Monday, March 31, 2014

Those We Missed : March 1974

   Buddha and the Chocolate Box and the single "Oh Very Young" gave Cat Stevens fans reasons to hope he had returned to the form that attracted his massive following. Fans had met his last album, Foreigner,  and its pretentious 18-minute, side long suite with puzzlement.

  There is still plenty to puzzle over here. Cat's life-long spiritual journey leads him to compare Jesus with Buddha and there are lyrics like "He was the king of trees/ Keeper of the glades/ The way he enchanted my life /Makes me so amazed " that makes you wonder if he's going Wicca on us.

 My fave deep cut: "A Bad Penny", probably because it sounds like something off Teaser and the Firecat.

   The Eagles continue to bastardize the music and memories of Gram Parsons, who is the subject of former Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon's touching, if not slightly homo-erotic  "My Man"

                      And so he traveled along, touch your heart, then be gone
                      Like a flower, he bloomed till that old hickory wind Called him home 

  Most of the album features frat rock paens to loose women left in the dust by these strong-feeling, victory song singing California macho men. How can you not hate the Eagles?

And yet, Goddammit, "Best of My Love" is great song.

The Hollies celebrate the return of Allan Clarke with one of 1974's biggest hits, a cover of Albert Hammond's "The Air That I Breathe" recorded using the 1973 arrangement of Phil Everly. Consistently good and highly professional, The Hollies sounds too generic and too calculated  to make an immediate connection.

With famed Motown producer Johnny Bristol helping out, former Steve Miller Bandmate ,Boz Scaggs , shares his infectious love of soul music on Slow Dancer,  the predecessor to his breakout, 5 million selling 1976 album Silk Degrees.

The opener, "You Make It So Hard ( To Say No)" gets things going right off the bat. Scaggs also covers Allen Toussaint's "Hercules", which should have been a bigger hit for Aaron Neville in 1972. 

   A star in his own state, Detroit rocker Bob Seger is just two years away from super stardom when he records this compact 31-minute collection of  rockers featuring, for the first time, his Silver Bullet Band. Together they would spend much of 1974 touring as an opening act for Kiss.

   His Chuck Berry re-write, "Get Out of Denver" peaked at #80 in the Billboard Hot 100. "U.M.C.( Upper Middle Class)" is another highlight while "20 Years From Now" has that sexy late night vibe that would "Night Moves" such a huge hit.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

40 Year Itch: All the Kids Want Somethin' To Do

     On March 30, 1974 The Ramones played their first show. It happened at Performance Studios on East 23rd Street in Manhattan in front of about 30 people. Mostly friends.

     The set list reportedly consisted of ":I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement", "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You", "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", "I Don't Wanna Be Learned/ I Don't Wanna Be Tamed", "I Don't Wanna Get Involved With You", "I Don't Like Nobody That Don't Like Me" and "Succubus".

Bob Gruen

   Even a few months later, when they were videotaped performing at CBGB, they didn't look like the kind of band that would change the world. They looked like four Forest Hills boys who decided the best way to fight off boredom was to form a rock band. A band that would be the very opposite of the side long suite performing progressive rocks bands that  ruled the day. It wasn't about musicianship. It was about volume and nothing more than a 1-2-3-4 between songs so nobody had time to talk. The audience had little choice but to watch the tall, goofy, needle-thin singer and a guitarist working his instrument so hard his hands were bleeding.

    From the very beginning "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" was part of the set list. In 2001, Dee Dee Ramone told Spin Magazine where the song came from:

   Glue wasn't exactly the Cadillac of drugs. It wasn't so much a drug as a substitution for drugs. We were all more into Carbona, which was a cleaning solution. I worked in a supermarket so it was easy to go down to the basement, sort cans, stamp prices and huff Carbona. One time, to freak out my friends, I filled an empty Carbona bottle with water and drank it down in front of them. We were always proud to play that song for people 'cause it felt nasty-like. We usually didn't have enough self-esteem to feel like real rock 'n' rollers, but that one made us feel special. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

40 Year Itch : A Toot and a Snore

On March 28, 1974 John Lennon and Paul McCartney were reunited in an LA studio where they jammed with Stevie Wonder and Harry Nilsson as tapes rolled. It would be their only post Beatles recording session. Ever.  Wow! With that set-up , you're probably expecting something amazing. You'd be wrong.

