Tuesday, July 22, 2014

40 Year Itch: Brighter Days Ahead

        For Stevie Wonder, the 1973 car accident that nearly killed him ended Chapter One of his life. Fulfillingess' First Finale, released July 22, 1974, wraps up the story so far. The album cover features images of Little Stevie, JFK, MLK, The Motortown Review bus, his high school graduation and multiple Grammy Awards. Musically, this mostly somber, personal album retains the synth masters of TONTO's Expanding Head Band ,producers Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, so there is a consistency in sound with his other early 70's classic albums. It is said that the accident made Wonder more spiritual and more personally aware.

     Considering all the work he had done for other artists this year ( producing and writing much of Syreeta's album, producing Minnie Riperton's Perfect Angel, giving Rufus "Tell Me Something Good" and Aretha "Until You Come Back To Me"), it's remarkable to think Wonder had enough songs for a double album.

        The first single is  the funky, political jibe-packed anti-Nixon "You Haven't Done Nothin'" which would hit #1 the month of Nixon's resignation. At the time Stevie said:

   I don't vote for anybody until after they have really done something that I know about. I want to see them do something first.

   The Doo Doo Wop refrain is sung with the Jackson 5.

  It's interesting to note how often Stevie Wonder talks about and sings about "seeing". The opening lines of the lusty second single, "Boogie on Reggae Woman" are

         I'd like to see both of us
         Fall deeply in love - yeah
         I'd like to see you in the raw
         Under the stars above

  Among my favorite deep cuts is "It Ain't No Use". As on most  cuts, Wonder is playing everything: keyboards, Moog-made bass and drums. He only needs some sweetening on the back up vocals provided courtesy of Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams and Lani Groves. This could fit on that magical Side Two of Songs in the Key of Life.
    Fulfillingess' First Finale topped the Pop Album charts in the US for two weeks and won three Grammys including Album of the Year.

       That same day Motown released Machine Gun, the debut  album from The Commodores. Perhaps unconvinced  the band would ever record a ballad good enough to be a hit single, Berry Gordy asked for an album full of nothing but funk. The title cut may have been composed off a blueprint of Billy Preston's recent hits ( Outa-Space, Space Race) but the song put The Commodores on the hit making track, peaking at #7 on the R and B charts and #22 on the pop charts.

The second single, "I Feel Sanctified", was popular with fans of the Bump Dance craze.

By the way, the Commodores did have some success with ballads. Future Top 10 hits include "Just To Be Close To You", "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady".

Monday, July 21, 2014

40 Year Itch: Back on the Stompin' Ground

God bless any rock and roll act that followed Rory Gallagher and his band's blistering tour of his troubled homeland. On the double-live album Irish Tour, released on July 21, 1974,  Rory, long-haired drummer Rod de'Ath, shaggy bassist Gerry McAvoy and keyboardist Lou Marin sound united by ESP or at least a mission to give the Irish a 70-minute break from the Troubles. 
   A day before the Belfast show, one of three recorded for this album, ten bombs went off throughout the city. People thought Rory would cancel. Instead, as journalist Roy Hollingworth reported, he gave them the show of his life:

 "I've never seen anything quite so wonderful, so stirring, so uplifting, so joyous as when Gallagher and the band walked on stage. The whole place erupted, they all stood and they cheered and they yelled, and screamed, and they put their arms up, and they embraced. Then as one unit they put their arms into the air and gave peace signs. Without being silly, or overemotional, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It all meant something, it meant more than just rock n' roll, it was something bigger, something more valid than just that."

  The tour was captured on film by Tony Palmer ( who also documented tours by Zappa, Ginger Baker and Leonard Cohen). Let's forgive him for not addressing the troubles because watching it, you'll see Rory Gallagher for who he is : just a decent, gentle soul . A flip gets switched when Rory gets on stage. And he becomes one of the most dynamic entertainers you'll ever see.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Bucolic Frolic


   On July 20, 1974,  Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tim Buckley, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and The Doobie Brothers all appeared at Knebworth Park, Stevenage, England. A special PA system was used for the event, claiming to be the best ever for an outside show, weighing 12 tons and needing five technicians. 60,000 people attended the show. For years to follow, Knebworth would hold the title "The Stately Home of Rock" as the biggest bands in the world performed there including Pink Floyd (1975), Led Zeppelin (1979) and Queen ( 1986). For eyewitness accounts and more , visit here

Saturday, July 19, 2014

40 Year Itch: No Hassles Guaranteed

The Ozark Music Festival can only be described as a disaster. It became a haven for drug pushers who were attracted from throughout the United States. The scene made the degradation of Sodom and Gomorrah appear mild. Natural and unnatural sex acts became a spectator sport. Frequently, nude women promoted drugs with advertisements on their bodies
   -Missouri Senate Committee Report

   An "ocean of youth" showed up at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia for a weekend of rock concerts that began on July 19, 1974.

