Saturday, September 24, 2016

40 Year Itch : The Stream of Time

In September of 1976 ex-Gong guitarist Steve Hillage released his follow up to the fan favorite, Fish Rising. Produced by Todd Rundgren at Secret Sound in Woodstock with Utopia backing, L is bookended by two psychedelic covers, Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and the Beatles' "It's All Too Much". Having recently recorded near perfect note for note covers of 60's classics for Faithful, Rundgren and Utopia provide clean, shiny back up. Fans of great prog rock will find more treasures in deeper cuts.

Gong replaced Hillage with Allen Holdsworth as it dispensed with psychedelia and wit and became a progressive jazz rock band led by percussionist Pierre Moerlen. Opener "Expresso" will wake you up better than anything you can order at  a coffee shop. Tom Moon, calling Gazeuse! a , prog-rock gas, listed the album among his 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die. Still, many say they miss the anarchic days of the flying teapot.

Friday, September 23, 2016

40 Year Itch : Radio On

The John Cale produced version of "Roadrunner" is one of the greatest songs of our times. Even though it was recorded in 1972, it held great appeal for punk rockers like The Sex Pistols and innovative art bands like Wire who both recorded demos of "Roadrunner" the year the Modern Lovers debut came out. Who can resist a song about driving a car late at night with the radio on?

It's a simple rocking tour of the suburbs of Boston Massachusetts in a car that's going "faster miles an hour" with the radio on. You can hear Richman's infatuation with The Velvet Underground as you head out with him on Route 128 passing the power lines. At a time when art rock usually meant side long epics that quoted gurus or at least J R R Tolkien and featured twelve minute guitar solos, here was a song that might -MIGHT- have three chords. Greil Marcus called it "the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest."

The only conclusion you can reach upon hearing the Sex Pistols demo of "Road Runner" is that it wasn't Johnny Rotten's idea to record it. He really doesn't know the words. " Stop! Stop! Stop!" he calls out. "What's the first line?"


Wire had yet to pair its sound down to the very basics when they recorded their version of "Roadrunner", in future Motors Nick Garvey's basement studio. Still, the band give its all on the track.


It was rare for the acoustic minded Jonathan Richman to revisit his garage rock classic, but he did just that during a birthday party for Joey Ramone in 1998. The song begins at 3:50 in the clip below.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

40 Year Itch : Stompin' Some Rump

One of 1976's most essential recordings! The Wild Tchoupitoulas combines the music of The Meters with the Mardi Gras indian chants of George "Big Chief Jolly" Landry and the vocals of his nephews, The Neville Brothers. 

Although Landry gets a writing credit for many of these songs, most are based on traditional Mardi Gras indian chants dating back to the turn of the last century. Some are as boastful as anything a modern day rapper would say:

Meet the boys on the battlefront
Meet the boys on the battlefront
Meet the boys on the battlefront
where the Wild Tchoupitoulas gonna stomp some rump

Fueled by alcohol, New Orleans gangs would often wind up shedding blood on Mardi Gras day. But members of indian tribes would try to "stomp some rump" using feathers, sequins, needle and thread.  

Every member of the tribe has a duty. Listening to the album you'll hear about the "spy boys" who fronts the tribe keeping a look out for other tribes. The Big Chief is the leader of the tribe and the most ornately costumed. The chiefs and the tribes face off, exchanging taunts in a symbolic fight. 

And then they move on.

Although the album's title doesn't roll of the tongue (it's Wild Chop-it-too-lus), this is one of 1976's greatest albums, receiving an A rating from Robert Christgau and finishing ahead of both David Bowie's Station to Station and The Modern Lovers  in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

40 Yera Itch : Open to Persuasion

Joan Armatrading sings about love and affection in such honest ways even listeners feel vulnerable. It's not an act.  Even with two albums under her belt, Armatrading was far from the most outrageous musical act producer Glyn Johns had ever seen when he caught her act at the Cellar Door club in Washington DC in 1976.

I remember it was a very small stage with avery large band crammed onto it. The singer was painfully shy, barely lifting her head from her chest to look at the audience, and mumbling incoherently in between songs. The sound was not at all good and she was over-powered by the band.

Johns gave Armatrading a second chance. She brought her acoustic guitar into his office and he within a few bard of the first song, he was hooked. Three weeks later, they started work on Joan Armatrading with the finest musicians Johns could gather, including members of Fairport Convention and Faces.

