Thursday, April 24, 2014

40 Year Itch : Out of the Oxygen Tent

On April 24, 1974 David Bowie released his eight album, Diamond Dogs. To these ears, it's a bit of a muddled mess. Recorded in a paranoid blizzard of cocaine, the album attempts to pair up songs Bowie had written for a failed musical adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 with songs written in the recording studio. 

Yes it's got two great Rolling Stones inspired tunes, "Rebel Rebel" and the title cut, but Diamond Dogs is weighed down by the overly theatrical wailing of its creator. It's not helped by Bowie's guitar playing. He's hardly the man to replace Mick Ronson.

Rolling Stone critic Ken Emerson saw the album as a sign of Bowie's deterioration into style over substance:

From Aladdin Sane on, Bowie has tended to pander to what he thinks the public wants and to imitate those who have been more successful than he -- Alice Cooper and Mick Jagger, for instance. He has deliberately cheapened himself and his music.

The album cover is designed by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert who also painted the Rolling Stones's It's Only Rock and Roll cover. Anyone with a copy of Diamond Dogs  before the genitalia was airbrushed out has an album worth thousands of dollars.

This would be the last of Bowie's glam rock albums. While on tour in the US, the Thin White Duke fell in love with the Philly Soul sound, ditched his pirate outfit for slick threads and reinvented himself as a blonde "plastic soul" singer. His next studio album, Young Americans,  would be recorded in Philadelphia

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

40 Year Itch: No Use for Riches

On April 23, 1974 Ronnie Lane introduced his folk rock outfit Slim Chance to the BBC audience of "In Concert". It's an absolute delight.

Lane had founded the Small Faces and played with the Rod Stewart version as long as he could stand it. When he left The Faces, he also left all the trappings of rock n roll stardom behind. Probably because he was flat broke. Lane was living in a fortune teller's caravan next to the River Thames in Pete Townsend's garden.

Lane's new sound, with the aptly named "Slim Chance" , caught on at first. The single "How Come" peaked at #11 in the UK. Like so much of the output that follows, it promises to put you in a merry mood.

His is a discography worth investigating. Rough Mix, the 1977 album Lane did with Townsend is beyond brilliant. But don't stop there. I haven't. So I can call up a smile on my iPhone any time I want.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

40 year itch: Joni Plays London

On April 22, 1974 Joni Mitchell wrapped up her first 1974 tour with a three night stand at the New Victoria Theatre in London. All of the shows sold out. The final night was filmed by the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test. The performance would air in November.

Back in the US her album Court and Spark was making itself at home in the Billboard Top 10 album chart. 

Among those who attended the show was George Harrison. It was backstage that Harrison met Tom Scott who would play on Dark Horse and a number of subsequent albums.

In September Joni would return to London where she would perform with Crosby Stills Nash and Young at Wembley Stadium

The entire April show in faded color.

Monday, April 21, 2014

40 Year Itch: Your Blue Eyed Horseshoe

In April of 1974, Blue Oyster Cult released their third studio album Secret Treaties, one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Like everybody else I knew "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burnin' For You" and , thanks to "Godzilla",  hadn't really bothered to dig much further. That was a big mistake. There is a very good reason why Secret Treaties was named "The Top Rock Album of All Time" in a 1975 Melody Maker Poll of critics. It rocks!

Blue Oyster Cult had musical chops to rival every other heavy metal band out there. But they also had some secret weapons. Among them, Patti Smith who was dating keyboardist Allen Lanier at the time. "Career of Evil" is based on a poem she wrote called "Poem of Isadore Ducasse".

   But the band's biggest weapon wasn't even a member of Blue Oyster Cult. Former Crawdaddy scribe Sandy Pearlman has been called as a svengali-figure for BOC. Rolling Stone describes Pearlman as the band's "lyricist, stylistic consultant, co-producer and long time manager". Saturday Night Live famously summed up Pearlman as "more cowbell". 

The guitarist Pearlman dubbed "Buck Dharma" tells Mojo Magazine:

Sandy would basically be the judge. There were a lot of ideas flying around for the album so we needed somebody to be the Fuhrer.

That Nazi Germany reference is probably no accident.

Pearlman's lyrics revel in a world of sado-masochism and comic book antics.

