Wednesday, October 22, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Demons of Rock

We were all blind men walking in the dark
Gene Simmons on the Hotter Than Hell sessions

   On October 22, 1974 Kiss released their second album, Hotter Than Hell. Though it would barely dent the Top 100 album chart, Hotter Than Hell would eventually go gold in 1977 following the success of the mega-seller Kiss Alive.

   Touring non stop from even before the debut album came out, Kiss recorded its follow-up in Los Angeles, home of Casablanca Records. Right from the start things went wrong. Somebody stole Paul Stanley's electric guitar. The band admits Hotter Than Hell is a compilation of old club songs that pre-date the debut ( like "Goin' Blind" which is apparently about a 93 year old man's affair with a 16 year old girl)  and songs written on the road.

Hotter Than Hell doesn't sound like a band that has its act together. The musicianship is plodding. Kiss hadn't tasted success yet, having just come off the road as a third billed act to Wishbone Ash. Ace Frehley, the only member to have a hit song as a solo artist, still didn't have the confidence to sing any of his songs.

Frehley's "Parasite" and Stanley's "Mainline" are my faves but they're not exactly the kind of songs that would draw new fans.

The back cover of the album is more interesting than the music. Photographed on an L.A. set after photographer Norman Seeff got the band and models drunk, the shoot became a wild party. To do this day Paul Stanley says he's never been to a party like that one. 

A lot of pictures taken for the back cover have never seen the light of day because some people don't want to be incriminated by  the pictures.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

40 Year Itch : Elvis's Worst Album

I   t has been described as the ultimate Elvis throw-away and as an "auto wreck that somehow plowed into a carnival freak show". Having Fun With Elvis On Stage is a live recording of Presley monologues and interactions with the audience. There is no music. Apparently Col. Tom Parker discovered if Elvis never actually sang a song, RCA Records wouldn't own the rights. So the album was released, in October of 1974, on Parker's own Box Car Records label...with a deceptive cover. Eventually RCA did get the rights to the album. The label was responsible for the tag at the top right: " A Talking Album Only"

Monday, October 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : Play Something Sweet

   In October of 1974, Maria Muldaur followed up her gold-selling debut with Waitress in the Donut Shop. Produced by Joe Boyd and Larry Waronker, Waitress is a showcase for Muldaur's ability to sing jazz, blues, jug-band etc. with both talent and enthusiasm. Guests on the album include Linda Ronstadt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle ( on "Cool River"), Paul Butterfield ( on the single "I'm a Woman") and Dr. John. Allen Toussaint wrote "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) which was a hit that year for Three Dog Night.

   It may sounds like a bit of a hodgepodge overall but taken one song at a time, Waitress is a delight. The album just snuck into the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop critics's poll.

The 1974 Pazz And Jop Critics Poll Albums 
1. Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark (Asylum) 186 (14)
2. Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic (ABC) 157 (13)
3. Randy Newman: Good Old Boys (Reprise) 154 (13)
4. Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness' First Finale (Tamla) 153 (15)
5. Rolling Stones: It's Only Rock 'n Roll (Rolling Stones) 150 (12)
6. Bob Dylan and the Band: Before the Flood (Asylum) 139 (10)
7. Roxy Music: Stranded (Atco) 106 (7)
8. Jackson Browne: Late for the Sky (Asylum) 85 (6)
9. Eric Clapton: 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO) 83 (7)
10. New York Dolls: In Too Much Too Soon (Mercury) 76 (8)
11. Linda Rondstadt: Heart Like a Wheel (Capitol) 69 (8)
12. Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel (Reprise) 65 (5)
13. Raspberries: Starting Over (Capitol) 50 (7)
14. Bryan Ferry: These Foolish Things (Atlantic) 47 (5)
15. Ry Cooder: Paradise and Lunch (Reprise) 42 (4)
16. Average White Band: Average White Band (Atlantic) 40 (4)
Velvet Underground: 1969 Velvet Underground Live (Mercury) 40 (4)
18. Bob Dylan: Planet Waves (Asylum) 38 (3)
19. Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets (Island) 35 (2)
20. Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now (Warner Bros.) 34 (3)
21. 10cc: Sheet Music (UK) 28 (3)
22. Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages (Atlantic) 25 (3)
Lou Reed: Rock n Roll Animal (RCA Victor) 25 (3)
24. Spinners: Mighty Love (Atlantic) 20 (3)
25. Blue Magic (Atco) 20 (2)
Little Feat: Feats Don't Fail Me Now (Warner Bros.) 20 (2)
27. Big Star: Radio City (Ardent) 18 (2)
28. Bad Company: Bad Co. (Swan Song) 17 (3)
29. Ohio Players: Skin Tight (Mercury) 17 (2)
Kinks: Preservation Act 2 (RCA Victor) 17 (2)
Maria Muldaur: Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise) 17 (2)

   A month earlier, Bonnie Raitt released another solid album, her fourth,  called Streetlights, featuring her signature cover of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" and our second Allen Toussaint tune today, "What is Success". Yet another good Bonnie Raitt album marred by a bad album cover. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Dead at Winterland

On October 16-20, 1974 The Grateful Dead performed a five night stand at the Winterland in San Francisco. The concerts were filmed and released in 1977, with far out animation,  as The Grateful Dead Movie. The show on the 20th marked drummer Mickey Hart's return to the band full time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

40 Year Itch: Sixteen Candles Burning on My Wall

   On October 18, 1974 Al Green was scalded by a pot of boiling grits dumped on his bare back by a woman named Mary Woodson. Moments later Woodson shot herself dead in Green's bedroom. The tragedy is said to have been a turning point in Green's life. He would soon renounce his superstardom, become a fully ordained minister, and buy the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis where he continues to preach to this date.