All she needed in order for her talent to be recognized was a really good band and a sound that did her justice.

The feisty single "Love and Affection" would peak at UK #10 and help Joan Armatrading and the four albums that followed go gold. There are touchstones in every one of her song. In the line 
'Now if I can feel the sun/ In my eyes /And the rain on my face /Why can't I Feel love?" I hear the regret that comes when you're with a good person who just doesn't happen to be the right person.

When people talk about Armatrading, they often fail to mention what an extraordinary acoustic guitar player she is. I won't. Listen to the beginning of "Like Fire". That says more than anything I can write here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

40 Year Itch : The 100 Club Punk Special

On September 20th and 21st, 1976, the 100 Club hosted a two day international punk rock festival, an event which included The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, The Vibrators and a brand new band called Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Subway Sect opened the first night. They were followed by a completely improvised set by the Banshees. Siouxsie sang The Lord's Prayer over noisy instrumentation. The Clash followed. And then came the Sex Pistols.

 Simon Wright was there:
"The first night, like all the early punk gigs I went to, was noisy and physical, but good-humoured. The spitting and the gobbing and the pogo-ing came later."

The second night was rougher. French punks Stinky Toys opened and were followed by Chris Spedding and his under-rehearsed band, The Vibrators. The Damned came on next with The Buzzcocks closing the festival.

Among those in the audience were The Jam's Paul Weller, future Pogue Shane McGowan (seen above with his fanzine Bondage), Chrissie Hynde, future Slit Viv Albertine and, on the second night, a drunken Sid Vicious. Vicious threw a bottle which shattered against a pillar during The Damned set. A young woman was blinded by a shard of glass.

Monday, September 19, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Funky September

Love it or hate it, Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" is one of 1976's most memorable songs and, for people of a certain age, a sure way to fill the dance floor. A rock band playing clubs in the disco era,  Wild Cherry kept getting requests for funky music. People wanted to dance.  A former manager of several Bonanza steakhouses, songwriter Robert Parissi knew how to give the customers what they wanted and the result is a single that topped the US charts for three weeks.

1976 was a break out year for George Clinton and everyone associated with him, including Parliament, Funkadelic, and Bootsy's Rubber Band. On the verge of an arena tour, complete with a UFO stage set, Parliament released its follow-up to Mothership Connection . The Clones of Dr Funkenstein may not be as wild a trip as the cover suggests but this is a band at its peak. Horn-heavy thanks to great arrangements by Fred Wesley.

Westbound Records released Tales of Kidd Funkadelic on September 21, 1976  after the band had left for Warner Brothers. Tales is a collection of outtakes so there's no coherent space funk storyline to follow here but there's plenty of funk, highlighted by "Let's Take It To The People", which was sampled by De La Soul for their Low End Theory song "Everything is Fair". Hardcore Jollies is a month away.

Coming off of a massive Summer tour, Earth Wind and Fire released Spirit in September of 1976. Producer/Writer/ Arranger  Charles Stepney died of a heart attack during the sessions which feature more slow songs than most Earth Wind and Fire albums. The album peaked at #2 on the US album charts and paved the way for my favorite of their albums, 1977's All 'N All.

Detroit's Dramatics worked with a variety of producers on Joy Ride, a R and B #11 hit, thanks in part to the strangely titled disco cut "Finger Fever".

Sunday, September 18, 2016

40 Year Itch : Queen's huge thank you

"I think that Hyde Park was one of the most significant gigs in our career. There was a great affection because we'd kind of made it in a lot of countries by that time, but England was still, you know, we weren't really sure if we were really acceptable here. So it was a wonderful feeling to come back and see that crowd and get that response."
-Brian May

(click to read review)

On September 18, 1976, a crowd of 150,000 attended Queen's free concert in Hyde Park. For the band, this was a thank you to fans who helped 1975's A Night at the Opera debut at #1 on the UK charts, on its way to selling more than six million copies. Freddie Mercury wore white so the people way in the back could see him. 

 Although the concert was shot by a professional television crew only "White Queen" aired ( on the Old Grey Whistle Test). So all we have is the poorly mastered, poor sounding video below...with one exception."You Take My Breath Away", from the forthcoming A Day at the Races, was remastered for a 2011 Universal Records reissue. There are constant promises that a DVD will be made available someday.

Virgin's Richard Branson organized the concert and made sure his label's Steve Hillage got some stage time to promote L, an album the former Gong guitarist recorded with Todd Rundgren producing. More on that later this month.