Saturday, October 25, 2014

40 Year Itch: Dreadlock Congo Bongo I

   On October 25, 1974 Bob Marley and the Wailers released Natty Dread. This was the first album by Marley since the original Wailers broke up. Their final concerts in England were met with poor attendance and Peter Tosh and Marley came to blows during one argument. ( It has been written that Tosh referred to the bi-racial Marley as a "white man's son"). They played one more gig together, opening for Marvin Gaye at Jamaica's Carib Club in May of 1974. After that both Tosh and Bunny Wailer set off on solo careers.

     Tony Wright, who did the cover art of Traffic's best albums, captured the new Wailers perfectly with his airbrushed portrait of Marley. Natty Dread's cover seems to say Bob Marley IS The Wailers. 

   To make up for the lost harmonies of Bunny and Tosh, Bob Marley is joined by the I-Threes, a vocal trio made up of his wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Their contributions , especially on  "Them Belly Full",, "Bend Down Low" and "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)",  are what give Natty Dread that classic sound to these ears.

   The studio version of "No Woman No Cry" doesn't hold up to the Live! version that came out a year later and the album loses some steam on Side Two. But Natty Dread is a great album.

   Recorded at Harry J's studio in Kingston and mixed in London, Natty Dread was also Marley's breakthrough album. Some of the credit may have to go to Eric Clapton who made Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" a worldwide hit ( and even to Barbra Streisand for her cover of "Guava Jelly" on ButterFly)

   Co-producer Chris Blackwell, who mis-named an album that was supposed to be called Knotty Dread, has nothing but praise for Marley :

   The first two records Catch a Fire and Burnin' didn't do too well in Jamaica, but Natty Dread was a hit there and outside. Natty Dread was a killer record. It really delivered the goods. But it was a very different sound from the first two , with Peter and Bunny's harmonies...Natty Dread got everybody talking, and then Catch a Fire and Burnin' start to sell like never before, because it was Natty Dread that made these records popular.

      At the time of the Natty Dread's release, Bob Marley was not the most popular performer in Jamaica. That distinction belonged to Jimmy Cliff, U-Roy or  possibly Marley's rival Peter Tosh. Missing two out of the three co-founders of his band, Marley had a lot to prove and he delivered a home run that would forever make him the King of reggae royalty.

Friday, October 24, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Bonnie Prince of Hard Rock

On October 24, 1974 the heavy-drinking, big time womanizing Bon Scott grabbed the mic and performed  his first gig with AC/DC, replacing the original singer Dave Evans. Within four years the Australian bar band would be one of the world's biggest grossing rock groups.Within six years Scott would be dead. But what a party his life must have been!  Bon Scott probably upset a fair number of parents in his day. It wasn't a bit out of character for him to write a song about his ex-wife called "She's Got Balls".

She's got balls my lady 
Likes to crawl my lady 
Hands and knees all around the floor 
No one has to tell her what a fella is for

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Alvin Stardust Remembered

Singer Alvin Stardust has died aged 72 after a short illness. He had recently been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and died at home with his wife and family around him, his manager said.

It was just a brief item in the October 26th, 1973 issue of Billboard Magazine:

Newly formed Magnet Records will release four singles before Christmas for distribution through CBS. The first, "My Coo Ca Choo" by mystery singer Alvin Stardust has received Powerplay plugging on Radio Luxembourg. Stardust is stated to be a familiar music business figure, but his identity is not disclosed.

Ah! The hype of those early years of Glam Rock! 

Alvin Stardust was none other than Bernie Jewry, a roadie, who in the early 60's replaced the 17 year old namesake of Shane Fenton and the Fentones when the first Fenton dies of rheumatic fever.

When the Fentons disbanded in the early 60's , Jewry vanished from the spotlight . He probably would have the spent the rest of his life playing small nite clubs had he not come up with the mock Glam Rock persona that borrows the black leather look from Elvis Presley's 1968 TV special and the surname of David Bowie's most famous persona Ziggy Stardust.

It may have started as a joke,  but Alvin Stardust recorded seven Top 10 hits from 1973 to 1984. His most famous is "My Coo Ca Choo" which hit #2 in the UK and spent seven weeks atop the charts in Australia. Stardust's follow-up single "Jealous Mind" would top the UK charts in 1974.

Still, he may best be remembered for his somewhat menacing performance in this public service announcement.

   Here's a link to his website

When (Stardust) came on telly, (future Oasis founders Liam and Noel Gallagher) would mime along and pretend to be Alvin and I'd always catch them singing into hairbrushes and playing air guitar
-Thomas Gallagher, their dad

     40 years ago, glam bandwagon jumper Alvin Stardust celebrated his one and only UK#1 single, "Jealous Mind". Born Bernard Jewry, Stardust appropriated just about everything he could from Elvis's 1968 TV special. And the fans bought least for a year or so.

"You, You, You" was another 1974 Top 10 hit.

In 1981, signed to Stiff Records,  Stardust returned to the UK Top 10 with his rockabilly-influenced cover of the Nat King Cole hit "Pretend"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Demons of Rock

We were all blind men walking in the dark
Gene Simmons on the Hotter Than Hell sessions

   On October 22, 1974 Kiss released their second album, Hotter Than Hell. Though it would barely dent the Top 100 album chart, Hotter Than Hell would eventually go gold in 1977 following the success of the mega-seller Kiss Alive.

