Sunday, July 22, 2018

Laser Beams and Gamma Projectors

On July 21, 1978 the melodic Scottish power pop band, The Rezillos, released their debut album Can't Stand the Rezillos . "Top of the Pops" ( a UK Top 20 hit) and "Can't Stand My Baby" are usually selected as the highlights, but I'm digging the detuning bass line on "Flying Saucer Attack".

The NME's Paul Morley described the album as "13 quick cuts lustily shot through with cheap culture combinations ... The group's inventiveness does things with noise that are a little too clever for hippy-happy exhilaration; there's no chance of any calculated innocence here ... But it's all very clever: the parodied dissatisfaction of punk; the lashings of beat and controlled chaos; the frenzied passion of the production, and, above all else, lots of cosmic vibes, maan."

Ian Birch of Melody Maker said, "There's no need for worried glances: the band have pulled the proverbial cat out of the bag. They have always been about wraparound, cartoon strip enjoyment and that's exactly what you get. Both sides seethe with great pop bluster which has been captured (as it should have been) in all its rough-edged immediacy."

 Nick Tester of Sounds stated that the album was "a definitive slice of the Scottish beat combo's past and present in full unabridged glory... No flabby excesses, the Rezillos stick 'wisely' to their ultra confident and rigid style, a format which sweeps through both sides with little hesitation or respite."

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Hear My Voice, Move My Hair.

On July 21, 1978 Talking Heads released More Songs About Buildings and Food, kicking off a four year association with producer Brian Eno.  With Eno's ability to use the studio as an instrument, Talking Heads moved from the spare sounds of ...77 to fuller far more interesting arrangements. Eno and band members also shared a growing interest in African music .

Some  fun facts:

Eno corralled the entire secretarial pool at Compass Point Studios in Nassau to join Tina Weymouth (as Tina and Typing Pool) to sing on "The Good Thing".

Among the Enoisms: the dub-influenced repeat echo on Chris Frantz's drum on 'Warning Sign". There are sonic treatments on every song really. 

Among the proposed album titles: Oh! What a Big Country, Tina and the Typing Pool and, from Jerry Harrison, Fear of Music. It was Tina's asking her husband whether anyone would really buy more songs about buildings and food that they found the title.

Like a dealer playing three card monte, I am constantly alternating what tops my list of favorite Talking Heads albums. More Songs is certainly one of the band's peaks. It broke the band in the US, peaking at 29 on the Billboard charts.

Now for some contemporaneous reviews : here's Ken Emerson writing for Rolling Stone :

On More Songs about Buildings and Food, David Byrne sings the word feelingssssss with a puppy's yelp that turns into a snaky hiss. Even the ostensibly jubilant "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel" hurtles to an abrupt coitus interruptus: "But first, show me what you can do!" If, in one song, Byrne chides the girls for ignoring the boys ("Girls, they're getting into abstract analysis"), in most of the others, Byrne himself seems frantically to be staving off amorous involvement: "I've got to get to work now" (the traditional male equivalent of "Not tonight, honey -- I've got a headache"). Indeed, the word work recurs throughout the record as the singer both pushes and parodies the Protestant ethic: (Not since the Four Freshmen has there been a group as Protestant and downright preppie as Talking Heads.) Love wreaks havoc on the rational, workaday world, and David Byrne's comic cold shoulder recalls the more strenuous resistance of Joni Mitchell, so many of whose songs have expressed a similar fear that love will deflect her artistic career.

Love and work, of course, is what Freud said all of us need, but on More Songs about Buildings and Food, Byrne appears able to imagine the proper equilibrium only in "Found a Job," wherein a bickering couple's relationship improves while collaborating on television scripts. He sings about this improvement with considerable sarcasm, though, and elsewhere on the LP, love and logic are at loggerheads. The tension between the two, like the similar tension Bryan Ferry creates between sentimentality and sophistication, is excruciating, and when it snaps in the album's final song, "The Big Country" (a title taken from a line in Ferry's "Prairie Rose"), Byrne is bounced into the void. Flying over the United States, he looks down with regret and revulsion at life below: "I wouldn't live there if you paid me." Yet, at the same time, he's "tired of traveling" and wants "to be somewhere." Like a hijacked airplane that no nation will permit to land,the singer seems doomed to fly until his fuel is exhausted and he plummets to a fiery death.

Sound gloomy? Well it would be if Byrne didn't see hilarity in tight-assed hysteria and laugh at his Puritan pratfalls. Or if coproducer Brian Eno, once Bryan Ferry's colleague in Roxy Music, hadn't crammed so much humor and energy into each song. The cerebral, brittle sound of Talking Heads: 77 has been fleshed out with supple synthesizer fills, and Chris Frantz' drums and the synthesized percussion leap boldly out of the mix. Almost every cut has a percussive gimmick -- handclaps, clattering rim shots, a heavily echoed backbeat -- that rivets the attention, punctuating the melody or hammering home the words.

