Monday, February 29, 2016

40 Year Itch: Smokey Funk

Smokey Robinson : Do Like I Do

   This extra February day gives me a chance to showcase one more album from this month in 1976 so why don't we check out Smokey Robinson's fourth solo album, Smokey's Family Robinson? Sounds to these ears like Smokey's been listening to a lot of Marvin Gaye's explorations into funky rhythms. Most of the album works but my interest faded after Side Two's first track, "Open". 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

UK Top 20 February 29, 1976

1. Tina Charles : I Love to Love

  After singing back up with Linda Lewis on the Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel chart topping song, "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" and on the 5000 Volts disco hit "I'm On Fire", Tina Charles made a name for herself on this chart topping smash...which may have received some extra attention recently thanks to its appearance on the Netflix show River.

3. C.W. McCall : Convoy
4. Manuel and the Music of the Mountains: Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto de Aranjuez 
5. Yvonne Fair : It Should Have Been Me
8. Billy Ocean : Love Really Hurts Without You

   A great Motown feel to the eventual UK#2 single from Ocean's debut album.

10. The Stylistics : Funky Weekend

MEANWHILE in Germany...

Friday, February 26, 2016

40 Year Itch: A Cross between Deep Purple and the Shangri-Las

The Runaways : Cherry Bomb

The February 26th issue of Rolling Stone broke the news:

   They call their music "crunch" and they serenade their teen fan clubs with such original ditties as "Switchblade Music" and "Cherry Bomb"; Ron Mael of Sparks says "There's nothing subtle about the band; that's why I like them." The group is the Runaways, five girls aged 16 and 17 ( with a 14-year-old lyricist) who are stirring some interest along L.A.'s heavy-metal circuit. Says Kim Fowley, the irrepressible Sunset Strip hustler/hypist; "They're a cross between mid-period Sweet and Free, peak Deep Purple and the Shangri-Las. Every time they open their mouths an an hem comes out." Some of those "anthems" will be released on Mercury Records in late spring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Feb 1976 Album of the Month: Kate and Anna McGarrigle

Kate and Anna McGarrigle : Heart Like a Wheel

   Singer/songwriting sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle had already been performing in the Montreal folk scene for ten years when their songs found their way onto albums by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Judy Collins. That's when Warner Brothers invited the sisters to record their debut album, a stunning collection of songs that flow from rock to blues to gospel to a french song with a reggae beat about living outside the Canadian stereotypes.

   Despite the presence of some of LA's best session musicians ( Lowell George, Steve Gadd, Tony Levin and Bobby Keys) the Joe Boyd/ Greg Prestopino production showcases the vocals, leading Rolling Stone critic Stephen Holden to proclaim "Not since Carole King's Tapestry has the female voice been recorded with such unblemished intimacy."

   A timeless album, this debut received immediate critical acclaim and was voted Rock Album of the Year by London's Melody Maker. It was also listed at #5 on the 1976 Village Voice  Pazz and Jop poll and #7 on the NME poll. On a wintry Sunday morning, there may be no better soundtrack.

Monday, February 22, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Specialist in Love Heart Surgery

Ann Peebles : Dr Love Power

   Teaming up once again with producer Willie Mitchell and the Memphis Horns, Ann Peebles recorded this classic Seventies soul nugget ( with its Supremes "Come See About Me" quote) for the album Tellin It. Released as a single, "Dr Love Power" stalled at #57 in the R and B charts, failing to provide a cure for a rash of disco fever which had already taking the country by storm.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

UK Top 10 February 22, 1976

Pluto Shervington : Dat

   What are the chances anyone would write a song about a Rastafarian trying to buy pork? Now consider the fact that it became a Top 10 UK hit for Pluto Shervington. The mind boggles!

