Friday, October 20, 2017

Holy Cow




On October 21, 1977 Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell was released to the world, the ninth best selling album of the 1970s. Excessive and campy, it did nothing for me at the time and still fails to stir my soul despite my appreciation of producer Todd Rundgren and the presence of members of the E Street Band. I don't want this much opera in my rock opera and songwriter Jim Steinman leads Meat Loaf to a place that is far too theatrical for me. Apparently the trick to falling in love with this album is to get drunk and sing along with friends ( which is how, I'm convinced, Steinman's  "Total Eclipse of the Heart" has also earned its legendary status).


From Dave Marsh writing for Rolling Stone:

Meat Loaf earned his somewhat eccentric name as a performer in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the theatrical torture, although he had previously spent several years as a rock singer in Detroit, even recording a single or two for Motown. Bat Out of Hell reflects such diversity, but can't resolve it. Meat Loaf has an outstanding voice, but his phrasing is way too stage-struck to make the album's pretentions to comic-book street life real. He needs a little less West Side Story and a little more Bruce Springsteen. 




 Jim Steinman, who wrote an arranged the entire album, needs a lot less of both. Some of the songs here, particularly "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth," are swell, but they are entirely mannered and derivative. Steinman is wordy, and his attempts to recapture adolescence are only remembrances; he can't bring out the transcendently personal elements that make a song like "Night Moves," an obvious influence here. The arrangements aren't bad, although they play into the hammiest of Meat Loaf's postures, and the playing is excellent, led by pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg of Springsteen's E Street Band and producer Todd Rundgren's guitars. But the principals have some growing to do.



Billboard's reviewer has no idea the album would sell four million copies:


This debut album has mixed commercial potential. Some driving rock cuts, if shortened, have enough pop appeal to gain AM airplay. But the LP also contains some lengthy tunes that are complex in arrangement and slightly forbidding. Producer Todd Rundgren also contributes guitar work. Best cuts: "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth," "All Revved Up With No Place To Go," "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad."



From 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die


The combination of Meat Loaf (real name Marvin Lee Aday), a larger-than-life actor from Texas with an operatic voice, his surreal songwriting friend from New York, Jim Steinman, and producer Todd Rundgren resulted in an album that, despite never topping the UK album chart, resided there on and off for nearly ten years. Using backing musicians such as Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band plus members of Rundgren's group Utopia, Bat Out Of Hell included three hit singles (the title track, "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth [Hot Summer Night]" and "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad"), which, much like most of the album, were appropriately epic proportions (the fourth label which had been involved in the project). 

 Several extraordinary video clips promoted the album, and "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," a story of lust in a car, included a commentary by Phil Rizzuto on events, which he likened to a baseball game. The songs on the album were written by Steinman for his musical Neverland, a futuristic rock version of Peter Pan, in which Meat Loaf would play the part of Tinkerbell (when asked, he did not deny it, other than to say the character would be called Tink). 

 For some, the real stars of this brilliantly over-the-top extravaganza were the songs, the work of Jim Steinman's highly disturbed, but extremely imaginative mind; Steinman later wrote big hit songs for Bonnie Tyler ("Total Eclipse Of The Heart"), Barry Manilow ("Read 'Em And Weep") and Celine Dion ("It's All Coming Back To Me Now"), among others. But those tracks have never inspired the affection aroused by this high-camp metal musical extravaganza.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dad Drop Dead




In October of 1977 former 10cc members Lol Creme and Kevin Godley released Consequences, a boxed triple disc that began as a demonstration album for the pair's invention, the gizmo. The album too 18 months to make, during which the punk scene exploded all over the U.K.

Said Kevin Godley :

"There was a seismic, paradigm shift. I knew we were doomed. We emerged blinking into the light, and everyone was wearing safety pins and bondage trousers. We'd been working on a semi-avant-garde orchestral triple album with a very drunk Peter Cook and me singing with Sarah Vaughan, while outside it was like a nuclear bomb had dropped."



The reviews were devastating. Lol Creme shook them off but he says his partner was hurt by the negative feedback :

"Kevin was heartbroken, I don't think he's got over it yet. He was really, really upset about the way it was received, like a big turkey, really. I didn't take it the way Kevin did, to be honest, because I loved doing it so much and I learned so much, got so much out of it, a totally selfish thing, I didn't give a shit, I really didn't. And I never have, to me it's the doing of something that's the vibe, it's not necessarily the result. It's always a bonus if what you do does well, but it's not that precious, you know. I've always thought like that. "And I could see why it was laughed at, it does look like a pretentious pile of old stuff. We were self-indulgent pop stars, there's no question about it."



I have yet to get through the entire thing without fast forwarding through the dialogue sections. Godley and Creme would make up for their indulgences with a remarkable follow-up in 1978 called L.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Every Time I Turn Around




During the week of October 15, 1977 L.T.D. 's "Back In Love Again" debuted on the Hot 100 Singles list at #88.  The funky disco tune sung by Jeffrey Osborne would peak at U.S. #4 and top the R and B charts for two weeks. 



