Monday, September 1, 2014

40 Year Itch : Want a Big Hit Record

  On their final album, the Raspberries turned up the amps and made that great rock album synthesizing the best rock of the 60's with that of the 70's. You can hear the Beach Boys harmonies "Cruisin' Music"), the power chords of The Who ("Play On")  and , on "All Through the Night", even a nod to Rod the Mod.

The album kicks off with perhaps the greatest Raspberries tune ever recorded : the epic "Overnight Sensation ( Hit Record)", which peaked at #18 on the singles chart but topped critic Dave Marsh's list of the best songs of '74. Here, finally, is a band honest enough to admit they just want a hit record ( yeh!).

Well the program director don't pull it 
Then it's bound to get back the bullet 
So bring the group down to the station 
You're gonna be an overnight sensation 

   These weren't the same Raspberries that recorded Beatlesque tunes on their earlier album. Bassist/Vocalist Scott McCarl and drummer Michael McBride replaces the departed Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley. Critic Robert Christgau said McCarl provided Eric Carmen with a John to his Paul, while E Street drummer Max Weinberg has said he based her early drumming style on McBride's pounding on Starting Over.

   Starting Over was actually the end for the Raspberries. Eric Carmen would soon be all by himself. By 1975, his single "All By Myself" was on its way to #1 on the Cashbox 100. The Village Voice's year end  Pazz and Jop critics poll for 1974 ranked Starting Over at #13, ahead of Ry Cooder's Paradise and Lunch, the Average White Band's AWB and Bob Dylan's Planet Waves. The Raspberries's legend continues to grow.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

40 Year Itch : Best of August 1974

Peter Wolf of The J Geils Band and his bride Faye Dunaway, married Aug 1974

Best of August 1974 ( zipfile)

      Compared to other months, August 1974 was only a so-so month in rock and roll. That's a good thing. I needed a break.Featured are two records I never got to. Not Fragile is a Bachman Turner Overdrive album that is jammed with forgettable road songs and one monster hit "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet". Also,  ELP delivered a six sided live album because this was not an act that ever downplayed itself.

Friday, August 29, 2014

40 Year Itch : 1974 in Soundtracks


Outside the pop charts, I think I've at least started to convince you 1974 was a great year for music. It was also a great year for film and film soundtracks. Consider the Oscar nominated films : The Godfather, Part 2, The Conversation, Chinatown, Lenny and well, The Towering Inferno. There was also Truffaut's Day for Night, the Mel Brooks 1-2 punch of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and Fellini's Amacord. Notable soundtracks include:

Paul Williams ( yes, the guy that wrote the "The Love Boat " theme) gets deliciously creative in this vicious take on the Glam Rock scene. Best soundtrack of 1974.

  Goldsmith (Patton, The Omen)  knocked out the year's most memorable film score in ten days but lost the Oscar to...

   Nino Rota composed the music for the best sequel ever made and won an Oscar. The soundtrack is , in many ways, a sequel to The Godfather, Part 1. It features several similar themes.


When Christian Vander found out his bizarre band, Magma ( known for over dramatic prog rock sung in a completely made up language) , had their music stolen by a practically unknown  filmmaker, he got the filmmaker to promise that he could do the soundtrack for the next film. Both the film and the music are low-budget affairs . But the music, at least, is beautiful.

   Isaac Hayes did two soundtracks in 1974, Tough Guys and Truck Turner. That he starred in Truck Turner was inspiration enough to record his best soundtrack since Shaft. The nine minute "Pursuit of the Pimpmobile" wins "Best Blaxploitation Title Ever" award...and the tune is good and funky

Thursday, August 28, 2014

UK Top 11 This Week in 1974

American soul music, whether it came from Philadelphia or Miami, dominated the UK charts in the last week of August 1974. At the top was "When Will I See You Again", a tune Sheila Ferguson originally refused  to sing.

"The song was played to me by Kenny Gamble at the piano in 1973 and I threw a tantrum. I screamed and yelled and said I would never sing it. I thought it was ridiculously insulting to be given such a simple song and that it took no talent to sing it. We did do it and several million copies later, I realized that he knew more than me."

2. George McRae " Rock Your Baby"

3. Stylistics "You Make Me Feel Brand New"
4. Bay City Rollers "Summerlove Sensation"

5. Stephanie de Sykes/ Rain "Born With a Smile on My Face"

6. Hues Corporation "Rock the Boat"

7. Mud " Rocket"

8. Jimmy Ruffin "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted"
9. Eric Clapton " I Shot the Sheriff"

10. Rolling Stones "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll"


11. Sparks " Amateur Hour"

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

40 Year Itch : Your Mum's Singing on TV


1974 was not a good year for me or for a lot of people, but then it wasn't a good year for the world.
-Marc Bolan

Ignored in the US, and overtaken by Sweet, Mud and other glam rockers in the UK, Marc Bolan needed a comeback album. The US-only release, Light of Love,  would not be it. 