February 22, 1976

1. The Four Seasons : Oh What a Night ( December, 1963)
2. Tina Charles : I Love to Love
3. Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto de Aranjuez : Manual and the Music of the Mountains

4. C.W. McCall : Convoy
5. Silk : Forever and Ever
6. Yvonne Fair : It Should Have Been Me

7. Pluto Shervington : Dat
8. Walker Brothers : No Regrets
9. Status Quo : Rain
10. The Who : Squeeze Box

Saturday, February 20, 2016

40 Year Itch: Beatles Reunion?

   On February 20, 1976 , The Beatles failed to meet a deadline to respond to promoter Bill Sargent's offer to pay them $50 million to reunite. Ringo Starr's lawyer Bruce Grakal told Rolling Stone Ringo didn't reply to the concert guarantee " and I'm sure no one else has. If the four of them ever get together it will be because they want to, not because of dollar offers." Grakal added: "In the three years I've represented Ringo, we've had at least 12 substantial offers. We've not responded to any of them."

  In April, producer Lorne Michaels made a tongue on cheek offer to pay the Beatles $3000 to reunite on Saturday Night Live."You divide it anyway you want. If you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved.”

   Little did he know, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were watching the show in New York City that night. As Lennon would reveal in 1980"(we) almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired. … He and I were just sitting there watching the show, and we went, ‘Ha ha, wouldn’t it be funny if we went down? But we didn’t.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

40 Year Itch: The Bad Boogaloo

Tower of Power : Down at the Nightclub

   On February 19, 1976 Rick Stevens, who sang the Top 40 hit "You're Still a Young Man" with Tower of Power, was arrested for multiple murders committed in a drug deal gone wrong. The confrontation over money lasted just a minute and when it was over three men were dead and Stevens was holding the gun that shot them.

 "It was all drug induced," he would tell SFGate 36 years later."They were loaded. We were loaded. I was doing heroin and cocaine - speedballing. It was sheer madness." 

  Stevens was sentenced to death but after the California Supreme Court declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional, his sentence was commuted to life. After 36 years in prison he was paroled in 2012. In January of the following year, he took the stage and performed his best known hit with tears in his eyes.

  "I never expected to have the death penalty overturned," Stevens told SFGate. "I had made my peace with my maker...I always kept close to my Psalm 51, and remembered that Moses committed murder and he rose above. Paul used to love to kill people, and he saw the light in prison. I made these people my role models. I patterned my life after them - not that alien lifestyle I was living - and everything changed."

   Psalm 51

 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

40 Year Itch : Roy Orbison's Musical Bum

From the Benny Hill Show on February 18, 1976

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

40 Year Itch : Sanctify Feelings

Al Green : Let It Shine

   The violent night that ended with Mary Woodson scalding Al Green's bare back with grits before shooting herself left the soul singer --as he put it in his autobiography --“frightened for my very life and crying out to the heavens for a redeemer to come and rescue me from this sinful world.”
   1976 is the year Green bought the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, in a Memphis neighborhood just south of Graceland. It reminded him of the little rural churches he visited with his sharecropper father in Arkansas. He preaches there to this day. 

    1976 is also the year Green continued his subtle pilgrimage from sensual soul music to gospel. Many of the lyrics on Full Of Fire could be read in either light. Producer Willie Mitchell didn't even realize the opening track of the new album, "Glory Glory" was a song of faith. The bouncy closing track, "Let It Shine", has the lines "I'm so glad that I'm free /Lord above would have blessed it on me" 

Al Green was two years from walking away from the profane life of a soul singer to concentrate fully on the sacred.

Monday, February 15, 2016

40 Year Itch : Until That Day We'll Fly Away

Bootsy's Rubber Band : I'd Rather Be With You

  After playing with James Brown's band, the JB's, Bootsy Collins and his brother Catfish threw in with George Clinton's P-Funk. The Brothers Collins shined on albums like Up For the Down Stroke and Mothership Connection. Here --on Bootsy's much sampled debut--they team up with Clinton for some of the funkiest music to come out of '76.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

40 Year Itch: Dreamboat Annie

   On Valentines Day, 1976, Mushroom Records finally got around to releasing Heart's 1975 debut album in the United States. It was a nice birthday present for lead guitarist Roger Fisher who turned 25 that day. Thanks to constant radio play in Canada, by mid October, when the band opened for Rod Stewart and the Faces in Montreal, they were met onstage by an enthusiastic audience that already seemed to know their songs. 
    Here's Heart performing at Washington State University in the Spring of 1976.