  Green would later admit he had a "spooky feeling" about Woodson, who was, unknown to him, a married mother of two. Woodson was at his house when a flight attendant named Carlotta Williams dropped by. The two women seemed to enjoy each other's company. Williams said good night and retired to a guest bedroom. Woodson was busy in the kitchen. Green was taking a bath:

   After I got in the tub, I soon heard a noise, I looked up and Mary was standing with the steaming pot in both hands. In the next second, my world exploded into a thousand splatters of pure agony. Mary had added grits to the water, making a thick, boiling hot paste. With all her strength, she hurled it at me. The grits scorched my naked back. The pain was so intense that I started screaming.
 Carlotta burst in. "Al!" she screamed. It was then that I saw the egg sized blisters rising on my burned flesh. Mary rushed out of the bathroom.

    Carlotta called a ambulance and was tending to me as best she could-when suddenly, we heard a gunshot. Despite being in pain, I rushed to Mary, she lay on the floor dead, clutching a gun.

  Green was taken to Baptist Hospital where he would receive skin grafts and need eight months of convalescence before he could resume his musical career. By then, he was on a different path.

“I was able to finally put my career into some kind of perspective, placing my music on one side of the scale and my peace of mind and spiritual well-being on the other.” 

   The incident occurred the same month Green released one of his best albums, Al Green Explores Your Mind, which features his iconic version of "Take Me to the River" and the Top 10 hit "Sha La La La ( Makes Me Happy)". I don't know if anybody else has noticed that the Talking Heads version of "Take Me to the River" also borrows its riff from another cut on Explores Your Mind : "One Nite Stand".

   I've always loved this album. It's the second one I bought after the first Greatest Hits compilation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Godfather of World Music

"Only one artist in the world performed at the three most significant musical events of all time: Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and The Concert for Bangla Desh. Dark Horse Records is proud to present his new music."
-Billboard Magazine ad

   Ravi Shankar, the man George Harrison crowned 'The Godfather of World Music"  released his most successful foray into pop, Shankar Family and Friends, on Harrison's Dark Horse label in October of 1974. The album broke into the Billboard 200, peaking at #176.

    The album is a meeting of East and West with Shankar and members of his actual family, along with some Indian superstars,  recording on an album produced by Harrison with the ex Beatle's favorite musical friends including Tom Scott, Billy Preston and a drummer by the name of Ringo. To Harrison, this was nothing less than having the world's greatest composer agreeing to jam with pop musicians. You can hear his reverence in this snippet from a radio interview:

   Harrison would even bring Shankar and family on his much maligned 1974 tour. Maligned first and foremost because Harrison lost his voice before the tour ever started. But also because he would leave the stage after a few songs so Shankar could perform a long, many thought too long, set. Audiences grew restless with the unfamiliar song structure. But more on that tour later.

   Side One opens with the single "I Am Missing You". This is about as mainstream pop as the album gets . Vocal performances fill out the rest of the side. Side Two is more intriguing and more welcoming to these ears. Originally a score for a ballet split into three parts( DREAM, NIGHTMARE and DAWN), Shankar mixes Eastern and Western music to great effect.

   Five years later Shankar produced something even more widely welcomed by Western ears: a daughter who would grow up to record by the name of Norah Jones.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

40 Year Itch : Rats On The Sell Out

    On October 16, 2014 The Rolling Stones released It's Only Rock 'n Roll, their 14th US album and the last one to feature Mick Taylor on lead guitar.

    Though Taylor would complain that he left after a dispute on songwriting credits, his lead guitar work is less than inspired. But then he didn't have much to work with on this album. The ballads, "Till the Next Goodbye" and "If You Really Want to Be My Friend" are bores. The second one runs over six minutes in length. 

    "Luxury" is an embarrassment . It sounds like the Glimmer Twins took notes from the drivers and maids they met on a Jamaican resort. "Dance Little Sister" repeats its title more often than even Bob Seger would dare. And "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" ain't too good a cover version.

"Fingerprint File" is the sole bright note, a preview of the underrated funk of Black and Blue. More relevant than ever, the song could be the anthem of the post 9/11 citizen surveillance. There some great bass runs by Wyman before it breaks its spell and gets silly.

At the time, critics fawned over the album. These were, after all, The Rolling Stones! Goats Head Soup may have been underwhelming but surely the greatest rock n roll band in the world wouldn't release a second dud.

Jon Landau called the album "one of the most intriguing and mysterious, as well as the darkest, of all Rolling Stones records" while Robert Christgau gave the album a B  and claimed he heard "enough hooks for here ordinary albums".

Only Lester Bangs called it right, calling the album "false. Numb"

The solution to the Stones problem "inspired" the title cut, guitarist and the best friend of just about every UK rocker, Ronnie Wood.