I'd like your blue eyed horseshoe, 
I'd like your emerald horny toad
I'd like to do it to your daughter on a dirt road

            Plus there's the World War 2 Nazi German Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jet on the cover. Even the title refers to WW2 era diplomacy. Of course anyone making such allegations has to overlook the fact that Pearlman  and guitarist Eric Bloom
are Jewish.

I'd like to give the last line to Mr Bloom.

"Personally Secret Treaties is my favorite BOC album."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

40 Year Itch: Reckless Games

The Sweet just don't give fuck. 
-Brian Connolly, singer

With the exception of the catchy "ACDC", about a lovely lass who's just as happy with a girlfriend as she is with a boy,  Sweet dispenses with the cute but loud glam pop sounds that gave them so many UK hits  ("Blockbuster", "Little Willy", "Ballroom Blitz") and re-invents itself as a hard rocking, ready with the righteous riff, don't-give-a-fuck metal machine. This definitive Sweet album offered up a formula adopted by heavy metal bands of the 80's like Motley Crue.

   The US would hear 5 of the cuts on Desolation Boulevard ( as well as the classic "Fox On The Run") later in the year. But by then Connolly would be in trouble. Beaten by a bunch of "yobs" outside a pub in Staines, Connolly lost both his confidence and eventually his voice.

Friday, April 18, 2014

40 Year Itch : Hardly Daring to Breathe

'I turned on the radio in the car the other day and I thought, 'that's weird, that's Jimi, and I've never heard that track before. And it turned out to be a guy called Robin Trower,' 
- Eric 'Slowhand' Clapton.

Oh yeah, Hendrix was a big influence. There is guitar playing before Hendrix and there’s guitar playing after Hendrix, you know? [Laughs] He’s a giant, a genius. I think we all live in his shadow, even today. I still think he was the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitar player ever
-Robin Trower

   I get the impression Robin Trower is more humble than any guitar god ever needs to be. Just watch the video aboce. If you could make a Stratocaster sing like that, wouldn't you make it look like the hardest thing in the world? Trower just sort of stands there , moving little more than his fingers.

    And every time his interviewers praise his guitar playing , Trower takes pains to say the real star of his early solo albums, including the 1974 breakout Bridge of Sighs,  is the soulful bassist and singer Jimmy Dewar, formerly of Stone the Crows.

I was very, very fortunate that I ran into the singer James Dewar, You know a major reason why that music was so successful was his vocal, which enabled the music to cross over

Those who heard 1973's Twice Removed From Yesterday could hardly have been surprised at the quality of Bridge of Sighs which hit the peaked at #7 in the US album charts and provided many fans with the soundtrack to the Summer of '74.  

While fans and contemporaries praised Trower, the press was not so kind. He had been cast as a Hendrix imitator and that wasn't a role critics were going to let him shrug off.
    Jim Miller of Rolling Stone wrote :

    Bridge Of Sighs, like its predecessor, Twice Removed from Yesterday, lacks that creative spark which separates derivative finesse from more personal stylistic elaboration. The very polished assurance of Trower's lines misses the pathos animating Hendrix's last recordings. Evidently Trower will have to cast off Hendrix's ghost before he finds his own voice. In the meantime, his current band plays with a concise potency that fills a contemporary void.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

40 Year Itch : Top 20 Soul This Week in 1974

After backing Billy Paul, The Stylistics, The Spinners, The O'Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes on their hits, the studio musicians who made up Mother Father Sister Brother hit pay dirt with the future Soul Train theme "TSOP". And the disco era was born...

2. Bloodstone : Outside Woman
3. Staple Singers : Touch a Hand, Make a Friend

4. James Brown : The Payback
5. Earth Wind and Fire : Mighty Mighty

6. Barry White, Honey, Please Can't See Ya
7. Gladys Knight and the Pips: Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
8. The Jackson 5 : Dancing Machine

9. The Temptations : Heavenly
10. Stylistics: You Make Me Feel Brand New

11. Main Ingredient : Just Don't Want to Be Lonely
12. Al Green : Let's Get Married
13. New Birth : It's Been a Long Time

14. Bobby Womack : Lookin' For Love
15. Leon Haywood : Keep It In the Family

16. Joe Simon : Carry Me
18. Sylvia : Sweet Stuff

19. Billy Paul : Thanks for Saving My Life
20. Bobby Blue Bland : Goin Down Slow