Friday, January 18, 2019

Dressed for the H-Bomb

On January 18, 1979 BBC Radio 1 aired Gang of Four's sessions for the John Peel Show, giving listeners a preview of four songs from the band's debut album Entertainment!, which wouldn't be released until September. The performances are rawer and raunchier than the ones that would appear on the album. In fact, at the time, the band was still seeking out a record deal. Regarding their sound, Andy Gill told Sounds Magazine "The avant-garde way is to reject everything so that you can be seen as totally different. Cutting out everything that sounds like anything else and losing all rhythm and beat along the way." Not sure what that means, but this needs to be played LOUD!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Let's Dance Let's Shout

On January 18, 1979 The Jacksons released "Shake Your Body ( Down to the Ground)", the second single of their 1978 album Destiny. Written and composed by Randy and Michael Jackson, it would sell two million copies, peak at US #3 and become The Jacksons's all time biggest selling single for Epic Records. Here, for the first time, we hear Michael's trademark yelping and hiccuping vocal style. Maybe the only Jacksons tune that stands up to Michael's solo material. The full album version is even better than the single, running 8 minutes. Ranked the #9 best single of 1979 by NME writers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lasers, Light Shows and Roller Skates

On January 16, 1979 readers of Billboard Magazine learned "a growing number of affluent, single playboy types are turning the bedrooms of their plush co-op apartments and homes into mini-discos, according to Jack Ransom, head of MGM Stage Equipment, one of the leading suppliers of disco lighting equipment in the country."

The art of seduction circa 1979 begins with a fancy $10,000-$20,000 light show, as well as the pulse pounding sounds of disco music. Ransom says the equipment is especially popular in the oil rich Middle East and in South America. 

Why private discos? Ransom has a theory:

Part of it is snobbism but for the most part they are being ordered by people in the public's eye, who love to party but want to enjoy themselves without being constantly oggled,  photographed or written about.

Disco was a worldwide phenomenon in 1979. This three minute Australian news story,  which focuses some of its time on roller disco, is well worth your time.

Flipping over to the Hot 100 charts , Billboard readers discovered  Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" debuting at US#85. Born in Watts, Sylvester James pushed social boundaries with gender-bending performances, his openly gay lifestyle, and his belief that gender was a choice. He had sung with a group of black cross dressers and trans women in L.A. before moving to San Francisco. He became the "Queen of Disco" thanks to this early electronic dance music classic, produced by Patrick Cowley, which had already peaked at U.K. #8 and would break into the US Top 40 in February of 1979.

This same week, Herbie Mann's "Superman" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at US#90. It would peak at #26 in April.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Small Red Box

On January 13, 1979 Melody Maker published an interview with David Bowie in which he told journalist Michael Watts he was finishing up an album ( the last of the Berlin trilogy) to be called either Despite Straight Lines or Planned Accidents. ( It would actually be called Lodger, released in May of 1979.).

Bowie thinks it contains some of his most intimate lyrics ever and says that although he still uses cut-up techniques, he's also going back to narrative. "But in a more emotionally driven way rather than from an objective point of view."

Bowie also says he plans to focus on his painting over the next couple of years, but he is scared of exhibiting his art publicly.

In February, Bowie would be in London to promote the UK release of Just a Gigolo, a film he made with director David Hemmings and featuring a 78-year old Marlene Dietrich in her final role. Of the critically derided film, Bowie said:

Everybody who was involved in that film – when they meet each other now, they look away [covers face with hands, laughs]... Listen, you were disappointed, and you weren't even in it. Imagine how we felt... It was my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Hard Work, Bad Show

On January 14, 1979, Dr Feelgood's new single "Milk and Alcohol" entered the UK pop charts at #46. The song, penned by Nick Lowe and Feelgood guitarist John "Gypie" Mayo, would be the band's biggest hit, peaking at #9.

The song tells the story of the band's beverage of choice during their American tour, an intoxicating combination of milk and Kahlua. Disappointed by a John Lee Hooker show ("Main attraction dead on his feet /Black man rhythm with a white boy beat"), the band left a bit wobbly and got pulled over by police. Legend has it Lowe wrote the lyrics on a cigarette packet in less than a minute.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Don't Let The Spin Get You Down

On January 13, 1979, Grammy winning R+B singer, composer and musician  Donny Hathaway plunged to his death from the 15th floor of the Essex House hotel in New York City. Hathaway's struggles with depression, schizophrenia and his own sexuality wreaked havoc on his life and his relationships. Earlier that day Hathaway and his longtime Howard University friend Roberta Flack recorded a pair of duets, "Back Together Again" and the Stevie Wonder/Eric Mercury penned "You Are My Heaven". They had dinner that night at Flack's apartment in the Dakota. When he returned to his Essex House room, Hathaway removed a window and made the leap that would end his life.

The songs Hathaway recorded with Flack are the best known. "Where Is The Love" from their 1972 collaboration Roberta Flack + Donny Hathaway topped the R+B charts and peaked at US#5. "The Closer I Get To You", recorded when Hathaway was suffering from bouts of clinical depression, was an even bigger hit, peaking at US#2.

Hathaway's solo albums offer real treasures. 1970's Everything is Everything has a seven minute jam called "The Ghetto", which Hathaway would expand on his must-own 1972 live album. Donny Hathaway Live also features his soulful cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy". 

1973's Extension of a Man has "Someday We'll All Be Free". Lyricist Edward Howard had written the song especially for his troubled friend who cried when he heard the playback.

"What was going through my mind at the time was Donny, because Donny was a very troubled person. I hoped that at some point he would be released from all that he was going through. There was nothing I could do but write something that might be encouraging for him." 

Hang onto the world as it spins, around. 
Just don't let the spin get you down. 
Things are moving fast. 
Hold on tight and you will last.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Skinny As A Snake

In 1979, a year Richard Hell would describe as a blur "because of the way everything got absorbed into the drug monotony", Radar Records released his band's Nick Lowe produced  "The Kid With The Replaceable Head" b/w "I'm Your Man" single. The frenetic A side remains one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

Hell writes about the song in I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp :

In late October we recorded the “Kid with the Replaceable Head” single (backed with “I’m Your Man”) with Nick Lowe producing, for Jake’s Radar Records. I thought I was making a pop hit with “Kid.” I even diluted the lyrics in the chorus because I thought they might be too morbid for the public. (The original chorus went, “Look out! Here he comes again. / They say he’s dead. He’s my three best friends. / He’s so honest that the dishonest dread / meeting the kid with the replaceable head.” I changed “dead” to “done” on the single.)