   By the Summer of 1976 many Americans would know Heart's music as well. The first US single, "Crazy On You", was a Top 40 hit. The second single, "Magic Man", had longer staying power on the radio and went Top 10 in November. 
    To celebrate the Dreamboat Annie anniversary, Roger's birthday and the release of a new album, there's a party going on tonight at McMenamins-Anderson School. I had planned to be there but didnt make it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Breakage Inside

Iggy Pop : Sister Midnight

   In February of 1976, between the orgies, the long cross country car rides and the Isolar tour performances, David Bowie offered Iggy Pop a new song he had written with his guitarist Carlos Alomar. "Sister Midnight", which Bowie performed at some of the early dates, sounds like a lost track from the Station to Station album. The definitive version, recorded under Bowie's watchful eyes and ears at Chateau d'Herouville in June of '76 , kicks off 1977's The Idiot, Pop's comeback album. Its spiky sound would inspire Bowie's own Berlin trilogy.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

40 Year Itch: I Can Live Without the Rain

Status Quo : Rain

   In February of 1976 Status Quo's "Rain" climbed the UK charts, peaking at #7 with this catchy bit of bite-sized boogie from their Blue For You album.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

40 Year Itch : Hustling Onto the Dance Floor

The Fatback Band : (Do The) Spanish Hustle

M and O band : Do the Latin Hustle

   By any name, the Hustle brought dancing couples close together again, with plenty of full bodied touches and swings alternating with snap turns, kicks, lunges and dips. The dance began in urban Black and Puerto Rican bars around New York City while, at the same time, Miami based Cubans brought a little Salsa flair to the disco floor. Some of the moves might even remind you of the Carolina Shag. Or they just might make you too dizzy to read on. 

   The Fatback Band single was a Top 10 UK hit but never broke into the US Hot 100. M and O's single "Let's Do the Latin Hustle" entered the UK Charts at #40 the same week the composer Eddie Drennon's version debuted at #50. M and O would chart highest, peaking at #16 versus Drennon's original version which peaked at #20.

Monday, February 8, 2016

40 Year Itch : Orc Rock

Magma : De Futura

   This year my company moved to modern, anti-septic building and adopted an open-space office environment. My desk is no longer mine. My mind is no longer my own. There isn't a conversation going on that I can't overhear or an image on my computer screen that five other people can't see. So my new best friend is a pair of Bose noise-cancellation headphones and my huge library of 1976 recordings.

     But what should I play? I can't write with Al Stewart chirping lyrics about Bogart movies in my ears. I need either instrumentals (Tangerine Dream's Stratosfear ? Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life?) or lyrics in a language I can ignore ( Harmonium's L'Heptade? Popul Vuh's Letzte Tage Letze Nacht).

      I may discuss all these albums in the future but the album that makes the rest of the world vanish immediately is my current obsession, Magma's Udu Wudu. Led by jazz drummer Christian Vander, Magma is a french progressive rock band that doesn't sing in French. They perform in a made up alien language called Kobaian and they sing about Earth battling an alien planet called Kobaia. Udu Wudu is dominated by bass player Jannick Top and is highlighted by the near 18-minute Side Two track "De Futura". 
     It sounds like something orcs would listen to before going to battle. And isn't that what we all need when we're surrounded by co-workers ?

   It all sounds like something from a long lost time but just last year Magma toured the United States and performed at Seattle's Crocodile Cafe. Did I see them? No. But I wish I had. Especially now that they're helping me get my work done.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

40 Year Itch : Like a Rolling Bolt of Thunder

The Four Seasons : December, 1963 ( Oh, What a Night)

  The Four Seasons had Frankie Valli, one of rock music's greatest falsetto voices, but it was drummer Gerry Polci who sang lead on their biggest 1976 hit. ( #1 in both the UK and US) . It always seemed strange that within weeks of the Kennedy assassination, our hero is out having a one night stand with a "hypnotizing, mesmerizing" lady whose name he never catches. 

  Earlier versions had the lyrics taking place on December 5, 1933, the day Prohibition came to an end. 