   Touring non stop from even before the debut album came out, Kiss recorded its follow-up in Los Angeles, home of Casablanca Records. Right from the start things went wrong. Somebody stole Paul Stanley's electric guitar. The band admits Hotter Than Hell is a compilation of old club songs that pre-date the debut ( like "Goin' Blind" which is apparently about a 93 year old man's affair with a 16 year old girl)  and songs written on the road.

Hotter Than Hell doesn't sound like a band that has its act together. The musicianship is plodding. Kiss hadn't tasted success yet, having just come off the road as a third billed act to Wishbone Ash. Ace Frehley, the only member to have a hit song as a solo artist, still didn't have the confidence to sing any of his songs.

Frehley's "Parasite" and Stanley's "Mainline" are my faves but they're not exactly the kind of songs that would draw new fans.

The back cover of the album is more interesting than the music. Photographed on an L.A. set after photographer Norman Seeff got the band and models drunk, the shoot became a wild party. To do this day Paul Stanley says he's never been to a party like that one. 

A lot of pictures taken for the back cover have never seen the light of day because some people don't want to be incriminated by  the pictures.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

40 Year Itch : Elvis's Worst Album

    It has been described as the ultimate Elvis throw-away and as an "auto wreck that somehow plowed into a carnival freak show". Having Fun With Elvis On Stage is a live recording of Presley monologues and interactions with the audience. 

There is no music. 

Apparently Col. Tom Parker discovered if Elvis never actually sang a song, RCA Records wouldn't own the rights. So the album was released, in October of 1974, on Parker's own Box Car Records label...with a deceptive cover. Eventually RCA did get the rights to the album. The label was responsible for the tag at the top right: " A Talking Album Only"

Monday, October 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : Play Something Sweet

   In October of 1974, Maria Muldaur followed up her gold-selling debut with Waitress in the Donut Shop. Produced by Joe Boyd and Larry Waronker, Waitress is a showcase for Muldaur's ability to sing jazz, blues, jug-band etc. with both talent and enthusiasm. Guests on the album include Linda Ronstadt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle ( on "Cool River"), Paul Butterfield ( on the single "I'm a Woman") and Dr. John. Allen Toussaint wrote "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) which was a hit that year for Three Dog Night.

   It may sounds like a bit of a hodgepodge overall but taken one song at a time, Waitress is a delight. The album just snuck into the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop critics's poll.

The 1974 Pazz And Jop Critics Poll Albums 
1. Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark (Asylum) 186 (14)
2. Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic (ABC) 157 (13)
3. Randy Newman: Good Old Boys (Reprise) 154 (13)
4. Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness' First Finale (Tamla) 153 (15)
5. Rolling Stones: It's Only Rock 'n Roll (Rolling Stones) 150 (12)
6. Bob Dylan and the Band: Before the Flood (Asylum) 139 (10)
7. Roxy Music: Stranded (Atco) 106 (7)
8. Jackson Browne: Late for the Sky (Asylum) 85 (6)
9. Eric Clapton: 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO) 83 (7)
10. New York Dolls: In Too Much Too Soon (Mercury) 76 (8)
11. Linda Rondstadt: Heart Like a Wheel (Capitol) 69 (8)
12. Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel (Reprise) 65 (5)
13. Raspberries: Starting Over (Capitol) 50 (7)
14. Bryan Ferry: These Foolish Things (Atlantic) 47 (5)
15. Ry Cooder: Paradise and Lunch (Reprise) 42 (4)
16. Average White Band: Average White Band (Atlantic) 40 (4)
Velvet Underground: 1969 Velvet Underground Live (Mercury) 40 (4)
18. Bob Dylan: Planet Waves (Asylum) 38 (3)
19. Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets (Island) 35 (2)
20. Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now (Warner Bros.) 34 (3)
21. 10cc: Sheet Music (UK) 28 (3)
22. Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages (Atlantic) 25 (3)
Lou Reed: Rock n Roll Animal (RCA Victor) 25 (3)
24. Spinners: Mighty Love (Atlantic) 20 (3)
25. Blue Magic (Atco) 20 (2)
Little Feat: Feats Don't Fail Me Now (Warner Bros.) 20 (2)
27. Big Star: Radio City (Ardent) 18 (2)
28. Bad Company: Bad Co. (Swan Song) 17 (3)
29. Ohio Players: Skin Tight (Mercury) 17 (2)
Kinks: Preservation Act 2 (RCA Victor) 17 (2)
Maria Muldaur: Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise) 17 (2)

   A month earlier, Bonnie Raitt released another solid album, her fourth,  called Streetlights, featuring her signature cover of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" and our second Allen Toussaint tune today, "What is Success". Yet another good Bonnie Raitt album marred by a bad album cover. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Dead at Winterland

On October 16-20, 1974 The Grateful Dead performed a five night stand at the Winterland in San Francisco. The concerts were filmed and released in 1977, with far out animation,  as The Grateful Dead Movie. The show on the 20th marked drummer Mickey Hart's return to the band full time.