   Concert organizers promised "no hassles guaranteed" in a full page ad in Rolling Stone. They were expecting 50-60,000 people to show up. Instead at least three times that number overran the fest.  Traffic backed up 17 miles. 

A farmer reported 30 pigs stolen by the ravenous crowd. 

   They came to see bands like The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith who played as temperatures hit triple digits with high humidity. Clothing was optional as photographer David Mann documented.

When it was all over, one concertgoer was dead, 1000 overdoses and $100,00 in property damage.

Following State Senate hearings and Grand Jury probes, it was pretty much decided there would be no more rock concerts in the Ozarks. I hope that helps explain why Branson is such a cheeseball country music town. Cuz I got nothing else.

Friday, July 18, 2014

40 Year Itch: Night of the Butterlies

On July 18, Zoo World: The Music Magazine related the story of how Peggy Lee wound up recording a song written by Paul McCartney.

Los Angeles – What do you do when Peggy Lee asks you to dinner? Well, if you’re Paul McCartney, you just don’t buy a bottle of rare champagne to show your appreciation. You sit at your piano and compose her a song. That’s what Paul did when the McCartneys were to meet Miss Lee in London earlier this year. And that’s why he and a most flattered Peggy – one of the greatest pop vocalists of the era, whose name is certainly known to as many people as the Beatles – were at the Record Plant studios one day the first week in June: McCartney was producing his song, "Let’s Love," for the title track to what must be Peggy Lee’s fortieth album.

  After a hard day’s work, Paul, unmustachioed and dressed sharply in a black satin shirt and washed-out blue jeans, and Peg, looking trim in a tan suede suit (having recently taken off some weight) and youthful, though at 54 years of age she could be Paul’s mother, held a mini press conference/photo session around Studio C’s grand piano. In high spirits, they casually sang a couple of songs together, elaborated on their surprising collaboration and then took the small mob into the control room to hear the finished track.

  "Well, of course," said Peggy to Paul, "I was a fan of yours before you knew about me."

  "No, that’s not right," answered McCartney. "No. I was a fan of yours before you knew about me, Peggy."

 "Yeah, I used to have records of Peggy. I did ‘Til There Was You’ because I had Peggy’s record of it [see Latin a la Lee]… So I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, you know. And she came to London and she invited us for dinner over at her hotel. So I thought ‘I’m going along to dinner. Well, I’m either gonna take a bottle of champagne or a song…’"

  "I’d rather have a song anytime," added Peggy. "I can always get some champagne, but it would be very difficult to get a Paul McCartney song – written especially for me."

   "So I took a song along and Peggy said, ‘Great. Let’s do it.’ So we got a hold of Dave Grusin (who with Peggy is producing the rest of the album). And really that’s all there is to it." The logistics were no problem.  

"I was delighted, naturally," said Peggy. "And Linda didn’t mind."

  "Let’s Love," recorded with Paul on piano, is a simple romantic tune with characteristic McCartney production. From the lone piano introduction, strings and woodwinds enter in stages as Peggy sings in her rich, becalming tones: "Lover, let’s be in love with each other / Tonight is the night of the butterflies / Let’s love…"

  When the new album (her first on the Atlantic label) – and "Let’s Love" in particular – are released sometime in August Peggy Lee may very well have another hit in the Hot 100 charts. "I hope so," she said, speaking in her lavish – but not opulent – Beverly Hills home. "I am so thrilled about the whole thing. The material is strong and I love the one Paul wrote. And to think that he would go to all that trouble. He said it was his way of returning an inspiration… You know I met him and Linda in London an it was instant friendship. And somehow I feel that with all the great things Paul has done, his talent is just growing and growing."

Despite its lazy lyrics, the single did hit the mid 20's in the Easy Listening charts the Thanksgiving week Neil Sedaka's "Laughter in the Rain" held the the top spot.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Slow Boogie Roll

No album from 1974 means more to me than Rejuvination. All nine songs take me right back to my years as a college student in New Orleans. The chicken scratch guitar lines, the funky drumming, the bass runs and keyboard padding are the sounds that inspire other senses. Listening to the album I'm reminded that spending humid Summer days in the city is as close as you may ever come to learning what it's like to breathe underwater. At night you feel like you're walking through spider webs. The sight of cockroaches darting for the shadows of your shoes.

