Wednesday, April 30, 2014

40 Year Itch: Those We Missed from April 1974

On Desitively Bonnaroo, Dr John and producer Allen Toussaint follow up their 1973 hit album In The Right Place with backing by The Meters. This may be the best bass playing George Porter Jr ever put on record ( and that's saying a lot). 

"Mos' Scocious" remains an all time favorite of mine. How did this not become a hit? In and out of print, Desitively Bonnaroo is desitively the album you must pick up after Gumbo and In the Right Place.

   The best cuts are the intimate ones where it's just Paul and his guitar. You get that on " Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and "American Tune", the song Simon believed to be the best from There Goes Rhymin' Simon. He may be right. On record, you'll immediately get tired of the audience. They applaud when the song begins and then five seconds later when they actually recognize the first line of lyric.Simon also gives the Jessy Dixon Singers an entire track , which seems far too generous 40 years later. Still, their contributions to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" deserve a reward of some kind. Perhaps in heaven.

    Avant-garde nuttiness from the San Francsico art collective, The Residents. Originally available only by mail order from Ralph Records ( and thus, mostly ignored by critics). The Beatles labels threatened to sue the band for using the album cover. Take the advice offered on the album cover: 
" Let the strangeness wear off through a couple of plays. Soon you too will whistle the merry tunes."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

40 Year Itch: Just Like the Wind

I still can't listen to J J Cale without thinking about the many ways Eric Clapton and Dire Straits made millions by borrowing his mellow Tulsa sound. But on to Okie.  Because there were four different recording sessions for this album-- in four different studios-- J J Cale's third album, Okie, lacks the one thing that makes J J Cale "J J Cale" : consistency. The lead off cut has a reggae beat. "Precious Memories" sounds like gospel. 

    Something else noted in Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau's harsh review ( he called Okie "generally boring and lifeless"): Cale seems bent on fading tunes out about halfway through. ( That's even true for the single "Cajun Moon"). To me, Okie is perfectly fine as background music and that subdued driving beat of his songs is always good for , well, driving.

Monday, April 28, 2014

40 Year Itch: Smooth and Raunchy

   Years before Al Green came around, Willie Mitchell signed Ann Peebles to his Memphis based Hi Records label. Mitchell may have been drawn to her traditional feel for old school R and B but as soon as Al Green began his string of sensual hit singles and albums like I'm Still In Love With You and Call Me, he hoped Peebles would be a female version of Al Green. 

   It almost happened. The single " I Can't Stand the Rain" , featuring Al Green's musicians and producer,  hit the top 40 ( #6 R and B) and even John Lennon called it " the best songs ever".

The rest of the album is full of this kind of smooth soul. 

Betty was a free spirit...who was a rocker and a street woman...she was raunchy and all that kind of shit
- Miles Davis
Briefly married to Miles Davis, Betty is credited with introducing the jazz master to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Sounds that would lead him to Bitches Brew. She too was open to experimenting with sounds and the result is three albums of unmitigated funk and highly sexualized songs.

They Say I'm Different is her second album.The debut had the benefit of Sly Stone's rhythm section.The sado-masochistic  "He Was a Big Freak", about a lover who liked being whipped,  is rumored to be about Miles. You may not be able to get past all the screeching "cat in heat" antics on this album, but you'll have to admit Betty Davis was an artist way ahead of her time. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

40 Year Itch: All I Do is Drive Drive Drive

    Ragged Old Flag, released in April of 1974, may be Johnny Cash's most political album. He sings about American disillusionment on the title cut and pollution on "Don't Go Near the Water" ( not to be mistaken for the Beach Boys song from Surf's Up). Having spent the last day and half driving hundreds of miles around the Olympic Coast of Washington State, I'm partial to "All I Do is Drive". 

But I've always liked Truck Driving songs. They are, like the best Westerns, simple statements about American values and what means to be a man.

