrote all the songs and plays precise acoustic and electric guitar — but it's hard for me to understand how anyone could find it inaccessible. Its subject matter — God's grace, and how good it (It?) feels — isn't pushed; there's no ad for Green's ministry on the back cover, and while most of the lyrics are religious, the only song title that even hints at anything beyond the secular realm is "Chariots of Fire." "I Feel Good" endlessly repeats "There's something about King Jesus/That makes me feel fine," but it took many listenings before I realized Green wasn't singing, "There's something about my baby." It's a powerhouse of a recording — the Big Beat, disco-hard rock — and you don't have to listen to the words at all. You do have to listen to the horns, playing charts with as much joy in them as those of "Midnight Hour" had drama.

 The lyrics of The Belle Album are nevertheless quite interesting. Green kicks the record off with what I suppose is the key line (from "Belle"): "It's you that I want/But Him that I need." He thus joins a long line of rock and roll want/need oppositionists — from Bob Dylan with "Memphis Blues Again" to the Rolling Stones with "You Can't Always Get What You Want," to name only the best. He leaves them behind in his attempt to resolve the contradiction: Green tries to get Belle to accept Jesus, too. With its half-buried asides about "drunken country bars," the song soon grows very spooky; it has the feel of a long journey to it, akin to Music from Big Pink.

 "Georgia Boy," more like The Band, is a seven-minute slow walk through the piney woods, beginning with the ancient, anonymous blues lyric, "Just because I'm from the country," and finally closing with a statement of quiet pride that, perhaps in spite of itself, sounds like a warning: "South's gonna do it again...." The music is far more dreamlike than that of the lovely "Dream"; the textures are very dark on "Georgia Boy," almost in the manner of a Jamaican dub album like Burning Spear's Garvey's Ghost. No less the song of a free man — that is, a man who's won his freedom — than "All n All," "Georgia Boy" simply takes place in a more difficult world, where grace does not seem obvious. 

 The arrangements are a little looser, the sound a little rougher on The Belle Album than on Green's records of recent years. Still, the drums are as full and bright as ever, the music of a piece with "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "Tired of Being Alone," if not quite with "Look What You Done for Me." Green's music is changing, but simplicity — simplicity of intent, which perhaps here means directness of feeling — is still its foundation. Not a hint of decadence has crept into Al Green's music since he first came to our attention in 1970. He still sounds as if he's on the verge of great discoveries.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Don't Break The Spell

On December 4, 1977 Fleetwood Mac played  the Osaka Festival Hall, nearing the end of an exhaustive ten month tour that saw the band criss cross North America, Europe, Oceania and Japan. During the tour, the band learned how to deal with their broken hearts and must have shocked to learn their album was #1 for more than twenty weeks. For twenty years, footage of the band's visit to Japan has been circulating among fans.  Here, you see intimate video of the band coming to grips with their success, drinking backstage, applying their own make up, and performing onstage in Osaka without the help of dazzling light shows.