Monday, July 28, 2014

40 Year Itch: You Can Pee On Me!

  Standing On the Verge of Getting It On, released in July of 1974, captures Funkadelic at maximum sustained-funk. In many ways it is the ultimate Funkadelic album. Guitar phenom Eddie Hazel, who has barely been present for the last two albums, comes back strong here, co-writing all of the songs on the album with George Clinton. The epic closer, "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" will remind listeners of Hazel's "Maggot Brain" workouts.

Hazel and George Clinton have also enlisted some other outstanding musicians including future Talking Heads mainstay Bernie Worrell on keyboards and the "World's Only Black Leprechaun" , Cordell "Boogie' Mosson shines on bass. 

By this point, Funkadelic had become one of the ultimate concert acts: Clinton might be seen jumping out of a coffin and conducting the audience through catch phrases.There was always someone running around in a diaper and someone else simulating sex acts.

  Just married, in an onstage ceremony to Kathy Silva at sold-out Madison Square Garden, Sly Stone released Small Talk, his seventh and final album with the Family, in July of 1974. It was met with mostly negative reviews like this one from Rolling Stone's Vince Aletti:

I'd call Small Talk disappointing but that would assume I had some expectations left for Sly and the Family Stone.

Those reviews pretty much doomed Small Talk until recent years, when music fans couldn't believe the album following the critically reappraised Fresh had nothing on it worth hearing.

To these ears, the best tunes are the ones that could have been on Fresh. I like the horns on "Holdin' On" and the muted funkiness of "Can't Strain My Brain". That doesn't say a lot for Sly's originality. But maybe with a newborn crying all the time ( like on the wretched first cut), Sly really couldn't strain his brain.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Boy is Strange!

On July 26, 1974 The Rolling Stones released the single "It's Only Rock 'n'Roll (But I Like It)" which featured the immortal lyrics : 

If I could stick my pen in my heart, 
And spill it all over the stage; 
Would it satisfy ya, 
would it slide on by ya, 
Would you think the boy is strange? 
Ain't he strange?  

  While songwriting credits for the song are credited to Mick and Keef, the song was actually written by Mick and future Stone Ron Wood at Woody's home one night in '73. They recorded a demo with Bowie singing back up.

  What does the song --and all of its suicidal imagery--mean? Jagger says:

"The idea of the song has to do with our public persona at the time. I was getting a bit tired of people having a go, all that, 'oh, it's not as good as their last one' business. The single sleeve had a picture of me with a pen digging into me as if it were a sword. It was a lighthearted, anti-journalistic sort of thing."

The song peaked at #10 in the UK and #16 in the US and raised expectations that the next Stones album, due in October, would be better than Goats Head Soup. Spoiler alert: It's not.

Friday, July 25, 2014

40 Year Itch : Can I Sit Next To You, Girl

    Out of the gates, AC/DC came across as a down under Glam rock band with a preening lead vocalist who liked to wear scarves. Like Elvis.  Dave Evans stuck around for one single, "Can I Sit Next To You, Girl" and one promotional video. On October 24, 1974, 28-year old Bon Scott, despite still recovering from a motorcycle accident,  replaced Evans. In 1975, AC/DC re-recorded the song ( a minute longer and without the comma). That version appears on the Australian only release of T.N.T and the international compilation High Voltage. By then AC/DC were on their way...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

40 Year Itch : Partly Fish, Partly Porpoise

    July of 1974 saw three major albums from artists who were, to use the Eyewitness News phrase, "lucky to be alive". Fulfillingess' First Finale was Stevie Wonder's first album since a car accident that put him into a coma. 461 Ocean Boulevard was Clapton's comeback album after years in which he had disappeared into his heroin addiction. And then there is Rock Bottom, released July 26, 1974, by Robert Wyatt 13 months after a fall left him paralysed from the waist down. Of the three, my feeling is Rock Bottom offers patient listeners the most rewards.

   The opening cut, "Sea Song", a love song straight-forward enough to be covered by Tears For Fears, reveals Wyatt's beautiful sense of melody.  Even more interesting than the lyrics to his future wife, the album cover's artist Alfreda Benge (When you're drunk you're terrific/ When you're drunk I like you mostly late at night/ You're quite alright But I can't understand the different you in the morning) is the way Wyatt uses his voice as another layer of instruments. He's non-verbal and yet says so much. There's not a note of self-pity to be found ( despite the album title).

   Rock Bottom works on a subconscious level too. The rhythmic panting of "Alifib" reminds me of a final night, bedside next to a dying loved one. I don't believe that's Wyatt's intention. Most of the letters that make up ALIFIB can be found in his future wife's name ( they got married on the day of Rock Bottom's release).
  I suppose my point is Rock Bottom is an album that may take you places other music never has.

   I'm not sure I want to dig deep enough to learn the artists's intentions. You won't find another word about Rock Bottom's history here. Just a piece of advice :  let this album work its magic.

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