Friday, April 25, 2014

40 Year Itch: Another Curtain is Drawn

Pamela was Jim's other half.  The two of them were a perfect combination. I never knew another person who could so compliment his bizarreness.
  -Ray Manzarek

On April 26 1974 Jim Morrison's widow Pamela died in her Hollywood apartment of a suspected drug overdose involving heroin. She was 27--the same age as Morrison when he died of a heart attack in 1971. They met in 1965 at the Doors first gig and had an on again off again relationship in the years that followed. Since Jim's death, she was caught up in lawsuits involving his estate which probably included trying to prove that she and Jim were legally married on a trip to Mexico. Among the songs Jim had written about Pamela:
20th Century Fox, Love Street and Queen of the Highway.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

40 Year Itch : Out of the Oxygen Tent

On April 24, 1974 David Bowie released his eight album, Diamond Dogs. To these ears, it's a bit of a muddled mess. Recorded in a paranoid blizzard of cocaine, the album attempts to pair up songs Bowie had written for a failed musical adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 with songs written in the recording studio. 

Yes it's got two great Rolling Stones inspired tunes, "Rebel Rebel" and the title cut, but Diamond Dogs is weighed down by the overly theatrical wailing of its creator. It's not helped by Bowie's guitar playing. He's hardly the man to replace Mick Ronson.

Rolling Stone critic Ken Emerson saw the album as a sign of Bowie's deterioration into style over substance:

From Aladdin Sane on, Bowie has tended to pander to what he thinks the public wants and to imitate those who have been more successful than he -- Alice Cooper and Mick Jagger, for instance. He has deliberately cheapened himself and his music.

   Critic James Wolcott was even more cutting, describing Diamond Dogs as "so dessicated and sluggish, so bereft of wit and energy, that not even the most feebleminded of Camp-followers will be able to coast with it".

The album cover is designed by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert who also painted the Rolling Stones's It's Only Rock and Roll cover. Anyone with a copy of Diamond Dogs  before the genitalia was airbrushed out has an album worth thousands of dollars.

This would be the last of Bowie's glam rock albums. While on tour in the US, the Thin White Duke fell in love with the Philly Soul sound, ditched his pirate outfit for slick threads and reinvented himself as a blonde "plastic soul" singer. His next studio album, Young Americans,  would be recorded in Philadelphia

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

40 Year Itch: No Use for Riches

On April 23, 1974 Ronnie Lane introduced his folk rock outfit Slim Chance to the BBC audience of "In Concert". It's an absolute delight.

Lane had founded the Small Faces and played with the Rod Stewart version as long as he could stand it. When he left The Faces, he also left all the trappings of rock n roll stardom behind. Probably because he was flat broke. Lane was living in a fortune teller's caravan next to the River Thames in Pete Townsend's garden.

Lane's new sound, with the aptly named "Slim Chance" , caught on at first. The single "How Come" peaked at #11 in the UK. Like so much of the output that follows, it promises to put you in a merry mood.

His is a discography worth investigating. Rough Mix, the 1977 album Lane did with Townsend is beyond brilliant. But don't stop there. I haven't. So I can call up a smile on my iPhone any time I want.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

40 year itch: Joni Plays London

On April 22, 1974 Joni Mitchell wrapped up her first 1974 tour with a three night stand at the New Victoria Theatre in London. All of the shows sold out. The final night was filmed by the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test. The performance would air in November.

Back in the US her album Court and Spark was making itself at home in the Billboard Top 10 album chart. 

Among those who attended the show was George Harrison. It was backstage that Harrison met Tom Scott and impulsively invited Scott and the LA Express to record at his mansion the next day. The results were two forgettable tunes that would appear on  Dark Horse : the instrumental "Hari's On Tour" and "Simply Shady".

In September Joni would return to London where she would perform with Crosby Stills Nash and Young at Wembley Stadium

The entire April show in faded color.

Monday, April 21, 2014

40 Year Itch: Your Blue Eyed Horseshoe

In April of 1974, Blue Oyster Cult released their third studio album Secret Treaties, one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Like everybody else,  I knew "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burnin' For You" and , thanks to "Godzilla",  hadn't really bothered to dig much further. That was a big mistake. There is a very good reason why Secret Treaties was named "The Top Rock Album of All Time" in a 1975 Melody Maker Poll of critics. It rocks!

Blue Oyster Cult had musical chops to rival every other heavy metal band out there. But they also had some secret weapons. Among them, Patti Smith who was dating keyboardist Allen Lanier at the time. "Career of Evil" is based on a poem she wrote called "Poem of Isadore Ducasse".

