Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Three more albums from September 1980

Polyrock : Your Dragging Feet

Produced by Philip Glass, Polyrock's self titled debut is full of quirky but faceless new wave pop, highlighted by "Your Dragging Feet". Critics subtracted points from the debut is self consciousness and lack of spontaneity. 

From Robert Christgau who graded the album a B:

The same sopranos who sound so right choraling through coproducer Philip Glass's rockish hypnorhythm pieces make this arty dance-rock band sound like, dare I say it, disco. At other points the music whispers, I feel constrained to add, Philip Glass. The strangulated vocals I blame on, who else, David Byrne. That it almost gets over anyway is a credit to crescendo techniques developed by, that's right, the Feelies--who could have used some coproduction themselves.

Roky Erickson and the Aliens: I Walked With a Zombie

13th Floor Elevators cult figure Roky Erickson returned from years inside a mental hospital with Five Symbols, an album full of devils and demons, and goblins and zombies, on an album produced by CCR drummer Stu Cook. It's gritty and grungy and, for good reason, you get the feeling Erickson is still surrounded by demons.

The Inmates : Why When Love Is Gone

The UK's Inmates follow-up their hit album First Offense with more of the same mix of Dr Feelgood-style garage rock and R+B. You get covers originally done by the Music Machine ( "Talk Talk") The Rolling Stones ("So Much In Love") and The Isley Brothers ("Why When Love Is Gone"). They're not breaking new ground here but they sound so good.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Captain Beefheart has critics raving over "heroic" album Doc at the Radar Station

Captain Beefheart : Dirty Blue Gene

"Commercial potential? Why not? Since I breathe air, I am commercial. Everybody's commercial. There just aren't that many good publicists and ad people  and there aren't that many good record companies. I think kids are bored enough that if they got a chance to hear my music, they'd like it"
- Captain Beefheart in Trouser Press.

In September of 1980, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band released Doc At The Radar Station, an equally good if not more forceful follow-up to the comeback album Shiny Beast ( Bat Chain Puller). Again Beefheart brought in a group of very talented musicians willing to work for a dictator under a tight deadline. They recorded the album in a week! The first song they tackled was "Dirty Blue Gene", originally recorded during the Clear Spot sessions in 1972. 

Mike Bares describes the recording in his book Captain Beefheart :The Biography.

From the new convoluted guitar and drums introduction, the band blaze away in a tricky stop/start creation, fast and furious -bulbous,even - with guitar lines bursting out in bloom all over its surface and (John) French yelling the lyrics behind Captain Beefheart (Don) Van Vliet's ecstatic vocals. Charles Shaar Murray opined: "Something like the intro to 'Dirty Blue Gene' literally could not be the work of anybody else.

Beefheart did a lot of press for the album. At 39, he dismissed the current music scene, telling Lester Bangs 
"I don't ever listen to 'em, you see, which is not very nice of me but ...then again why should I look through my own vomit? I guess they have to make a living though".

Guitarist Gary Lucas invited some of the top music journalists to his apartment to listen to the album and they lavished Doc At The Radar Station with praise. "Captain Beefheart's Most Medititative, Heroic Album" was the headline in Ken Tucker's Rolling Stone review. Downbeat gave the album four and a half stars. Doc finished #8 in the New York Times Ten Best list. "As brilliant as album as anyone has released this year," said Musician while  Creem said "Prime Beefheart Like You Haven't Heard In Years".

Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of A-, writing :

Beefheart is an utter original if not some kind of genius, but that doesn't make him the greatest artist ever to rock down the pike--his unreconstructed ecoprimitive eccentricity impairs his aesthetic as well as his commercial reach. Only don't tell grizzled punks now discovering the boho past, or avantish rockcrits who waited patiently through the cleansing storm for musicianship to come round again. In synch with the historical moment for once, Beefheart offers up his most uncompromised album since Trout Mask Replica in 1969--never before have his nerve-wracking harmonies and sainted-spastic rhythms been captured in such brutal living color. Me, I've always enjoyed his compromises, which tend to be crazier than normal people's wildest dreams, and wish he'd saved some of his melodic secrets for the second side.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Police enter the UK charts at #1 with "Don't Stand So Close To Me"

The Police : Don't Stand So Close To Me

On September 29, 1980 The Police learned their new single, "Don't Stand So Close To Me", had entered the UK charts at #1. It would become the best selling single of the year in the UK, a top ten hit in the United States, and the theme song to 2020, the year of the Coronavirus. 

The song was not, of course, written about social distancing. Now a sex symbol fronting the biggest band in the world, Sting had once been a school teacher.

 In 1981 he said:

I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom. I'd done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them! How I kept my hands off them I don't know... Then there was my love for Lolita which I think is a brilliant novel. But I was looking for the key for eighteen months and suddenly there it was. That opened the gates and out it came: the teacher, the open page, the virgin, the rape in the car, getting the sack, Nabokov, all that.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Tom Waits unleashes his fury on Heartattack And Vine

Tom Waits : Jersey Girl

In September of 1980 Tom Waits released the US#96 Heartattack And Vine, an album full of vitriol for Hollywood bashed out in about a month. It's a transitional album for Waits, as Spin's Alternative Guide's Bill Wyman put it, "out of his jazz-cat's rut and (into) something closer to rock'n'roll." On the title track Waits unleashes his fury, yelling over the backing track like a madman. 

And mad he was.