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Angel of Darkness



Lynyrd Skynyrd : That Smell


On October 17, 2017, Lynyrd Skynyrd released Street Survivors, an eight song collection of Southern Rock that has been overshadowed by a fatal plane accident three days later that took the lives of singer Ronnie Van Zant,  newcomer guitarist Steve Gaines, his older sister and backing vocalist  Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray. The album would go Top 5 in the U.S. thanks to the singles "What's Your Name" (US#13) , "You Got That Right" (US#69) and heavy radio play for "That Smell".




Out of respect for family members of the dead, the cover of Street Survivors would be changed. 


From Robert Christgau's A review :

Some rock deaths are irrelevant, while others make a kind of sense because the artists involved so obviously long to transcend (or escape) their own mortality. But for Ronnie Van Zant, life and mortality were the same thing -- there was no way to embrace one without at least keeping company with the other. So it makes sense that "That Smell" is the smell of death, or that in "You Got That Right" Van Zant boasts that he'll never be found in an old folks' home. As with too many LPs by good road bands, each side here begins with two strong cuts and then winds down. The difference is that the two strong cuts are very strong and the weak ones gain presence with each listen. I'm not just being sentimental. I know road bands never make their best album the sixth time out, and I know Van Zant had his limits. But I mourn him not least because I suspect that he had more good music left in him than Bing and Elvis put together



From Brian Hiatt's ***1/2 review for Rolling Stone upon the release of the reissued 2008 CD which contained extra tracks. 

Three days after the release of Street Survivors in 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines died in a plane crash that severely injured the rest of the band members. 


But even without the added resonance of tragedy, the album's second track, "That Smell," would have stood out in the band's catalog. It bites the chord progression and the apocalyptic vibe of "All Along the Watchtower" for a tale of the "smell of death" that surrounds a character trapped in drug addiction (and a pretty heavy habit at that: The lyrics allude to coke, weed, alcohol and ludes). The swampy groove and Van Zant's bluesy, understated vocals -- listen to his offhandedly contemptuous delivery of the line "stuck a needle in your arm" -- manage to sustain the ominous mood even when the female backing singers harmonize on the phrase "Hell, yeah!" Early versions of "That Smell" (including a slower take that comes in at seven and a half minutes, thanks to epic, "Freebird"-worthy guitar duels) are the highlight of the bonus disc here, which includes a more stripped-down early version of the entire album. Street Survivors was the most meticulously crafted record of the original Skynyrd's eleven-year career and, as a result, their most consistent. Album opener and classic rock-radio staple "What's Your Name" is the second-greatest groupie song of all time (next to "Stray Cat Blues"), and the Allmans-esque "I Never Dreamed" is its flip side, a redneck-emo tale of lady-killer machismo thwarted by love: "I've had a thousand, maybe more/ But never one like you," Van Zant sings, as the lead guitars match him, lament for lament. Perhaps best of all is the band's raucously virtuosic take on Merle Haggard's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man," which overflows with gorgeous country riffs that sound like pure chicken-fried joy. And Van Zant's voice is rich and authentic enough to make you mourn the pure country album he never got to record.



Monday, October 16, 2017

Now I Got A Reason




On October 14, 1977 The Sex Pistols released "Holidays in the Sun". A #8 U.K. chart hit from the forthcoming album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, this would be the last single with John Lydon singing. Lydon says the song was based on a disappointing holiday in Jersey, followed by a visit to rainy Berlin where, at least, they were far away from London:


"Being in London at the time made us feel like we were trapped in a prison camp environment. There was hatred and constant threat of violence. The best thing we could do was to go set up in a prison camp somewhere else. Berlin and its decadence was a good idea. The song came about from that. I loved Berlin. I loved the wall and the insanity of the place. The communists looked in on the circus atmosphere of West Berlin, which never went to sleep, and that would be their impression of the West."


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fun Is Second Best




On October 15, 1977 The Jam played CBGB's . Drummer Rik Butler doesn't have fond memories of the bar that became a cornerstone of the American punk and new wave scene:

What I remember most about CBGB's is the cramped dressing room and being visited by one of the Ramones.  I don't know which one it was as they all looked the same, same hair, same jeans and biker jackets. ..Patti Smith also popped in to say "hi"...I was disappointed with CBGB because it was quite small and not how I thought it would be. Everyone was raving about the club being the New York version of London's Marquee, but it was nothing like the Marquee....I remember reading graffiti and stickers on the wall around the club and there just seemed to be a mess everywhere. The toilets were to be avoided too, if you could manage it.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Slaughter in the Air




On October 14, 1977, the day Bing Crosby died, David Bowie released "Heroes", the second installment of the Bowie/Eno/Visconti Berlin trilogy. This was the third Bowie album I ever owned, following ChangesOne and Aladdin Sane. I was 17 and at first I was put off by the disjointed, angular sounds (courtesy of Robert Fripp, Bowie and Eno) ,  the sinister undertones ( not just a reflection of the album cover) and almost an entire side of ambient experiments. 

How was I to know that I was listening to the future?

A few cool facts : Robert Fripp, who plays lead guitar on six songs, spent a total of six hours in the studio. Some of his tracks were laid down the first time he ever heard the songs.  