   But the band's biggest weapon wasn't even a member of Blue Oyster Cult. Former Crawdaddy scribe Sandy Pearlman has been called  a svengali-figure for BOC. Rolling Stone describes Pearlman as the band's "lyricist, stylistic consultant, co-producer and long time manager". Saturday Night Live famously summed up Pearlman as "more cowbell". 

The guitarist Pearlman dubbed "Buck Dharma" tells Mojo Magazine:

Sandy would basically be the judge. There were a lot of ideas flying around for the album so we needed somebody to be the Fuhrer.

That Nazi Germany reference is probably no accident.

Pearlman's lyrics revel in a world of sado-masochism and comic book antics.

I'd like your blue eyed horseshoe, 
I'd like your emerald horny toad
I'd like to do it to your daughter on a dirt road

            Plus there's the World War 2 Nazi German Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jet on the cover. Even the title refers to WW2 era diplomacy. Of course anyone making such allegations has to overlook the fact that Pearlman  and guitarist Eric Bloom are Jewish.

I'd like to give the last line to Mr Bloom.

"Personally Secret Treaties is my favorite BOC album."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

40 Year Itch: Reckless Games

The Sweet just don't give fuck. 
-Brian Connolly, singer

With the exception of the catchy "ACDC", about a lovely lass who's just as happy with a girlfriend as she is with a boy,  Sweet dispenses with the cute but loud glam pop sounds that gave them so many UK hits  ("Blockbuster", "Little Willy", "Ballroom Blitz") and re-invents itself as a hard rocking, ready with the righteous riff, don't-give-a-fuck metal machine. This definitive Sweet album offered up a formula adopted by heavy metal bands of the 80's like Motley Crue.

   The US would hear 5 of the cuts on Desolation Boulevard ( as well as the classic "Fox On The Run") later in the year. But by then Connolly would be in trouble. Beaten by a bunch of "yobs" outside a pub in Staines, Connolly lost both his confidence and eventually his voice.

Friday, April 18, 2014

40 Year Itch : Hardly Daring to Breathe

'I turned on the radio in the car the other day and I thought, 'that's weird, that's Jimi, and I've never heard that track before. And it turned out to be a guy called Robin Trower,' 
- Eric 'Slowhand' Clapton.

Oh yeah, Hendrix was a big influence. There is guitar playing before Hendrix and there’s guitar playing after Hendrix, you know? [Laughs] He’s a giant, a genius. I think we all live in his shadow, even today. I still think he was the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitar player ever
-Robin Trower

   I get the impression Robin Trower is more humble than any guitar god ever needs to be. Just watch the video aboce. If you could make a Stratocaster sing like that, wouldn't you make it look like the hardest thing in the world? Trower just sort of stands there , moving little more than his fingers.

    And every time his interviewers praise his guitar playing , Trower takes pains to say the real star of his early solo albums, including the 1974 breakout Bridge of Sighs,  is the soulful bassist and singer Jimmy Dewar, formerly of Stone the Crows.

I was very, very fortunate that I ran into the singer James Dewar, You know a major reason why that music was so successful was his vocal, which enabled the music to cross over

Those who heard 1973's Twice Removed From Yesterday could hardly have been surprised at the quality of Bridge of Sighs which hit the peaked at #7 in the US album charts and provided many fans with the soundtrack to the Summer of '74.  

While fans and contemporaries praised Trower, the press was not so kind. He had been cast as a Hendrix imitator and that wasn't a role critics were going to let him shrug off.
    Jim Miller of Rolling Stone wrote :

    Bridge Of Sighs, like its predecessor, Twice Removed from Yesterday, lacks that creative spark which separates derivative finesse from more personal stylistic elaboration. The very polished assurance of Trower's lines misses the pathos animating Hendrix's last recordings. Evidently Trower will have to cast off Hendrix's ghost before he finds his own voice. In the meantime, his current band plays with a concise potency that fills a contemporary void.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

40 Year Itch : Top 20 Soul This Week in 1974

1. MFSB and the Three Degrees : TSOP

After backing Billy Paul, The Stylistics, The Spinners, The O'Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes on their hits, the studio musicians who made up Mother Father Sister Brother hit pay dirt with the future Soul Train theme "TSOP". And the disco era was born...