   Combining some tracks from Zinc Alloy with recent UK singles, Light of Love is only slightly less sludgy and slightly more funky than the simplistic  dreck that had turned off critics, record buyers and Bolan himself I suspect. On many tracks the most dominant instrument isn't Bolan's guitar, it's his hand clapping. Topping it off, Bolan had gained weight and now sported a haircut that made him look like someone's mom. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

40 Year Itch : Meow and Purr

  Ragged. I believe that is the word that best describes the John Lennon/ Harry Nilsson collaboration, Pussy Cats, released in August of 1974

 . "Ragged" describes Lennon's Spector-style  production, the arrangements, the drumming, and - most unfortunately- Nilsson's voice as he attempts to hit notes that were within reach a year earlier.

     The recording occurred during Lennon's "Lost Weekend", beginning shortly after the infamous Troubadour experience. Lennon was a different cat when he was recording. Focused for the most part. He and May Pang agreed to invite some of the Pussy Cats musicians to stay at the Santa Monica beach house they were renting. That way they could rehearse at all hours, discuss the songs and arrive together at the studio. The only problem was the cast of characters. 

  While Lennon and May Pang took the master bedroom ( where the Kennedys had supposedly bedded Marilyn Monroe), the other rooms went to Harry, Ringo, Klaus Voorman, Ringo's business manager Hilary Gerrard, and Keith Moon. The established routine was to record in the evening hours, stay up all night drinking and partying, wake up with hang-overs, try to recover poolside, and ride in limos back to the recording studio.

   Lennon and Nilsson agreed on a couple of covers. Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross", "Save the Last Dance for Me" and Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues". Nilsson wrote a few of his own including "Don't Forget Me" which seems to inspired by his failed marriage.

   "Don't Forget Me" would be one of the last times anyone would hear Harry's voice, the way it used to be. During the sessions, Nilsson lost his voice. A doctor told him  he had ruptured his vocal chord and not to speak for two weeks but Harry kept singing. And not just singing. But screaming the way Lennon did on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. To hear "Many Rivers to Cross" is to hear one of the great voices of the 70's shredded to bloody bits. Apparently Harry never told Lennon about the diagnosis. Lennon blamed himself. That they were friends and musical partners didn't change the fact that Nilsson was one of the great Beatles fans of all time. He must have been daunted.

   Nilsson came up with the album cover idea when he found some anthropomorphic kitten postcards. Somehow they slipped the D block, RUG, S block past the RCA censors. Hitting shops weeks after Mama Cass had died in Nilsson's London flat, Pussy Cats failed to launch any successful singles and stalled at #60 in the US album charts. For Nilsson, this would be the beginning of the end.

Friday, August 22, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Grocer Of Despair

On August 11, 1974, the year he turned 40, Leonard Cohen released his fourth album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony.

  The album came as a nice surprise because just a year earlier, after enlisting in the Israeli Army during the Yom Kippur War, Cohen had announced his retirement from the music scene. In 1973, Cohen told Melody Maker's Roy Hollingworth 

"Well, I wish everybody well on ‘the rock scene’, and may their music be great. May there be some good songwriters – and there will. But I don’t wanna be in it. I have songs in the air but I don’t know how to put them down. Anyway, I’m going."

  Cohen may have been disillusioned with more than the current "rock scene". He was deeply moved by meeting both Israeli and Arab soldiers and wrote both the single "Lover Lover Lover" and New Skin track "Field Commander Cohen" based on his experiences in Israel.

  "Lover Lover Lover" seems to be a statement of disillusionment with war, but the lyrics are open to many other interpretations:

I asked my father, I said, "Father change my name."
 The one I'm using now it's covered up with fear and filth and cowardice and shame.

The best known cuts on New Skin are "Who By Fire", based on the Unetaneh Tokef, an 11th-century liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur ( and sung with Janis Ian) and "Chelsea Hotel #2", a recollection of an affair with Janis Joplin that features the unforgettable lyric:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
 you were talking so brave and so sweet,
 giving me head on the unmade bed,
 while the limousines wait in the street.

Though praised for the most part by critics, not everyone liked the arrangements by 
producer John Lissauer, who added banjo, mandolin, percussion and female backing vocals to what would have been a very spare album. I don't feel that way. I think New Skin for the Old Ceremony deserves to be regarded among Cohen's very best albums. He is the ultimate political observer, of what happens in the world, the bedroom and within the psyche.