Monday, September 22, 2014

40 Yea Itch : Adrift on an Ocean of Loneliness

The young man fumbling his way through love and life has long been a great source of inspiration for books and movies. Who can't identify with that image at any age? On Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky, released in September of 1974, the 26-year old artist shares his own stumbles through heartaches of various stripes.And it's a winner.

If Joni Mitchell's Blue was the great consoling friend for women in the 1970's, Late for the Sky is the earnest male friend who bought the next round and hopes his tales of woe will provide you with hard-earned wisdom  

   This is a "grower". Like the best albums, Late for the Sky gets better with repeated listens. The music gets better and so do the lyrics. While the title cut and "Fountain of Sorrow" ( supposedly about a short-lived love affair with Joni Mitchell) are the best known tracks, "Farther On" might him home the hardest.

In my early years I hid my tears, and passed my days alone 
Adrift on an ocean of loneliness my dreams like nets were thrown 
To catch the love that I'd heard of in books and films and songs 
Now there's a world of illusion and fantasy in the place where the real world belongs 
Still I look for the beauty in songs 
To fill my head and lead me on 
Though my dreams have come up torn and empty 
As many times as love has come and gone

  In your teens and twenties, every relationship has an epic quality. THIS is the stuff of great literature, plays and films.With enough experience, you realize the ideals that you've established are unrealistic and that with time, she won't be who you think she is...and you won't be who she thinks you are. The relationship enters Phase 2 where the drop out rate is greatest.

Life is full of heartache and Jackson Browne would know more than his fair share. But on this singular album, he eloquently,  and with perfect enunciation, provides comfort for millions because he's been there too.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : Nightmares

  Boston's greatest bar band gets back to the basics on Nightmares..and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, released in September of 1974. Riding the #12 hit , "Must Have Got Lost", Nightmares reached the Top 30. The album is packed with punchy tunes as well as a breathless Magic Dick spotlight on "Stoop Down  #39". And that album cover is one of the best of the entire decade! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

40 Year Itch : One Minute Born, One Minute Doomed

“Rock’n’roll people tend to live on the edge. That’s what this album is all about. Rock’n’roll has always been and still is one of the few honest things left in this world. That’s what this album is about … I hope parents will still get scared when they find their daughter listening to this music.” - Elliott Murphy in the liner notes to 1969 Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed 

   It may have been released by Mercury Records to cash in on Lou Reed's success, but damn the motivations! We got ourselves a live Velvet Underground album, recorded during a 70 date tour in support of "the quiet album". The album is a recording taken from two shows. The rougher sounding tracks were recorded by a fan at a Dallas show. The better sounding tracks were recorded in-house at The Matrix in San Francisco. You can't hear the audience in either case so there's no telling how many people attended these shows. Also, the album jumps back in forth between shows so you never get the sonic feeling you're attending one concert. 

gatefold with liner notes by Elliott Murphy

   But there are some amazing moments caught on tape. "What Goes On" runs nearly twice as long as the studio version, with Lou Reed battering his rhythm guitar until every muscle ached. That's followed by a lovely version of "Sweet Jane", the one the Cowboy Junkies covered. Not a surprise because , for a lot of fans, this was the only VU album they could find in stores. The other albums went out of print.

One more point about the Dallas show before I leave room for someone who was actually there. It begins with Lou Reed making small talk about the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game. The Cowboys won 49-14. "It was ridiculous. You should give our people just a little chance." he says before blasting into "I'm Waiting for My Man" ( as he introduced it)

I just never thought Lou watched football for some reason.

A member of the Rate Your Music community who goes by the name wrayb  says he was at the Dalla performance:

The crowd was small but respectably large on Thursday, big on Friday, the place was jammed on Saturday. Then surprisingly Sunday night I think there were only a handful there who were not directly connected to the staff of the club.

   The club was located in a small strip mall. The performance space seemed to be made of what once were two store fronts, still divided in half by the two by four wall studs. I remember the audience being only a few people who stayed over by the door and a small but noisy group of four to six people who chose to be in the back section, behind the "wall." I and one or two other die hard fans were in the front section. The floor was carpeted, no tables or chairs, with sofa cushions and large odd shaped pillows scattered about. I gathered some up into a little sofa bed of my own and lay back. One amazed 18 year old kid watching a virtually private performance. It seemed that that the older group (twenties as opposed to teens) in the back section were connected to the club. Perhaps the owner and his buddies, male and female.

    Lou's comments about the football game were meaningless to me but I guess he had had little to do that Sunday afternoon except watch tv at the hotel. When Lou commented on the next day being a school day and laid out the option I was puzzled: which would result in the most music? My voice finally joined the responses asking for one long one.

OK, that's my little story. The music is so imprinted on my DNA I have a hard time summarizing it or describing it. From that night I vividly remember small details such as the interplay between Lou and other members of the group. Lou's directing Moe on the pace of the beat. His seeming to be overly enamoured of Doug Yule's contribution to the performance. ( *during band introductions he calls Yule his brother).