 These arrangements bustle without sounding cluttered. Whenever the agitated jangle of guitars starts to nag, it slips into something mellifluous. Thus "The Girls Want to Be with the Girls" shuttles back and forth between the staccato attack of a mid-Sixties garage band and the playful lilt of a nursery rhyme. "Stay Hungry" manages to meld James Brown, the early Beatles ("Things We Said Today") and a "progressive"-rock synthesizer. The eclecticism of More Songs about Buildings and Food -- its witty distillations of disco and reggae rhythms, its reconciliation of "art" and punk rock -- is masterful. The music represents a triumph over diversity, while the words spell out defeat by disparities between mind and body, head and heart.

 This, presumably, is why Talking Heads make music -- and superb music at that. Because talk is cheap.

Robert Christgau of the Village Voice gave the album an A, writing :

Here the Heads become a quintet in an ideal producer-artist collaboration -- Eno contributes/interferes just enough. Not only does his synthesized lyricism provide flow and continuity, it also makes the passive, unpretentious technological mysticism he shares with the band real in the aural world. In fact, there is so much beautiful music (and so much funky music) on this album that I'll take no more complaints about David Byrne's voice. Every one of these eleven songs is a positive pleasure, and on every one the tension between Byrne's compulsive flights and the sinuous rock bottom of the music is the focus. I have more doubts than ever about Byrne's post-hippie work-ethic positivism -- on one new song, he uses the phrase "wasting precious time" and means it -- but if it goes with music this eccentric and compelling I'm damn sure going to hear him out.

Jim Harrington adds this observation  in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die :

The singer's eccentric, smartly self-conscious lyrics remain at the forefront of "With Our Love" and "The Good Thing," but they have to elbow for space against the increasingly complex rhythm work of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz. If ...77 was primarily for your head, More Songs About Buildings And Food was equally intended for the feet as it boogied through classical minimalism, spacey disco, and African funk

Friday, July 20, 2018

Drip Drip Drip Drip

On July 21, 1978 a four song demo by The Cure reached Polydor Records' Chris Parry who heard something Phonogram and Island Records did not. Two of the songs on that demo are now classics : "Boys Don't Cry" ( Robert Smith's attempt at writing a classic 60's style pop song) and "10:15 Saturday Night", written when Smith was 16. 

"'10.15 Saturday Night' was written at the table in our kitchen, watching the tap dripping, feeling utterly morose, drinking my dad's home-made beer. My evening had fallen apart and I was back at home feeling vert sorry for myself," wrote Smith in liner notes for the 2005 reissue of Three Imaginary Boys.

Parry had missed out on signing The Sex Pistols and The Clash, but he did get The Jam. Now another three piece had caught his attention, especially the song about sitting in the kitchen sink:

"My reaction was it had mood, it was atmospheric and I liked it."

He would sign The Cure to his newly created Fiction label.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Suede Denim Secret Police

On July 19, 1978 America's most famous punk band, The Dead Kennedys,  made their stage debut at Mabuhay Gardens in their hometown of San Francisco. Located in the midst of North Bay's famous stripper joints, The "Mab" had already become a popular all ages place. Blondie had just played there.

The Dead Kennedys were opening for The Offs.

"The thing I remember is that we didn't have a complete set," says East Bay Ray. "We had a 20 minute set. But we were so excited we played that 20 minute set in 15 minutes!"

The DK's would become regulars at The Mab. 

But the band's real name generated controversy. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote in November 1978,

"Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called 'The Dead Kennedys', which will play at Mabuhay Gardens on Nov. 22, the 15th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination." 

Despite mounting protests, the owner of Mabuhay declared, "I can't cancel them NOW—there's a contract. Not, apparently, the kind of contract some people have in mind." However, despite popular belief, the name was not meant to insult the Kennedy family, but according to singer Jello Biafra, "to bring attention to the end of the American Dream"

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Shiver in the Dark

On July 19, 1978 Dire Straits played their debut single, "Sultans of Swing" live on the BBC.  Released in May of 1978,  a year when disco and punk still ruled, the song was virtually ignored by everyone except London broadcaster Charlie Gillett who would play it on his local show. It wouldn't be until a year later, after Warner Brothers signed the band, that the "Sultans of Swing" would take off, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and UK#8.

 In the early 80's Dire Straits would be one of the biggest bands in the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Inducing Calm and a Space to Think

Sure David Bowie called it "unremittingly dull", but Brian Eno's follow up to Discreet Music, Ambient 1: Music For Airports, released in 1978, has sold more than 200,000 copies . In the liner notes, Eno stated the manifesto; "It must be as ignorable as it is interesting" and "induce calm and a space to think".

I've been using it to drown out fellow office workers and train passengers for many years.