UK TOP 10 FEBRUARY 8, 1976

1. Silk : Forever and Ever
2. ABBA : Mamma Mia
3. The Four Seasons : December, 1963 ( Oh, What a Night)
4. The Miracles : Love Machine
5. Donna Summer : Love to Love You Baby
6. R and J Stone : We Do It
7. Walker Brothers : No Regrets
8. Manuel and the Music of the Mountains : Concierto De Aranjuez
9. Barbara Dickson : Answer Me
10. David Ruffin : Walk Away From Love

Great video even if the sync is off

   As great as "December, 1963 ( Oh, What a Night)" is, and I do think this is a great song for every reason from its construct to its nostalgic value, this tune was destroyed by cover versions. I mean what the hell is going on by Claude Francois below? And where can I get a suit like that? 

And a rare miss for the Fatback Band:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

40 Year Itch : It'll Make Your Day

Earth Wind and Fire : Sing a Song

   For two weeks in February,  Earth Wind and Fire's infectious "Sing a Song" peaked at #5 on the US pop charts, a month after it had topped the R and B charts. Like many Earth Wind and Fire hits, it was written and produced by the band's founder Maurice White, who passed away February 3 aged 74. 


   You could dig through the entire Earth Wind and Fire catalog and still not find a song that made you feel bad. Maurice White told Jet Magazine in 2005 "We've strived to push the idea of illumination and the vibration of positivity."
    White and his brothers changed the world. And to this day, no band can't instantly change your mood for the Earth Wind and Fire. What a legacy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

40 Year Itch : Hurt Way Down Deep Inside

Elvis Presley : Hurt

   This week in 1976 Elvis Presley spent five days recording From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, live in a studio set up at Graceland. The second to last album released in his lifetime, From Elvis contains some of the King's darkest songs, most notably his cover of the 1955 Roy Hamilton hit "Hurt" which was a Top 40 hit in both the US and UK.

"If he felt the way he sounded", Dave Marsh wrote of Presley's performance, "the wonder isn't that he had only a year left to live but that he managed to survive that long."
    The album, released in May, also contains covers of Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire", Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Danny Boy".

Monday, February 1, 2016

40 Year Itch: February 2, 1976

“ I’d adore to be prime minister. And, I believe very strongly in fascism … I dream of buying companies and TV stations, owning and controlling them.”
                -David Bowie in a February 1976 interview with Rolling Stone's Cameron Crowe.
   On February 2, 1976 David Bowie kicked off his Isolar concert tour at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, BC. The tour was in support of the new album Station to Station. Dressed as one journalist put it, like a "businessman in drag", Bowie would perform his shows at night and then often go clubbing til the early hours. The next day he would sit in the back of a car with Iggy Pop, listening to his favorite music. The tour would not always go according to plan, but more on that later.

Also on February 2, The Ramones entered the studio to record their debut album at Plaza Sound in Radio City Music Hall. 

The Ramones: Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue

As Johnny Ramone remembered in his autobiography Commando 

The early songs, well, what would we write about --girls? We didn't really have any. We weren't artists or anything , so we wrote about simple things that we could relate to, We thought Communists and Nazis were funny. We thought sniffing glue was funny too, but we didn't even know that people were still doing it We'd write these sings and laugh, but we never thought we were wacky. We thought we were a normal rock band; but it soon became apparent we were a little off-kilter.

  Also on this date, Genesis released A Trick of the Tail, their first album without Peter Gabriel . After listening to the audition tapes of nearly 400 frontmen, the band discovered their new singer had been behind the drum kit the whole time.  His name was Phil Collins and to many he sounded just like the other guy.

"There was no striving to sound like Peter," Collins told Rolling Stone."When it comes down to it, you can't really do that. I used to sing behind the kit most of the time because Pete would be running around and he'd be off mike." 

Contrary to music journalist Chris Welch's proclamation that Genesis was dead, the band scored a UK#3 and US #31 album, ,highlighted by the bouncy single "Entangled".

   And in the UK Abba had finally moved Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" off the top of the charts with "Mamma Mia". 

 On February 2, the Australian music show Countdown broadcast a show from Abba's hometown, Stockholm, Sweden.