It happened during Lennon's infamous "Lost Weekend", a year of drugs, drinking and debauchery the ex-Beatle spent with Harry Nilsson and others. Lennon and Nilsson has just finished a productive day in the studio working on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and nobody  but drummers Keith Moon and Ringo Starr left.

    McCartney entered the studio with Linda and, after a brief hello ( from John: ‘Valiant Paul McCartney, I presume?’ McCartney responding  ‘Sir Jasper Lennon, I presume"), McCartney sat down at the drums. Linda went for the keyboards. Stevie Wonder entered next and sat down at the electric piano. They decided to record their jam, now bootlegged as "A Toot and a Snore in'74" after Lennon's offer to Wonder:

“You wanna snort, Steve? A toot? It’s goin’ round.”

Most of the bootleg is dominated by Lennon complaining about the what he's hearing in his headphones. Halfway through, McCartney's drums vanish from the mix.

  This would be the last time Lennon and McCartney were recorded in a studio together. Yes, the music is wretched but it's nice to hear the two Beatles getting along so well with each other. For more information on the recording visit Bootleg Zone.

The photos occur a week later when the McCartney visit Nilsson and Lennon's beach house to catch up and jam again. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

40 Year Itch: Hazy, Shell-Shocked and Crazy

Peaking at #5 on the charts, Queen II is the first UK hit album for these pomp rockers. And, to these years,  one of 1974's most rewarding "growers". The first dozen times you hear the album, you may get lost in the muddle of its soupy mix, busy arrangements and  lyrics about ogres, black queens and fairies. Robert Christgau probably did. He calls the album a "wimpoid royaloid heavyoid android void." 

Actually this is the beginning of Queen's classic period. A must have for fans of the band's signature multi-layered guitars and harmonies. Some will even contend this is Queen's finest hour.


       It's extraordinary how un-extraordinary Mott the Hoople's sixth album is. Especially when you consider it's the band's highest charting  in the US ( at #28) and that it follows two masterpieces: 1972's All the Young Dudes and 1973's Mott. Yes, The Hoople has its moments. I like "Alice" even though it may be a re-write of  "Whizz Kidd".

   But the rest of the album reveals a band whose growth is stunted. Why? Perhaps it's the loss of Mick Ralphs ( touring the UK this month in '74 with his new band Bad Company). His replacement "Aeriel Bender" ( Luther Grosvenor, late of Spooky Tooth and Stealers Wheel) didn't have the same power. Or maybe Ian Hunter got tired of writing lyrics. Unfortunately the band would never find its form again.

At their best Aerosmith teetered on the thin line between crunchy 60's rock like The Yardbirds and Rolling Stones and the amped up 70's area fillers like The Who and Led Zeppelin. You get all of that in one track on  the Jack Douglas produced Get Your Wings: the cover of the Yardbirds ( via Tiny Bradshaw and Johnny Burnette) classic "Train Kept A-Rollin". Douglas would stick around to produce the band's heaviest hitters including Toys in the Attic and Rocks.


       While producing his second album for Grand Funk Railroad, Todd Rundgren heard the band goofing around with the 1963 Little Eva hit, "The Locomotion". He convinced the band it would be a great single. By the Summer of '74 it was #1 on the Hot 100. The rest of the album is simplistic and ponderous. In other words, it was exactly what fans of this Midwestern rock band wanted to hear. Plus, a free pair of 3-D glasses came with every album purchase!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

40 Year Itch: Prog Rock in March 1974

The nine minute Lord of the Rings inspired "Nimrodel-The Procession-The White Rider" suite is my personal favorite highlight of Camel's second album, Mirage. While far better known bands were ego-tripping into the Land Of Excess, Camel kept things melodic. 

Credit goes to the musicians who were at the top of their game: Andrew Latimer (electric and acoustic guitars, flute, and vocals); Pete Bardens (Hammond organ, electric piano, acoustic piano, mini-moog, mellotron, and vocals; Doug Ferguson (electric bass); and Andy Ward (drums and percussion) 

The prog rock biased Rate Your Music listeners poll ranks this among the Top 10 albums of 1974

   The first of two 1974 albums form King Crimson, a great portion of the inventive Starless and Bible Black is a dissonant assault on the ears. Most of it improvised. Much of it instrumental. All of it destined to get turned down by wife in the passenger seat of our car. The album is an orgy of artistic intellectualism. One example: drummer Bill Buford gets a songwriting credit on "Trio" because he deliberately chose not to play on it.