By the Summer of 74 The Meters were due. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli sums up why in the Sunburst reissue of the CD's liner notes ( written by Bunny Matthews):

We were the in-house rhythm section for Allen Toussaint when he was hot. We got the opportunity to perform behind Robert Palmer ( Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley), Patti LaBelle ( Lady Marmalade) and Dr John ( In the Right Place) . 

The Meters with Cyril Neville: Leo Nocentelli, Cyril, Ziggy Modeliste, Art Neville, George Porter

We did some things with Lowell George . Actually, I'm proud to tell people this bit of trivia because I don't think it was even mention of the Rejuvination album cover: Lowell came with Robert Palmer to do "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" and "Hey Julia" --he brought in Lowell to play slide. We did that session and Lowell had a couple of songs from Little Feat that he wanted to record so he made a trade with me. He recorded on two of The Meters' songs ( "Just Kissed My Baby" was one of them) in exchange for The Meters recording on two of his songs for Little Feat.

Out of the gates, Rejuvination was hailed as a "Crescent City masterpiece" by Rolling Stone. The first RS Record Guide would give the album 5 stars. ( The most recent deducts half a star and wrongly suggests you go with the anthology Funkify Your Life first). The album didn't sell in the numbers dreamed up by the Meters and Reprise/Josie. In fact it never even made the R and B album charts. But down in New Orleans Rejuvination remains the must-own album of all time.

    That Rejuvination went out of print for decades is unfathomable. I taped my copy from a crackling WTUL record. In the mid-90's, I ran into George Porter who confessed he lost his last copy. 

   Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Mardi Gras indians who make up The Wild Magnolias also released an album of New Orleans music in the Summer of 74. Willie Tee and guitarist Snooks Eaglin provide support on what is otherwise a lot of street chanting and percussion.

 Their 1975 follow-up album ( They Call Us Wild originally released only in Europe) and the 1976 Wild Tchoupitoulas album ( produced by Allen Toussaint with The Meters) are better examples of what can happen when Mardi Gras indians get the right back up. Even so, seeing them live is the best way to experience the scene.
  How much do I like the Wild Tchoupitoulas album? I didn't have to look up how to spell "Tchoupitoulas".

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

40 Year Itch : Pissin' in the Wind

  Weeks into the big Crosby Stills Nash and Young reunion tour, Neil Young released On The Beach, an album he described as "probably one of the most depressing records I've ever made". Early reviewers seemed to agree. The album failed to make the Pazz and Jop Critics Poll that year. When the record industry entered the CD age, On the Beach was one of the few albums Neil Young didn't bother to release to disc. Until 2003.

     "It was only a reflection of what I was going through at the time." Young shrugged when he was asked why the album hadn't come out.

      It was something America was going through at the time. The hippie dream was over. It ended in a series of massacres conducted by Charlie Manson and his followers. It ended in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. The drug overdoses of young artists and musicians. In the uptick of the divorce rate. The disillusionment of rock stardom and despair over various political crises from the Oil embargoes to Watergate.
      And Neil was closer to a lot of that shit than most of us. 
      He'd met Manson at Dennis Wilson's house.

    And , though he didn't it know at the time he wrote "Motion Pictures ( "I'm deep inside myself,/but I'll get out somehow/And I'll stand before you/and I'll bring a smile to your eyes") he and wife Carrie Snodgrass weren't going to save their marriage. He was a man standing alone on a Malibu beach.

    "Vampire Blues" takes on the oil industry "suckin' blood from the earth".
      "For the Turnstiles" is about moving merchandise and "Singing songs for pimps with tailors/who charge ten dollars at the door".

   But the highlight, for me at least, is "Revolution Blues", the darkest song to come out of LA since Jim Morrison got fat and moved to France. Though Manson and his family are not mentioned by name, the lyrics could have come from a letter left on his doorstep by homicidal hippies camping on his lawn.

I see bloody fountains, 
And ten million dune buggies comin' down the mountains.
 Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, 
But I hate them worse than lepers
 and I'll kill them in their cars.

No doubt that Young had met his shared of confused, unwashed people who discovered secret personal messages in his lyrics. It reminds me of John Lennon's meeting with a starry eyed hippie in England:
     "So we met. I'm just a guy. I write songs".
  Maybe it's no coincidence, an NME editor compared On the Beach to Lennon's primal scream therapy era. On the Beach is certainly on of the first 5 Neil Young albums you should own.