Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hikin' Up Their Chinos

In  September of 1978, Tom Waits released Blue Valentine, his fifth studio album and best since The Heart of Saturday Night. This is the last of the jazzy hep cat albums before Waits launches into the 1980's with a new, brasher rock n roll racket.

From Don Shewey , writing for Rolling Stone:

Tom Waits tells the same stories all the time — the small-time gangster who gets blown away by the big boys, the tough whore who sleeps with a torn-up teddy bear under her pillow, the barely employed sucker who spends his spare time and puny paycheck at the local saloon — but he makes each one sound different. That’s why he’s a great storyteller...

...Would that Waits’ music were that resourceful. His melodies tend toward standard bluesy riffs and endless piano vamps, while his singing is sometimes reduced to a mere gurgle of phlegm in the back of his throat. Yet the deterioration of his voice and the lugubriousness of his tunes aren’t anything new. True, they make the album hard to listen to, but sometimes you can tune out the voice and you can always stick with the lyric sheet.

From Robert Christgau a nod to the opening track, "Somewhere ( from West Side Story)".

Waits keeps getting weirder and good for him. As sheer sendup, his "Somewhere" beats Sid Vicious's "My Way" his way. But I'm not always sure he understands his gift--these lyrics should be funnier. And "Romeo Is Bleeding," easily my favorite among his Chandleroid sagas of tragedy outside the law, is more effective on the jacket than when he underlines its emotional resonance in song. That's not weird at all.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Everybody Gets The Lowdown

On September 22, a scant six months following their debut, The Buzzcocks released Love Bites, their sophomore album. It's a bit more spotty than the debut but it's a keeper thanks to the presence of "Ever Fallen In Love With Someone" and "Just Lust", as well deep cuts like "Nostalgia" and "Sixteen Again". Not a bad way year for the Buzzcocks which featured two albums and six singles, one of which, the UK#20 "Promises" b/w "Lipstick", won't be released until late November.

The purchase link above leads to a double CD version of the album which offers demo versions and live tracks.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Just For the Funk of It

On September 22, 1978 Funkadelic released the million seller, One Nation Under a Groove, featuring a title cut that would top the R and B charts.  Mastermind George Clinton told The Guardian the song title came from a pair of fans.

We’d played a gig in Washington DC and afterwards two young girls, LaTanya and Darlene, came up to the car and told us it was was the best concert they’d ever seen. They said: “It was like one nation under a groove.” As soon as I heard that, I knew it had to become a song.

Initially, all I had was a hook – “One nation under a groove, gettin’ down just for the funk of it.” In the studio, once we got a rhythm together, I pretty much ad-libbed the rest. I wanted the silky feel of the Dionne Warwick records with Burt Bacharach – a smooth groove, but funky.

The album ranks #177 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time.

The Dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau, gave the album a rare A grade, writing:

I can't figure out why some Funkateers profess themselves unmoved by this one. The twelve-incher does come up a little short on guitar, but a generous Hendrix fix is thoughtfully provided on a seventeen minute, seven-inch third side, and the title cut is as tough and intricate as goodfooting ever gets. Plus: "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" and "Into You," two manifestos that bite close to the bone, and "The Doo Doo Chasers," a scatological call-and-response cum responsive-reading whose shameless obviousness doesn't detract from fun or funk. Fried ice cream is a reality! Or: Think! It ain't illegal yet!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

With Your Money and Your Cocaine

ON September 24, the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers single, “Listen to Her Heart”, entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #88. With it's Byrds like open note chiming, the song  sounded like a single to everyone but record execs had a problem with Petty's reference to cocaine. The label wanted it changed to “champagne.” “That’s not expensive enough,” Petty told them.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Eating Chicken Vindaloo

On September 21, 1978 The Ramones released Road to Ruin, their fourth studio album and the first to feature their new drummer Marky Ramone ( formerly of Richard Hell and the Voidoids). The album shows a band that is willing to try a few new things: guitar solos, acoustic guitars, and ballads.
Sell out? Not even close.

I recently did a little workshopping on writing country songs recently and learned that it's important to hit the chorus within 45 seconds. On Road to Ruin, The Ramones often hit the chorus within 25 seconds. This was their genius. A great guitar hook. A few lyrics and a repetitive chorus. 

Road to Ruin finished #7 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics poll. Among the critics championing the album was Charles M Young for Rolling Stone.

I’ve been working at this magazine for two years now and every album I’ve endorsed has gone over like a fart in the elevator. What we have here is not (in the words of Cool Hand Luke) a failure to communicate; it is (in the words of Richard Nixon) a public-relations problem. You bastards just don’t believe me.

 After extensive analysis, I have concluded that this is because I am smart and you are dumb. Your brains are so full of carbon monoxide, aluminum chloro hydrate and carcinogenic food dyes that you are incapable of appreciating good music. I have a whole file drawer full of hate mail to prove it.

So, since dumb people are naturally distrustful of smart people, what am I to do to convince you of the error of your ways? Reverse psychology is the most obvious answer. By endorsing Barry Manilow, Andy Gibb and Chuck Mangione, I could single-handedly wipe them off the charts. But (again in the words of Richard Nixon) it would be wrong. You dumb people get manipulated enough by your corporate and political leaders. I will (in the words of Jimmy Carter) never lie to you — until it becomes necessary.