Rolling Stone's Gordon Fletcher was highly impressed with the album. He called it "stunningly powerful", confident, and apparently the band of Robert Fripp's dreams. "Hopefully, " he concludes, "it'll stay together long enough to continue producing albums as excellent as this one". 

     Alas, David Cross would get voted out of the band before King Crimson returned to the studio to record Red.

The line-up consists of David Cross (violin, viola, mellotron); Robert Fripp (electric guitar; mellotron; and devices); John Wetton (electric bass guitar; lead vocals); and  Bill Bruford (drums and percussion)

A Canterbury super group? Hatfield and the North consisted of former members of Caravan, Gong, and Robert Wyatt's post-Soft Machine group, Matching Mole. Wyatt provides vocals on "Calyx". 

Most of the album consists of mellow, jazzy instrumentals with catchy names like "Shaving is Boring" and  "(Big) John Wayne Socks Psychology on the Jaw" 

For those days you want Emerson Lake and Palmer without all the "bombastic pretensions", as one Rolling Stone Record Guide put it, there's the German trio Triumvirat. 

Yes, in 1974 there was room for ELP and a German version of ELP. I actually prefer Triumvirat because even if they take their musicianship seriously, there's no way in hell they could it as seriously as Messers. Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

40 Year Itch: Put Your Glad Rags On

On March 25, 1974 Bill Haley and the Comets, riding a wave of 50's nostalgia courtesy of "Happy Days" and movies like American Graffiti,  played the Hammersmith Palais in London England. The concert was recorded for the album Live in London '74. Earlier, the band performed at Tops of the Pops and , in the recording below, at the Wheeltappers and Shunters TV show in Manchester, England. The tour coincided with the return of "Rock Around the Clock" to the UK Top 20.


Monday, March 24, 2014

40 Year Itch: Sleazy Pancakes

   On March 22, 1974 Frank Zappa released his 18th , most commercially successful and highest charting album, Apostrophe ('). Recorded at the same time as its predecessor Over-Nite Sensation, Apostrophe is filled out with outtakes from 1969's Hot Rats ("Excentrifugal Forz") and 1972's  Grand Wazoo ("Uncle Remus"). 

   The title cut is an instrumental jam featuring some very busy licks from Ex Cream bassist Jack Bruce and troubled drummer Jim Gordon ( who also played on most of the tracks on Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic).

   By 1974, Zappa had proven his musical prowess both on guitar and as a composer. Apostrophe, like Over-Nite Sensation, is a return to the satiric humor that originally brought fame to Zappa ( and his Mothers of Invention). The humor seems more puerile than hilarious to me, but that may be because I haven't been a Third Grader for decades --so piss-dyed snow, dog doo snow cones and masturbating leprechauns don't actually make me laugh out loud. My own Third Grader gives the album his highest compliment though. He says it's "weird".

   The highlight of Apostrophe, and the way most people get introduced to the music of Zappa, is the "Yellow Snow Suite" consisting of the first four tracks:  "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow", "Nanook Rubs It","St.Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast", and "Father O'Blivion." 
  Zappa credits the commercial success of the album to a Pittsburgh radio station that cut that suite into a three minute novelty number.

"But it was nothing that Warner Brothers ever foresaw, it was nothing that I could have foreseen as a guy at DiscReet Records, a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary.  Who knew? The credit goes to the DJ. "

Sunday, March 23, 2014

40 Year Itch: Ya Faith Is You

On March 22, 1974, Earth Wind and Fire released Open Our Eyes, a future R and B chart topping album so good rock critic dean Robert Christgau called it a "fucking tour de force" . Whatever elements you love in your favorite Earth Wind and Fire album ( mine is All 'N'All) can be traced back to this, their fifth studio album. You'll find funky horn charts, thumb popping bass licks, soothing ballads,uplifting lyrics, Latin rhythms and Maurice White twiddling his funky thumbs on a kalimba. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

40 Year Itch: Under the Sun

   Alan Price, the former keyboard player with the Animals, followed up his O Lucky Man! soundtrack with Between Today and Yesterday, an autobiographical album he re-recorded four times before Warner Brothers finally released it. The album is broken up into two distinct sides. One marked Yesterday and the other marked Today. 

   "Jarrow Boy" was the UK#6  hit single but "Under the Sun" is the song that caught me by surprise on a drive home the other day. Price's voice breaks as he sings a lovely song of farewell. "Don't cry" he sings repeatedly. Dare you not to. Coldplay should cover this. This, unfortunately, is the only YouTube video with the song.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

40 Year Itch: Down in Groover's Paradise

I has an opportunity to visit Dallas earlier this month. My conclusion: I never again want to get closer to Dallas than a flyover in a DC 9 at night. 