Bowie and Eno used Eno's Oblique Strategy cards, drawing inspiration from instructions. For the duet "Sense of Doubt", Eno's instruction was "Try to make everything as similar as possible", while Bowie's was "Emphasize differences". 

 Finally there are quite a few allusions to alcohol, the fuel with which Bowie replaced cocaine:  some songs are all set in bars while the narrator of "Blackout" has been drinking rotten wine. And then there's the line in the title track, "I drink all the time".


The album topped the NME Best Albums list that year, but since then Low has taken its place as the great Bowie album of 1977


From Rolling Stone critic Bart Testa :

Heroes is the second album in what we can now hope will be a series of David Bowie-Brian Eno collaborations, because this album answers the question of whether Bowie can be a real collaborator. Like his work with Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople and Iggy Pop, Low, Bowie's first album with Eno, seemed to be just another auteurist exploitation, this time of the Eno-Kraftwerk avant-garde. Heroes, though, prompts a much more enthusiastic reading of the collaboration, which here takes the form of a union of Bowie's dramatic instincts and Eno's unshakable sonic serenity. Even more importantly, Bowie shows himself for the first time as a willing, even anxious, student rather than a simple cribber. As rock's Zen master, Eno is fully prepared to show him the way. 






 Like Low, Heroes is divided into a cyclic instrumental side and a song-set side. "V-2 Schneider" is an ingeniously robotic recasting of Booker T. and the M.G.'s -- at once typical of Bowie's obsession with pop dance music and a spectacular instance of an Eno R + B "study" (a going concern of Eno's own records). "Sense of Doubt" lines up an ominously deep piano figure with Eno synthesizer washes, blending them into "Moss Garden," an exquisitely static cut featuring Bowie on koto, a Japanese string instrument. Low had no such moments of easy exchange; Bowie either submitted his voice as another instrument for Eno to play the part of art-rock keyboard player.




The most spectacular moments on this record occur on the vocal side's crazed rock and roll. Working inside the new style Bowie forged for Iggy Pop, "Beauty and the Beast" makes very weird but probable connections between the fairy tale, Iggy's angel-beast identity and Jean Cocteau's Surrealist Catholicism, a crucial source for Cocteau's film of the tale. 

 For the finale, Heroes explodes into a trilogy of dark prophecy: "Sons of the Silent Age," "Heroes" and "Black Out." It's a Diamond Dogs set that, this time, makes it into the back pages of Samuel Delaney's post-apocalypse fiction, pushed by a brilliant cerebral nova among the players. Bowie sings in a paradoxical (or is it schizo?) style at once unhinged and wholly self-controlled. With a chill, the listener can hear clearly through Bowie's compressed lyrics and the dense sound. 

 We'll have to wait to see if Bowie has found in the austere Eno a long-term collaborator who can draw out the substantial words and music that have lurked beneath the surface of Bowie's clever games for so long. But Eno clearly has effected a nearly miraculous change in Bowie already.



From the dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau who graded the album with a B+

When I first heart the Enofied instrumental textures on side two, as background music, they struck me as more complex than their counterparts on Low, and they are. Low now seems quite pop, slick and to the point even when the point is background noise; in fact, after I completed my comparison, I began to play it a lot. But what was interesting background on "Heroes" proved merely noteworthy as foreground, admirably rather than attractively ragged. Maybe after the next album I'll get the drift of this one.


And finally from Mark Bennett writing for 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:

Riding the wave he had found with Low, "Heroes" -- the second part of the so-called "Berlin trilogy" -- saw David Bowie continue his gradual reintroduction to humanity. Fresh from a liberating stint as keyboard player on Iggy Pop's Idiot tour, Bowie was now living with Iggy in West Berlin. Relatively drug-free, the pair immersed themselves in seedy Berlin nightlife, miraculously avoiding falling back into old habits. 

 "Heroes" gives the trilogy its decadent splendor, its dramatic, performance art-influenced black-and-white cover photograph, and the darkly evocative song titles clearly inspired Bowie's new home. Where Low mapped the internal landscape of Bowie's fractured psyche, "Heroes," like Iggy's The Idiot (1977) is all about Berlin, from the denizens of its nightclubs in "Blackout" to the gloomy Turkish immigrant quarter in "Neuk├Âln." 


 Featuring many of the musicians who had played on Low (producer Tony Visconti, collaborator Brian Eno, guitarist Carlos Alomar, and rhythm section George Davis and Dennis Davis) the album was recorded in the summer of 1977 at Hansa Studios, a former Gestapo ballroom near to the Berlin wall. Eno, Visconti, and Bowie distilled their location's powerful atmosphere in view of the Red Army guards at Checkpoint Charlie. 

 Like Low, "Heroes" mixed avant-garde pop songs with ambient instrumentals. Eno's influence is felt on the title track, a Velvets-like stomp taken somewhere different by Fripp's inspired, fluid guitar. Re-contextualized by its performance at 1985's Live Aid concert, the song's current existence as stadium fodder belies the emotional complexity of its pare