A nervous flyer, Eno believed the muzak streamed through airport terminals only made fliers feel more anxious. 

The first of the four tracks consists of Robert Wyatt on piano who was instructed to play spontaneously:

Brian just sort of got me to improvise at the piano for a while and chose what to use of it later. I was surprised and delighted with his use of what I did – how he created a sustained mood. I didn’t know what he would do with what I’d played . . . I think the results were brilliant, pure Brian – great stuff!

Said Eno:

I had four musicians in the studio, and we were doing some improvising exercises that I'd suggested. I couldn't hear the musicians very well at the time, and I'm sure they couldn't hear each other, but listening back, later, I found this very short section of tape where two pianos, unbeknownst to each other, played melodic lines that interlocked in an interesting way. To make a piece of music out of it, I cut that part out, made a stereo loop on the 24-track, then I discovered I liked it best at half speed, so the instruments sounded very soft, and the whole movement was very slow.

"2/1" has vocal performances by Eno, Christa Fast, Christine Gomez and Inge Zeininger :

There are sung notes, sung by three women and myself. One of the notes repeats every 23 1/2 seconds. It is in fact a long loop running around a series of tubular aluminum chairs in Conny Plank's studio. The next lowest loop repeats every 25 7/8 seconds or something like that. The third one every 29 15/16 seconds or something. What I mean is they all repeat in cycles that are called incommensurable — they are not likely to come back into sync again. So this is the piece moving along in time. Your experience of the piece of course is a moment in time, there. So as the piece progresses, what you hear are the various clusterings and configurations of these six basic elements. The basic elements in that particular piece never change. They stay the same. But the piece does appear to have quite a lot of variety.

In Michael Bloom's Rolling Stone review he called  the album ‘aesthetic white noise... In theory, none of these pieces end: the loop can continue, with eternal variation, as long as the airport is standing. But whether or not they ever play this stuff over the loudspeakers at LaGuardia, Brian Eno has succeeded once again in provoking his fans.’

(The album would be played at LaGuardia for an installation at the Marine Terminal in 1980)

Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ review, writing:

Although I'm no frequenter of airports, I've found that these four swatches of modestly "ambient" minimalism have real charms as general-purpose calmatives. But I must also report that they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds: sex (neutral to arid), baseball (pleasant, otiose), dinner at my parents' (conversation piece), abstract writing (useful but less analgesic than Discreet Music or my David Behrman record). Also, I'm still waiting for "1/1" to resolve the "Three Blind Mice" theme.

Eno also spent 1978 working on new albums by Talking Heads, David Bowie and by the No Wave artists of New York City. The Devo debut he produced would be out by the end of the Summer. In other words, we certainly haven't heard the last from Mr Eno this year.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Best of Brazil 1978

Arguably the best Brazilian album of 1978, Zé Ramalho's solo debut starts off with "Avôhai", a song inspired by an experience Ramalho had after taking psilocybin mushroom. He says he looked at the sky and saw the "shadow of a gigantic spaceship", and a voice whispered "Avôhai" in his ear. Keyboardist Patrick Moraz of Yes supplies the otherworldly the cosmic keys. If your Portuguese is lacking, you will still get off on the upbeat,  lightly psychedelic, uplifting feel of the album. That is, if you can find it!

The only album from 1978 to make Rolling Stone's list the 100 Greatest Brazilian Music Records, Maria Bethânia's seductive Alibi is the first million seller from that country. Though the arrangements may seem dated today, this collection of songs, written by the likes of her brother Caetano Veloso, Djavan and Chico Buarque, are beautiful and sung with feeling by Bethânia. "Sonho Meu" appeared on the David Byrne compiled Brazilian compilation Beleza Tropical.

Released as Brazil's censorship was finally softening, Chico Buarque takes a direct shot at the military dictatorship with "Calice", a word that can be translated to mean "Shut up". Another song that was featured on the Beleza Tropical compilation.

The good people at Seattle's Light in the Attic Records have re-released this overlooked masterpiece by the sometimes zany, often emotional singer/songwriter. No wonder David Byrne dedicated an entire Brazil compilation to this wonderful artist. 

A reader told me I missed a great one and I have to agree. The Nascimento and friends sequel Clube da Esquina 2 comes six years after the original. It's going to take me a while to get into this remastered at Abbey Road but every review I've read says it's worth it.

Jorge Ben begins to explore  his brassy and funky side after joining the Som Livre label. While most of the song's deal with romance, Ben fans will be glad to know there's a futbol tune in there too: "Cadê O Penalty" (Where's The Penalty). Something fans of Croatia futbol might be asking this week. 

Many fans consider Elis Regina to be Brazil's most talented female singer and her 1978 album Vento de Maio her peak. Difficult to find ( the link above is to her final live performance of one of the most famous songs from Vento de Maio)

She would die of a drug overdose in 1982.