    But since my college days in New Orleans, when I'd run across the Vaughan brothers, Charlie Sexton, Zeitgeist,  True Believers and the long legged pianist Marcia Ball, I've always been curious about Austin. How did this city become a cultural oasis in the heart of Texas? 

    In a recent interview during the musical onslaught that is SXSW, KSJR-FM program director and Austin taste maker Jody Denburg told David Dye of the World Cafe about the early days of Austin's "great progressive country scare" that peaked in 1974 with the releases of Doug Sahm's Groover's Paradise and Willie Nelson's Phases and Stages. Other Austin artists included Roky Erickson , Jerry Jeff Walker., Michael Murphy and Asleep at the Wheel. They were drawn to the Austin by cheap rents, clubs like The Armadillo and 50,000 college students who wanted to hear good music and drink cheap beer.

   Denburg picked the title cut from Sahm's Groover's Paradise to play because it was "written about Austin. It sums up that time in Austin. Even the cover of the record...the black and white pencil artwork from Kerry Awn sums up that era in the 70's."

    For the album, his first for Warner Brothers, Sahm recruited the Creedence Clearwater Revival rhythm  section, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook. Aside from the laid back, good old  Texas-style country tunes, there's a Tex Mex instrumental called "La Cacahuata" ( The Peanut). 

   But it was Willie Nelson who personified the era. His Fourth of July picnics were orgies of great music, good pot and topless chicks. Musically, Nelson wanted nothing to do with traditional country. He followed 1973's Shotgun Willie with the concept album  Phases and Stages, recorded in Muscle Shoals with R and B producer Jerry Wexler. Phases and Stages documents the break up of music star's marriage and contains the concert staple "Bloody Mary Morning".

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

40 Year Itch: Checking in with the Pinner Pop Star

"I could fart and reach Number 1"
-Elton John

   At some point in 1974, probably when Elton's Greatest Hits, Caribou and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road were all riding high on the US charts, Elton John's records accounted for 2 percent of the world's record sales.
   He spent much of March touring Australia and New Zealand
   His concerts opened with "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and closed with "Crocodile Rock" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting". Elton also introduced fans to a new song called "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me".

  Elton and his spectacular costumes ( like the black Lurex jumpsuit decked out in fluroscent balls) drew record crowds: 14,500 in Perth. 19,000 in Melbourne. 25,000 at Sydney's Randwich Racecourse . That's twice what David Cassidy drew.
  In April , after cancelling his British and European tours, Elton recorded "Pinball Wizard" for the Tommy soundtrack. In 1975 the single would peak at #7 in the UK .

Monday, March 17, 2014

40 Year Itch: Ups and Downs

On March 16, 1974, beleaguered President Richard Nixon appeared at the inaugural show of the new $15 million Grand Old Opry where he praised country music, saying that it "radiates love of this nation and patriotism". He also played with a yo-yo and performed three tunes at the piano, including "Happy Birthday" to First Lady Pat Nixon.

    In fewer than 5 months Nixon would get drummed out of office thanks to the Watergate scandal.

 Minnie Pearl also performed on opening night.

Friday, March 14, 2014

40 Year Itch: Can You Love A Virgin Man?

  On his second album since retiring from the Miracles, Pure Smokey, Smokey Robinson finds some sweet grooves. Especially with the single "Virgin Man" which, in retrospect, may be the best song from 1974 you never got around to hearing. It hit #12 on the R and B charts but peaked at only #56 on the pop charts.         Robinson knew he was taking a chance writing a song called "Virgin Man" for the over-sexed radio listeners of the 70's.

"Virgin Man" was an idea that I wanted to write about because no one had. It's taken for granted when a guy reaches a certain age, he has "done it" and if he hasn't there's something wrong with him. That's just not true. It's a taboo subject. Maybe the public as a mass couldn't relate to it.

Smokey would get back to his hit making ways in 1975 with  A Quiet Storm and the single "Baby That's Back-atcha".

