Thursday, May 28, 2015

40 Year Itch: Heroes of the Ginza

   After a ten day vacation in Hawaii, following the US leg of their Sheer Heart Attack Tour, Queen arrived in Japan where they were met by 3,000 fans at the airport.
  "Now we were the Beatles" guitarist Brian May would later say. "We literally had to be carried over the heads of these kids...this wasn't a rock band thing, this was being a teen idol".

  Sumo wrestlers were hired as bodyguards during the concerts but they could do nothing to prevent the teenage girls from sweeping over them to the front of the stage. Hysteria followed Queen wherever they ventured so each member was assigned his own bodyguard.

    In August they'd be back in the studio to begin recording A Night at the Opera where the band and producer Roy Thomas Baker would face a phenomenal challenge, recording a long tune with many twists and turns and even some operatic "Gallileo"s tossed in for good measure. It was known to the rest of Queen as  "Fred's Thing". But it would be known to the world as "Bohemian Rhapsody".

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

40 Year Itch : Like a Relic From a Different Age

   Inspiration meets calculation on this celebration of the rock concert-1970's style. McCartney was planning a US tour in 1976 and presumably "Jet" wasn't the kick ass opening tune he wanted. Along with the acoustic scene setter "Venus and Mars", "Rock Show" kicked off both Venus and Mars (released on this date in 1975)  and the live album Wings Over America

  The rougher "old version" is better in my opinion if only because it reveals McCartney's enthusiasm for his new song. There isn't an ounce of restraint here, especially in his bass playing.  

 For the album version, recorded at Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans, Allen Toussaint came downstairs from his studio to play. The venues McCartney mentions are The Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Madison Square Garden ( NYC), Hollywood Bowl ( LA) and the Rainbow in London.

  There's also a line about scoring an ounce. I'm guessing that's marijuana which might have cost a concertgoer $50-$60 in 1975,  as opposed to $350-$450 today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

40 Year Itch : It Hides a Nasty Stain

        5 Fun Facts About 10cc's "I'm Not In Love"

1. The Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman song was originally recorded with a Bossa Nova beat, but the other two members dismissed the tune as "crap". Otherwise we might be discussing a song that sounds a little something like this :

2. It was drummer and singer Kevin Godley who suggested the sad song needed a "wall of voices". And Lol Creme, the other Bossa Nova dissenter, who suggested using tape loops. Gouldman, Godley and Creme sang all of those "Ahhh"s.

Each "Ah" was a note which had to be duplicated 16 times by three singers for the choral effect multiplied by the 12 notes on the chromatic scale ( the distance from a D note on your piano to the next D note).

  By moving the switches on the faders up and down for each note, whoever operated the mixing board could form chords. It would take three weeks to build the song

3. Kathy Redfern, the secretary at the 10cc-owned Strawberry Studios, recorded the spoken word lines "Big boys don't cry".

4. The single, released in May of 1975 with the now hard to find "Good News" as the B side, was #1 in the UK but never topped the US Hot 100. It peaked at #2 for three straight weeks as three different artists leapfrogged over 10cc for the #1 spot: Van McCoy's "The Hustle", The Eagles "One of These Nights", and the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'"

5. Long before Guardians of the Galaxy renewed interest in the song, "I'm Not in Love" was covered by multiple artists including Richie Havens who I think did the best cover version(mp3 link), The Pretenders, Will to Power, Peggy Lee  and Diana Krall.

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Top Ten by Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks)

   Like most power pop icons, Fastbacks guitarist and songwriter Kurt Bloch is an artist way either ahead or way behind his times. One thing he could always do ( and still does) is play a guitar loud...and melodically. This Top 10 list he made for Spin's Alternative Record Guide (1995) shows he appreciates others who can do the same. 

  If you visit the Gibson guitar showroom in Seattle, you might be lucky enough to run into Bloch. He's a guitar tech there.

1. Pixies : Bossanova

2. Toy Dolls : Dig That Groove Baby

3. U.K. Subs :Brand New Age

4. Wipers :Youth of America

5. Three O'Clock : Sixteen Tambourines

6. Didjits : Hey Judestar

7. Urge Overkill : Americruiser

8. XTC :Black Sea

9. Buzzcocks: Another Music in a Different Kitchen

10. Bad Brains : I Against I 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

40 Year Itch : Led Zeppelin Plays Earls Court

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, in magic dragon suit. May 1975

   At the height of their power, less than two months following their American tour, Led Zeppelin performed a five night stand at Earls Court Arena in London on May 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25.

Critic Chris Welch is among those who claim these are the best Led Zeppelin concerts ever. He writes :

The band played with tremendous fire, possessed by an almost demonic power, amidst clouds of smoke pierced by green laser beams. Jimmy Page flailed his violin bow against the guitar strings, producing eerie, echoing gothic howls. 

At the time, I wrote in a review that "Robert Plant maintains an essentially human, chatty approach to audiences, almost like a guide taking us through the story of the band, a jester at the wheel of some fearsome juggernaut, offering sly asides and poetic ruminations between moments of terrible power." 

... The band enjoyed the Physical Graffiti material far more than the old war horses, and the best moments from the previous albums came in the shape of ballads and acoustic songs

  There were 40 tons of concert gear shipped in for the show: 100 speaker cabinets, 40 microphones, 200 spotlights all powered by generators capable of illuminating every neon sign on London's West End.

  What the 17,000 fans at Earls Court didn't know is that they were witnessing the band's UK swansong.
  They wouldn't return until 1979s Knebworth Music Festival.
And in the years between, tragedy and alcohol and drug abuse would all take their toll.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

40 Year Itch : Five Facts about Captain Fantastic

1. In May of 1975, it debuted at number 1 on the US Billboard 200 , the first album ever to do so, and stayed atop the charts for seven weeks

2. Bernie Taupin says it's a concept album about the early days of his songwriting career with Elton John, from their meeting in 1967 to the release of Empty Sky. John is "Captain Fantastic" and he is the "Brown Dirt Cowboy".

3. Elton John told Cameron Crowe in a 2006 interview "I've always thought that Captain Fantastic was probably my finest album because it wasn't commercial in any way.  Captain Fantastic was written from start to finish in running order, as a kind of story about coming to terms with failure—or trying desperately not to be one. We lived that story."

4. The cover was designed by Alan Aldridge who also did The Who's A Quick One and edited and did many illustrations for The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics.

5. Just prior to the album's release, Elton John surprised  guitarist Dee Murray (center) and drummer Nigel Olsson (right) by sacking them. They had been with John for the five most glorious years of his career. John later admitted it was a mistake, telling a BBC DJ " I can't really understand why I did it. In retrospect, it was part of me trying to change things musically. Maybe we had gone as far as we could."

Friday, May 22, 2015

40 Year Itch : In The Twilight Glow

Donald Sutherland and Karen Black in Day of the Locusts ( 1975)

   In a recording so spare the record company thought it was a demo, Willie Nelson sings a thirty year old song about a final goodbye. The song, from the most critically acclaimed country album of 1975, Red Headed Stranger, would top the country charts in October of that year. No other country album sounded anything like this. It would top the country charts, sell more than three million copies,  and ensure that Willie Nelson would always be able to make the music he wanted. And our lives have all been made richer because of it.