Friday, May 26, 2017

Mmmm, You're So Pretty

On May 27, 1977, after opening for Iggy Pop on his comeback tour, The Vibrators released their first major label single "Baby Baby". They may have been categorized as a punk band, but these pub rock vets actually could play their instruments. "Baby Baby" has sneering vocals but sounds more like a Mott the Hoople tune than something out of the U.K. punk rock scene. The NME critic wasn't impressed :

Sounds like the Hendrix version of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" would've done if the Vanilla Fudge had gotten hold of it. A rather slender little pop song with studiedly naive and innocent vocals, embellished with neat drumming: it'll take more than this to get you up there with the Big Five, boys.

I'm guessing the Big Five were the top punk bands of the day : Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers and ...The Jam? Upon the release of their debut album, Pure Mania, in June The Vibrators would tour the U.K. with -- you might have guessed it -- former Mott frontman Ian Hunter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Use the Force Luke

At one point it was called The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars, but by May 25, 1977, the day it hit theaters, the name has been shortened to Star Wars. That first week, it was shown on only 42 screens. Most theaters wanted nothing to do with a movie starring so many unknowns. But of course that changed.  For five years the space opera would be the highest grossing film of all time. Everything Star Wars related could ride the film's wave of popularity, including the inevitable disco album.

Casablanca subsidiary Millennium Records signed Star Wars fan Domineco Monardo, who believed an album fully devoted to Star Wars would be a big seller. His LP Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk was due to come out the same time 20th Century Fox's soundtrack featuring the original John Williams score.

Legend has it that 20th Century Fox sent Millennium a black wreath with a banner announcing they would bury the disco album. Instead, Meco scored a #1 hit with its much edited single "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band", beating William's "Star Wars Theme" which peaked at US #10.  The full "Star Wars Medley" runs an ungodly 16 minutes. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don'tcha Change It

This week in 1977 the new Gladys Knight and the Pips single, "Baby Don't Change Your Mind", entered the U.K. charts at #33. Written and produced by Van "The Hustle" McCoy, who also wrote David Ruffin's "Walk Away from Love", "Baby" would be the soundtrack to one sizzler of hot Summer , peaking at #4 in the U.K. and #10 on the US R and B charts. 

The video below is a lot of fun. You can see Gladys's older brother "Bubba" Knight, cousin William Guest and Edward Patten practicing their new steps with the great Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins behind them.

First recorded by The Stylistics in 1976:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Equal Rights and Justice

In 1977 former Wailer Peter Tosh followed up Legalize It with Equal Rights, an album with a much heavier and more widely encompassing message. If music critics took Tosh lightly, they were in for a surprise.

"Legalisation of herb is only part of the justice that man is supposed to get, but equal rights is all of man's rights, seen?" 

The album was recorded in Jamaica, a nation in crisis. Power cuts, rationing, roadblocks and outbreaks of violence made it difficult to get around. Tosh, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar and others recorded on a 12 track Ampex at Randy's in Kingston.

The Equal Rights track "African" is one of Tosh's most enduring songs. Like "Apartheid", it's inspired by the South African townships taking on the apartheid regime. As John Masouri notes in Steppin' Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh, "African" sounds a lot like a Marcus Garvey speech:

All black people across the globe, in American and in Africa are part of a single race, a single culture and have to be proud of the color of their skin. All of Africa must be independent and united. Africa for Africans! 

With Bob Marley in exile, Peter Tosh had become the most prominent Rasta artist left in Jamaica.

The critics knew Equal Rights was special. Robert Christgau gave the alum a B+ grade, writing: 

What's most impressive about this music is its sinew. The tracks are strong, yet although they usually include at least seven instrumental parts, they never sound lush, full, or even jubilantly multi-percussive, which given Tosh's increasingly ominous lyrics is a good thing. Yet while Tosh's lyrics are more correct politically than Marley's, they're only marginally more eloquent. His singing is rather less eloquent.

Equal Rights was Lester Bangs second favorite album of the year. His year end album list went as follows:

 Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation 30;
 Peter Tosh: Equal Rights 15;
 Ramones: Rocket to Russia 10;
 Iggy and the Stooges: Metallic K.O. 10;
 Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols 5;
 Ramones Leave Home 5;
 The Persuasions: Chirpin' 5;
 Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head 5;
 The Saints: I'm Stranded 5;
 Suicide 5.

Jamaica's Weekend Star said it far outstripped the debut:

It is an extremely powerful musical collection containing some of the hardest-hitting, most revolutionary lyrics produced anywhere for a long time. 

A funny thing happened on the way to New York where Tosh was scheduled to promote the new album on radio stations. He decided to light up a spliff on the plane, which was met by police at Kennedy airport.

Clive Chin, who was arrested with Tosh, said the bail gearing didn't got very well :

Peter cuss him out and says he's the minister for Ganja and herb should be legalized. I couldn't believe it. At one point the judge lean over to the clerk of the court and say "What is he saying ?" The clerk told him Peter must be a mad man or talking in arabic 

Tosh and Chin were freed.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fifty Tons of Shit

In May of 1977 Genesis released a three songs EP called Spot The Pigeon, the last studio release to feature guitarist Steve Hackett. Hackett's "Inside and Out" is the most prog-rock tune on the EP, taking up the entire second side. Classic Genesis.