Thursday, March 13, 2014

40 Year Itch: Competing with the Joplin Poltergeist

    When former Stones the Crow singer Maggie Bell finally released her first solo album, Rolling Stone Magazine made it the lead review of an issue that also included Van Morrison's It's Too Late to Stop Now and Deep Purple's Burn. Bell had won recent UK polls for best female vocalist and had often been compared to Janis Joplin, "among rock's most powerful necrophiliac myths" as writer Dave Marsh put in.

    With Jerry Wexler producing, Queen of the Night makes a strong case for Bell. Though my favorite cut is "As the Years Go By", Marsh prefers Bell's cover of the John Prine song "Souveniers".  Marsh goes on to say "If Maggie Bell makes another album this good, her problem will become living up to her own reputation".

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

40 Year Itch: Gonna Rip It Up

OK. So I was drunk. When it's Errol Flynn, all those showbiz writers say "Those were the days when we had Sinatra and Errol Flynn, socking it to the people." I do it...I'm a bum
-John Lennon

This week in 1974 John Lennon's lost weekend hit its low points. First, at a dinner in a Santa Monica restaurant with May Pang and Jesse Ed Davis, Lennon emerged from the bathroom with a kotex on his forehead. The three went to the Troubador where, even more drunk, Lennon asked a waitress "Don't you know who I am?" The waitress snapped back "Yeah, you're some asshole with a Kotex on his forehead."

On March 12, Lennon and Nilsson returned to the Troubador where they drunkenly heckled Tommy and Dickie Smothers in front of such luminaries as Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Peter Lawford. They were ejected from the club and Lennon got into a tussle with a parking attendant as flashbulbs popped.

The next day Lennon and Nilsson sent the Smothers Brothers flowers and a note of apology. Actress Pan Grier also received a note:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

40 Year Itch: A-Ho-Ho Ho-A-Ho

When (Stardust) came on telly, (future Oasis founders Liam and Noel Gallagher) would mime along and pretend to be Alvin and I'd always catch them singing into hairbrushes and playing air guitar
-Thomas Gallagher, their dad

     40 years ago, glam bandwagon jumper Alvin Stardust celebrated his one and only UK#1 single, "Jealous Mind". Born Bernard Jewry, Stardust appropriated just about everything he could from Elvis's 1968 TV special. And the fans bought least for a year or so.

"You, You, You" was another 1974 Top 10 hit.

In 1981, signed to Stiff Records,  Stardust returned to the UK Top 10 with his rockabilly-influenced cover of the Nat King Cole hit "Pretend"

Monday, March 10, 2014

40 Year Itch: The Worst Singles of 1974

 Telly Savalas : If

"People know that singing is not my bag, but if I say 'Hey, this is how Telly feels about this or that song,' I can't make mistakes. I can only make mistakes by pretending to be a great singer."

   Telly Savalas hit #1 in the UK in 1975 with his 1974  spoken word, smooth as fuck version of the Bread classic "If". Did he know how God awful this was? I've learned never to underestimate the intelligence of a successful actor so I'm guessing he was.

Bonus Turd!

# 4 Gary Glitter : Remember Me This Way

What a remarkably lifeless Top 10 UK single! Sounds like a star who has run out of gas. Of course Glitter's well documented problems are still years away.

#3 Bimbo Jet : El Bimbo

Euro-disco at its worst. Released in 1974, the tune swept through Europe topping charts first in Bimbo Jet's home country of France then in Spain, Italy, Denmark and others before it narrowly missed becoming a Top 40 hit in the US.

#2 Donny and Marie Osmond  I'm Leaving It (All) Up To You

Let's ignore the incestuous overtones of a brother and sister singing about whether they want each other's love, and just rank this #2 because of the awful syrupy string section. What in God's name propelled this into the Top 10 on both sides of the Atalantic?

#1 Paul Anka : (You're) Having My Baby

"The need inside you I see it showin' Oh the seed inside you baby do you feel it growin'"

Not sure what's more creepy: the whole "seed inside you" concept or the graphic abortion allusions in the bridge"

"Didn't have to keep it Wouldn't put ya through it You could have swept it from you life But you wouldn't do it No, you wouldn't do it"

Despite protests from the National Organization of Women, who gave Anka their annual "Keer Her in Her Place" Award,  "(You're) Having My Baby" knocked Paper Lace from the Top Spot on the Billboard Hot 100. And you sure as shit know it wasn't the men who were buying this 45. Anka has always said the song is a "personal statement of a man caught up in the affection and joy of childbirth". Eventually he would make one small concession to Women's Lib: singing "having our baby" in future concerts

Bonus Turd: Anka's Nirvana cover