 It isn’t necessary yet, because I’m giving the truth one more chance. I’m going to tell you the truth about the Ramones and if you don’t buy their new record, I’m going to start lying to you. Got that? If this LP doesn’t go gold, my turning into a liar will be on your consciences.

 Okay. Road to Ruin is a real good album. It isn’t as funny or as powerful as their debut, Ramones, but this does not mean the band is losing its grip. It means they figured out that the nigh-pure power chords and satire of their first three records — though enormously satisfying to smart people like myself — was too threatening to dumb people like you. So the Ramones compromised. They decided to meet you halfway and cut some slow songs, some guitar solos, some stuff that sounds like it uses twelve-string and pedal steel. Hard-core punk fans are liable to scream “sellout,” but they should count themselves lucky that the group didn’t pull this on the second LP when the first one didn’t do that well. Over half the songs on Road to Ruin are straight-ahead rockers anyway, so I will tolerate no complaints.

As for specifics, Joey Ramone is doing things with his voice he never quite managed before. Over the last two years, he has stolen just about every affect of the early British rock singers. In the past, Joey’s affects somehow sounded too affected, so that if you genuinely loved them, you were slightly threatened by his sarcasm. He achieves a sincerity on Road to Ruin that has heretofore eluded him. “Needles and Pins,” the old Searchers hit, could have been just a dumb joke. Joey, however, really puts his guts into these antiquated but beautiful lyrics and pulls it off. 

 The album’s killer cut is “I Wanna Be Sedated,” to be ranked up there with “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Loudmouth” and “Cretin Hop” as the Ramones’ finest. They retain their wonderful feel for the catchy guitar progression, even if Johnny Ramone has a limited repertoire of what he can do with it. I’ve never seen him play anything but power chords onstage, so it’s doubtful whether he’s doing the intricate picking on the slower numbers like “Questioningly.” Nevertheless, the music certainly is listenable, unless you’re a purist. “Don’t Come Close,” a semislow song, probably has the best chance as a single. It’s got a nice hook in the melody and nothing offensive in the lyrics. 

 Marky Ramone debuts here on drums, replacing Tommy Ramone. He continues in Tommy’s style while adding a few new and needed licks. Dee Dee Ramone’s bass remains inimitably Dee Dee Ramone’s contribution to machine-gun warfare. The production by T. Erdelyi (alias Tommy Ramone) and Ed Stasium is clean and simple, except for the ill-conceived “Bad Brain,” where they stick in a lot of funny noises during the drum break. Music that tries to be funny, as any comedian will tell you, isn’t funny.

The first article I did for this magazine, in the summer of ’76, was about the Ramones. In the time since, a thousand garage bands have flowered, and this has been a major accomplishment. However, the few good ones have been unable to get any attention from the dumb people who make up the mass market in the United States. This has led even fans to proclaim the death of punk rock. I doubt that’s happening. The battle is just shifting from small clubs on either coast to hockey rinks in the Midwest. Except for Van Halen and maybe a couple of others, there’s very little new coming up in high-energy rock. The vacuum is there to fill. The Ramones have become more cartoonish and less satiric, which is a step in the direction of Kiss and may give them a shot at the fourteen-year-old boys they need to replace the hip New York intellectuals in their audience. I’d like to see it happen, but I make no predictions.

From Robert Christgau  of the Village Voice:

Like any great group, this one is always topping itself. Album four alternates definitive high-speed rockers--"I Wanted Everything," "I'm Against It," and "She's the One" are as good as any they've ever done--with more candidly lyrical slow ones that rank with the oldie, "Needles and Pins," as compositions. The lyrics of "I Just Want to Have Something to Do" and "I Wanna Be Sedated" test the barrier between their Queens-geek personas and their real lives as professional musicians without a hint of rocky-road bullshit. Only the "Bad Brain" (a title) theme seems repetitious--personally, I'm glad it's fading. But the guitar breaks bring tears to my personal eyes, and I await Gary Stewart's version of "Questioningly."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Infiltrate Imagination

On September 20, 1978, the Manchester band Joy Division made their television debut performing "Shadowplay" on Granada TV's "Granada Reports". The song would appear on the group's 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures. It takes a short while before Ian Curtis loses him in the music. His joyous dancing always offered a stark contrast to his lyrics.

At this point, in 1978, Joy Division had only released An Ideal For Living, an EP many fans disregard because the band has yet to find their sound and nobody quite understands the Aryan symbolism. Though recorded in 1977, when the band was still calling itself Warsaw, it's worthy of your 12 and a half minutes.

 It kicks off with "Warsaw", a Mancunian punk rocker that sounds like something the Buzzcocks might have recorded. Curtis is singing at a higher range throughout the EP. The second song is  "No Love Lost", with its then unheard of two minute instrumental opening. Flip it over, and the B side begins with "Leaders of Men", my favorite song on the EP. The record ends with more punk rock. "Failures (of the Modern Man)".

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Behind Those Dark Eyes

In September of 1978 The Flamin Groovies released their Dave Edmunds produced fifth album, Flamin Groovies Now. Recorded in Wales, the album features covers of songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders, among others. Though there is much to enjoy from all three of the Groovies Sire albums (Shake Some Action and Jumpin in the Night being the other two) , the band was producing its best music at a time when record buyers were looking for the next big NEW thing.