The first side is made up of two pop songs, a clear sign of where Genesis was heading (the UK #7 /US #23 hit "Follow You Follow Me" was nine months away). The tunes are not concerned with the subjects that drove Peter Gabriel to grab his pen. "Match of the Day" is about hooliganism at a soccer match and "Pigeons" is about...pigeon poop. 

"Pigeons is fun," says Tony Banks in Dave Thompson's Turn It Off Again: Peter Gabriel , Phil Collins and Genesis. "It was really a little experiment to try and do a song around one note really. It's a good little song from that period really. I like it"

The EP was a popular item in its day, climbing to #14 in the U.K. singles chart despite little play by the BBC.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hey Hey Is Artie Home?

They were the New York punkers who supposedly wore neckties so they could tie themselves down for injections.  Legend has it that it was The Heartbreakers who introduced heroin to the U.K. punk scene, but Jayne County --among others--disputes that story. 

Johnny Thunders did NOT introduce junk to the kids of London! Everybody was either on sulphate or junk when I got there and Iggy was a known junky! Also, everyone knew about Lou Reed's junk problem. And they all knew about the junk songs of the Velvet Underground. If anyone in London made junk cool, it was Iggy and Lou Reed, and that is also highly debatable!

Who wrote "Chinese Rocks"? On L.A.M.F, The Heartbreakers debut album, the writing credit went to Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan ( the latter two former members of The New York Dolls). Years later Hell and Ramone agreed that Dee Dee Ramone wrote most of the song in Debbie Harry's apartment.

The reason I wrote that song was out of spite for Richard Hell, because he told me he was going to write a song better than Lou Reed's "Heroin", so I went home and wrote 'Chinese Rocks'.

The B side, "Born To Lose", is another great song, very much in the New York Dolls tradition. The Heartbreakers burned brightly and flamed out quickly, but what they've left behind is classic stuff.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Reality's So Hard

On May 20, 1977 The Jam released its debut album, the UK Top 20 hit  In The City. As drummer Rick Butler noted in his memoir That's Entertainment, In The City was an attempt to capture the energetic band's live sound.The tight trio only needed eleven days to make the album, one of my favorites of theirs.

Among the most memorable tunes is "Away From the Numbers", the shoulda-been-a single track. Rick Butler again:

Rick Butler again:

"Away From the Numbers" did have something to do with The Who--The Who By Numbers, their album, and their early name, The High Numbers. The song had loads of Who influences in it. I think that song showed us scratching away at that particular heritage. It was all linked to the sixties mod thing. This was the track that we struggled with the most to record, taking a few takes to get it right. I'm not sure we even played it live before we recorded it; we didn't play it much live after either. I mean by the time In The City was up and running we had started working on Modern World as so there were always newer songs that found their way into the set.

The high energy set was infectious, captivating critics across the pond. Among them Robert Christgau who gave the album an A- rating:

Here we find an English hard-rock trio who wear short hair and dark suits, say "fuck" a lot, and sound rather like The Who Sing My Generation, even mentioning James Brown in one song. They also claim a positive social attitude--no police state in the U.K., but no anarchy either. Is this some kind of put-up job, pseudo-punk with respect for the verities? Could be, but it doesn't matter. When they complain that Uncle Jimmy the "red balloon" (or is it "reveloo"?) never walks home at night, they've got his number, but when they accuse him of sleeping between silk sheets they're just blowing someone else's hot air. In the end, they could go either way--or both. In the meantime, though, they blow me out. These boys can put a song together; they're both powerful enough to subsume their sources and fresh enough to keep me coming back for more. 

But the band would make its biggest impact in England where the NME 's Phil McNeill called The Jam "the acceptable face of punk rock" :

The Jam´s commercial potential is enormous. Their music and image and even their infectious teen-orientated ‘rebel’ lyrical pose are sufficiently attractive for them to popularise New Wave to the extent where it becomes meaningless ... 

 Weller´s chording is inspired, he skitters in early Townshend feedback licks with ease, he layers his guitar in a way that should be an object lesson to Wilko Johnson -- he´s just amazing ... his songs capture that entire teen frustration vibe with the melodic grace and dynamic aplomb of early Kinks and Who ... 

 Weller´s got a pretty good voice, a little like Cockney Arthur Lee ... the casual poetic edge works better than sloganeering ... 

 The acceptable face of punk rock indeed. Face it.

And from Melody Maker's Brian Harrigan :

The Jam bear no relation to the mass conception of punk ... part of today´s extensive musical reaction against the dinosaur bands who have dominated rock ... 

 Obvious that they have a great deal in common with The Who ... considerably more than copyists ... have produced tightly composed and performed songs ... 

 The Weller composed songs are anything but an embarrassement, he has a deft touch that places his material on a much higher plateau ... 

 Aggressive choked off vocal and even a reference to James Brown which in itself underlines the commitment to the spirit of the early Sixties ... 

Lay down your prejudices and give them a try -- they´re guaranteed not to disappoint.