    I think Yule and Morrison shared bass duties, changing at least once when Yule playing some slide guitar. Yule played organ when needed. There were times when it was three roaring guitars and Tucker's pounding on the drums.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Dreamer, the Unwoken Fool

    Eldorado, released in September of 1974, is my favorite Electric Light Orchestra album. It's a concept album, made up of mostly short, catchy, progressive pop tunes in the vein of the 1973 ELO hit "Showdown". Jeff Lynne made the most of his opportunity to work with a full orchestra. There are moments of sheer beauty in the stringed interludes of the single "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" and "Boy Blue", the latter sounding like the blueprint of every good to great World Party song.

   The concept is that we're following a Walter Mitty hero as he imagines himself in different scenarios. ( As a member of Robin Hood's band of Merry Men in "Poor Boy"; as a triumphant soldier during The Crusades in "Boy Blue"; as a rock star talking to his therapist in "Illusions in G Major"). Despite the Wizard of Oz still used on the cover, he does not imagine himself as Dorothy Gale. That's an entirely different album.

The influence of The Beatles is prevalent, especially in the "Across the Universe" -inspired melody of "Mister Kingdom". Lynne had met the Beatles when they were making the White Album and , years later, admitted "To be in the same room as the four of them caused me not to sleep for, like, three days."  

Rolling Stone critic Ken Barnes summed up Eldorado in this way :

As a concept album Eldorado is lyrically effective and thankfully not overbearing. The symphonic aspects sometimes get out of hand, but generally work well enough. And as for the rest, Eldorado is the most successful Electric Light Orchestra album to date.

This would be hard one to top.

Monday, September 15, 2014

40 Year Itch : Funkafied In New Orleans

   In 1974, The Meters were on a serious roll. Their own album, Rejuvination, remains an all time favorite soundtrack for New Orleans parties. But the funky foursome of Neville, Porter, Nocentelli and Modeliste were also getting plenty of work as studio musicians .

They played on two albums released in September of 1974:  Robert Palmer's debut album, Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, and Labelle's Nightbirds, both recorded, at least in part, at the legendary Sea-Saint Studio in New Orleans.

With Lowell George producing and contributing slide guitar, Sneaking Sally begins with a three song tour de force: a cover of Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes, which out funks the original; the syncopated "Hey Julia" ; and the Allen Toussaint-written title cut. Full of chutzpah and soul,  Robert Palmer, formerly of little-known Vinegar Joe, made a dazzling statement.

The rest of the album can't hold up to that triple play, but you'd be hard pressed to find a 1974 debut album that begins more strongly.

The biggest hit The Meters ever played on was LaBelle's #1 smash "Lady Marmalade", from their 1974 album Nightbirds, produced by Allen Toussaint. The Bob Crewe-Kenny Nolan penned tune has been covered by others but never better than by singers Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash.

Everyone knows the song with the french chorus "Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" But, 40 years later, what makes Nightbirds worth hearing? It's the combination of The Meters's funky instrumentation, the Toussaint arrangements, and the sassy singers who are giving everything they've got. (They probably had to . This was their fourth album and they hadn't scored a hit despite going Glam a year earlier). Other favorite cuts are the second single "Don't Bring Me Down", "Somebody Somewhere" and Toussaint's "All Girl Band" ( which is not at all about LaBelle).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

40 Year Itch : Least Likely to Succeed


1974 was a strange year for Fleetwood Mac. For a spell, there was a fake Fleetwood Mac touring America, the creation of the band's manager Clifford Davies, who told Rolling Stone it was he , and not Mick Fleetwood or John McVie, who owned the name "Fleetwood Mac".

  The lawsuits that followed put the real Fleetwood Mac out of commission for most of the year. Eventually, in September, they released Heroes Are Hard to Find, the first album recorded entirely in America and the  last  to feature Bob Welch. Both Welch and Christine McVie saved Fleetwood Mac through the dry years ( from Future Games to Heroes) and their efforts are the bright spots on this album as well. Welch's catchy  "Angel" will rumble its way into your head. Christine's "Prove Your Love" sounds like it could have been released this year by some indie darling.

Overall, this isn't even among the first ten Fleetwood Mac albums to buy. Sales were disappointing. Could anyone have guessed that the follow-up, with the addition of two California singer-soingwriters, would make Fleetwood Mac one of the biggest bands in the world?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

40 Year Itch : Doot Doot Doot Doot ...



Celebrity hair dresser Monti Rock III,  already an openly gay for laughs fixture of The Tonight Show and Merv Griffin, took on the persona of Disco Tex for this Bob Crewe-written disco anthem that sold seven million copies, netting Rock, he insists, $127. (Crewe wrote another huge 1974 hit with Kenny Nolan, "Lady Marmalade"--more on that later).Rock says the rest of the money paid his room service tabs. An ordained minister and sober, Rock is still waiting for the opportunity to do a one man show on Broadway.