Monday, September 29, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Brothers

In late September of 1974, Paul McCartney's young brother, Mike McGear,  released his second solo album McGear.
   It has often been thought of as the great lost Wings album because an uncredited McCartney helped his brother write most of the songs and his band plays and sings on the album.

    The Paul McCartney-penned single, "Leave It", peaked at #36 in the UK Singles chart. It's a power pop classic. There were two other singles, "Dance the Do" and the Roxy Music cover "Sea Breezes".

McGear had changed his name a decade earlier so he wouldn't appear to be riding his famous brother's coattails. As a member of the English comedy/musical group The Scaffold, he hit #1 in 1968 with  "Lily the Pink". One listen will explain why the band never had a hit in the US. 

  On McGear, the McCartneys limit the silly punning to a few tracks ( "What Do We Really Know, "Norton") and settle in for a ride that will remind listeners of Ram-era rock and roll. Wings stretches some of the tunes beyond the 5-minute mark giving Jimmy McCullough room to show his stuff, especially on "Giving Grease a Ride".

  Full of odd moments, ( "The Man Who Found God on the Moon" could have been taken the wrong way by George Harrison), McGear is too good to be a curiosity. Billboard Magazine's critic even went so far as to tell record store owners "Play this one in the stores and it will sell itself."

   Warner Brothers released the album shortly after signing Badfinger. The talk at the time was McCartney's contract with Apple would soon be up and the label hoped to gain Paul's favor so he'd sign with Warner Brothers next.


Chris Jagger also released his second solo album in 1974 with a little help from his old brother, Mick. It's called The Adventures of Valentine Vox the Ventriloquist. Ten years ago, in an article for The Independent entitled "Why Can't Your Brother Support You?",  Chris dismissed it. " I made an album in the early Seventies but punk washed all that away and I fell musically between rock and roll and punk rock."
    He would wind up driving a taxi and acting a bit before returning to the stage to play swamp music in clubs.   

Sunday, September 28, 2014

40 Year Itch : John Lennon on the FM Dial

  On September 28, 1974 John Lennon was the surprise guest on DJ Dennis Elsas's radio show on WNEW-FM where he discussed the forthcoming Walls and Bridges album, gave the weather forecast,  played a few records, and generally "mucked about".
    This remains a favorite of Beatle historians because Lennon talked about everything from the origibnal butcher cover of Yesterday and Today to Lennon's immigration problems to the possibility of a Beatles reunion . Among the records he played were Bobby Parker's "Watch Your Step" from which he borrowed a guitar line for "I Feel Fine", ELO's "Showdown" and Richard Barrett's "Some Other Guy".

Saturday, September 27, 2014

40 Year Itch : John Lennon AM Radio Jock

  On September 27, 1974 John Lennon DJ'd the morning shift at KHJ-AM in LA. He took listener requests ( "It's Only Love" from Rubber Soul, the only song I ever did I didn't like. We might play it. I'll have to suffer) , read live ads, played tracks off his new Walls and Bridges album and generally mucked about. It's a great listen to the wittiest Beatle ...having a great time!

Friday, September 26, 2014

40 Year Itch : The King in Fighting Competition

We got bored easily.
-guitarist Gary Green

   While so many prog rock bands of the 70's wanted their music to wash over you with entire sides devoted to overtures and repeated motifs, Gentle Giant packed as many tunes as possible in a single song . Give a listen to "Playing the Game: from The Power and The Glory, released in September of 1974.

    First and foremost, Gentle Giant was a rock band with a great "rock band" - like stage presence. They got the greatest pleasure playing with rhythms, going contrapuntal so often they were labeled "pretentious" by rock critics. In response, Gentle Giant affixed a huge neon sign that read PRETENTIOUS above the stage. Now THAT is rock and roll!

Derek Shulman
    Released a month after the resignation of President Nixon, The Power and the Glory is a concept album about the inherent corruption in politics

I will steer the helm of all the nation as the captain
take my rewards for all the good I'm doing now, 
and no words that I'm the knave will alter my philosophy 
for if any are heard,
 the games started again 
I'll never ever lose.

  There is virtue in playing music as algebraic as Gentle Giant's. Unfortunately, it's not of the commercial variety. The Power and the Glory charted, but only peaked at #78 in the United States. A shame because this is their best album...and offers a remarkable listening experience.

The most recent reissue of The Power and The Glory is in Hi-Resolution Stereo and 5.1 Surround sound. The Blu-Ray comes with far out visuals.

September 1974 also witnessed the release of Gryphon's Red Queen to Gryphon Three, an instrumental concept album about chess by the prog rockers who had been touring with Yes. This isn't in-your-face prog! It's mostly medieval instrumentation paired with strings.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

40 Year Itch : Nostalgic Wizzardry

In the midst of a 50's rock revival in the UK, Roy Wood (The Move, ELO)  and his band Wizzard recreate the sounds of the artists they grew up hearing: Elvis, Del Shannon, Phil Spector and Gene Vincent. 

There's an enormous amount of craft involved, but this one might have been more fun making than hearing 40 years later. Roy Wood would soon disband Wizzard and record one of his best albums, 1975's Mustard.

Monday, September 22, 2014

40 Yea Itch : Adrift on an Ocean of Loneliness

The young man fumbling his way through love and life has long been a great source of inspiration for books and movies. Who can't identify with that image at any age? On Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky, released in September of 1974, the 26-year old artist shares his own stumbles through heartaches of various stripes.And it's a winner.

If Joni Mitchell's Blue was the great consoling friend for women in the 1970's, Late for the Sky is the earnest male friend who bought the next round and hopes his tales of woe will provide you with hard-earned wisdom  

   This is a "grower". Like the best albums, Late for the Sky gets better with repeated listens. The music gets better and so do the lyrics. While the title cut and "Fountain of Sorrow" ( supposedly about a short-lived love affair with Joni Mitchell) are the best known tracks, "Farther On" might him home the hardest.

In my early years I hid my tears, and passed my days alone 
Adrift on an ocean of loneliness my dreams like nets were thrown 
To catch the love that I'd heard of in books and films and songs 
Now there's a world of illusion and fantasy in the place where the real world belongs 
Still I look for the beauty in songs 
To fill my head and lead me on 
Though my dreams have come up torn and empty 
As many times as love has come and gone

  In your teens and twenties, every relationship has an epic quality. THIS is the stuff of great literature, plays and films.With enough experience, you realize the ideals that you've established are unrealistic and that with time, she won't be who you think she is...and you won't be who she thinks you are. The relationship enters Phase 2 where the drop out rate is greatest.

Life is full of heartache and Jackson Browne would know more than his fair share. But on this singular album, he eloquently,  and with perfect enunciation, provides comfort for millions because he's been there too.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : Nightmares

  Boston's greatest bar band gets back to the basics on Nightmares..and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, released in September of 1974. Riding the #12 hit , "Must Have Got Lost", Nightmares reached the Top 30. The album is packed with punchy tunes as well as a breathless Magic Dick spotlight on "Stoop Down  #39". And that album cover is one of the best of the entire decade!