Waits has just moved to New York when Francis Ford Coppola hired him to write the soundtrack to One From The Heart on the Zoetrope lot. But Coppola's second guessing and indecision took its toll on Waits. He used Heartattack and Vine as an outlet for his frustration

The album is also home to "Jersey Girl", later covered by Bruce Springsteen. Waits had met a Jersey Girl , Kathleen Brennan, at a New Year's party in Los Angeles just days before his move to New York. Little did he know she worked for Zoetrope as a story analyst. So four months later, as Waits recalls:

Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.

Rolling Stone's Stephen Holden wrote of the album:

In a time when hipness is often equated with selfishness, Waits’ woozy, far-out optimism has never seemed fresher. While he can be faulted on many counts — the godawful condition of his voice, his perverse love for dime-store kitsch imagery — the purity of his intentions is never in question: Tom Waits finds more beauty in the gutter than most people would find in the Garden of Eden. If his lack of objectivity has kept him from developing into a major artist, Waits’ indivisibility from his self-created persona makes him a unique and lovable minor talent.

Minor talent? Waits would become one of the major artists of the 80's. His 1985 album Rain Dogs is one I have always treasured. But Waits would never have made Rain Dogs if he hadn't taken that ride across the river to the Jersey side. 


Friday, September 25, 2020

With Absolutely, Madness finds its giddy formula

Madness : Embarrassment

On September 26, 1980 Madness released its UK#2 album Absolutely. The album spawned three hit singles, the UK#3 "Baggy Trousers", the UK#4 hit  "Embarrassment" and the instrumental "The Return of the Los Palmas 7" climbed to UK# 7. This is my first time listening to the album and it comes across as a bit of a novelty record and something to entertain the dance hall crowd. 

Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B- writing:

Just like the Specials and the Selecter, they have second album problems, with the cockneys soft-pedaling the same subject that confounds the two-toners: "Embarrassment," which saxophonist Lee Thompson says was inspired by his sister's mixed-race pregnancy, sounds like it's about an arrest, or the wrong haircut. And though close attention reveals the same class contretemps and irrational fears that haunt Jerry Dammers, no American will suss these songs unaided. This may be localism and it may be songcraft, but it's probably both.

Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone dismissed the band as "a clunky, clowning, all-white outfit from London, their 'wild' sense of humor couldn't disguise the fact that they were little more than the Blues Brothers with English accents." 

And yet Madness would be the ska band to find the most success. Suggs explained why in a 1981 interview with Smash Hits:

The reason is we're better looking, funnier, more cheerful and more easily acceptable.

Never mind the American critics! Madness wouldn't lose its appeal in the UK for at least eight more years.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Death of Bonzo

Led Zeppelin : Fool In The Rain

On September 25, 1980 John Paul Jones and road manager Benje LeFevre discovered the body of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham in a bed in Jimmy Page's Windsor's house. He was 32 years old.

“Benje and I found him," Jones recalled. " It was like, “Let’s go up and look at Bonzo, see how he is.” We tried to wake him up… It was terrible. Then I had to tell the other two… I had to break the news to Jimmy and Robert. It made me feel very angry – at the waste of him… I can’t say he was in good shape, because he wasn’t. There were some good moments during the last rehearsals … but then he started on the vodka.”

While rehearsing for their first American tour since 1977, Bonham went on a 12 hour drinking binge that lasted until he passed out. 

"I think he had been drinking because there were some problems in his personal life," Jones said. "But he died because of an accident. He was lying down the wrong way, which could have happened to anybody who drank a lot.”


Robert Plant may have taken Bonham's death the hardest.

“On the very last day of his life, as we drove to the rehearsal, he was not quite as happy as he could be. He said, “I’ve had it with playing drums. Everybody plays better than me.” We were driving in the car and he pulled off the sun visor and threw it out the window as he was talking. He said, “I’ll tell you what, when we get to the rehearsal, you play the drums and I’ll sing.” And that was our last rehearsal.”

An inquest into John Bonham’s death was held at East Berkshire coroner’s court on October 18th where it was determined that Bonham had died from inhalation of his own vomit during sleep which led to pulmonary edema. At the time Led Zeppelin were probably the most successful rock group of the Seventies. Now they were no more. 

Manager Peter Green issued the statement:

 “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.” 

Plant would explain why in an interview with The Globe and Mail two years later: 

"Led Zepplin was a four-man band, we played as a four-man band, and recorded as a four-man band and now that's over...Led Zeppelin will never play or record again".

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Rundgren tries to out-do The Rutles on Deface The Music

Utopia : Alone

On September 24, 1980 Utopia released Deface The Music, an album that apparently confused fans. Todd Rundgren had said Utopia never had a set sound and would never be predictable. My own theory is Rundgren watched The Rutles one night and decided he could write faux Beatles songs better than Neil Innes. He doesn't. But that doesn't mean Deface The Music isn't a fun way to spend 32 minutes, playing spot the influence. "Alone" may be based on "And I Love Her" but it stands on its own.

Rolling Stone's David Fricke seemed to appreciate the exercise, writing:

A literal rewrite of the Lennon-McCartney songbook may seem as pointless as a new Knack LP. But Utopia–and Rundgren, in particular–have always had a talent for this sort of snappy, crackling pop. Besides, the ingenious, engaging way they go about it here is a tribute to the spirit of fun that marked the originals. That kind of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

"Take It Home", inspired by "Day Tripper", is another song that stands on its own. Think Cheap Trick with more cowbell.

Side Two takes on the psychedelic era with fewer good results. Rundgren's Beatleisms would come in handy when he produced Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now and XTC's Skylarking  years later.