2. Bloodstone : Outside Woman
3. Staple Singers : Touch a Hand, Make a Friend

4. James Brown : The Payback
5. Earth Wind and Fire : Mighty Mighty

6. Barry White, Honey, Please Can't See Ya
7. Gladys Knight and the Pips: Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
8. The Jackson 5 : Dancing Machine

9. The Temptations : Heavenly
10. Stylistics: You Make Me Feel Brand New

11. Main Ingredient : Just Don't Want to Be Lonely
12. Al Green : Let's Get Married
13. New Birth : It's Been a Long Time

14. Bobby Womack : Lookin' For Love
15. Leon Haywood : Keep It In the Family

16. Joe Simon : Carry Me
17. Isley Brothers : Summer Breeze
18. Sylvia : Sweet Stuff

19. Billy Paul : Thanks for Saving My Life
20. Bobby Blue Bland : Goin Down Slow

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

40 Year Itch: A Peephole in my Brain

Dana Gillespie's Weren't Born A Man album, which received a full page ad in an April 1974  issue of Billboard Magazine features a song David Bowie originally wrote for her. It's called "Andy Warhol" and , yes, it's the same song Bowie recorded for his 1971 album Hunky Dory. This album contains the 1971 version originally cut by Dana with Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson producing.

A longtime friend, lover and backing vocalist of the Thin White Duke, Dana was signed to Bowie's MainMan management company. Years earlier she inspired Donovan's "Superlungs, My Supergirl" for two obvious reasons.

Weren't Born a Man failed to do much in the way of business and Dana reinvented herself as a B movie siren before returning to music. Today she's a British blues singer well worth tracking down.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

40 Year Itch: A Shot of Salvation

  On April 15, 1974 The Rolling Stones concert movie "Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones" made its debut at the Zeigfield Theatre in New York City. The movie shows the Stones at their peak, performing in Texas and at Madison Square Garden during the 1972 American Tour. Originally screened in quadrasonic sound, the movie played limited engagements in select cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles) because tons of sound equipment has to be moved and set up at each theater.

Monday, April 14, 2014

40 Year Itch : Turn It Up

On April 15, 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd released their second album, Second Helping, which featured the band's biggest song ever, "Sweet Home Alabama". Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington admits the song is a response to "Old Neil" Young's songs "Alabama" and "Southern Man":

We listened to Neil Young a lot back then, and "Southern Man" really cut the South--and he's from Canada!. It kind of peeved us, so we wrote that kind of as a joke. We never thought it would be a single, much less a hit...nothing we did was that premeditated.

In fact the lead off single from Second Helping wasn't "Sweet Home Alabama" but  "Don't Ask Me No Questions"... which failed to chart.

While Rolling Stone reviewer Gordon Fletcher complained that the band lacked the "sophistication and professionalism" of the Allman Brothers, both Robert Christgau and the critic at Billboard Magazine cited the band's good taste. Christgau goes on to say "any suspicions that this substantial, tasteful band blew their best stuff on the first platter should fall in the wake of the first state song ever to make top ten, which will expose you to their infectious put-downs of rock businessmen, rock journalists, and heroin." 

  Aside from "Sweet Home Alabama", Lynyrd Skynrd delivers "Workin for MCA", an inside-baseball tune about their record deal that may be more "punk rock" than the Sex Pistols's "EMI". There's also "The Needle and the Spoon" which warns listeners off heroin :

Lord, their gonna bury you boy /
                               Don't mess with the needle

Sunday, April 13, 2014

40 Year Itch: They're Weird and They're Wonderful

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 for April 13, 1974

1 Elton John Bennie and the Jets

With crowd noises nicked from an Elton John concert in London and Jimi Hendrix's performance at the Isle of Wight, as well as some off beat handclaps, "Bennie and the Jets" gave Elton John his second #1 in the US. He was prouder of the fact the song hit #15 in the R and B charts. One of those few tunes most people could name in one note.

2 Blue Swede Hooked on a Feeling
3 MFSB and the Three Degrees TSOP

4 Sister Janet Mead The Lord's Prayer
5 Redbone Come and Get Your Love
6 John Denver Sunshine On My Shoulders

7 Gladys Knight and the Pips Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
8 Terry Jacks Seasons in the Sun
9 Ringo Starr Oh My My

10 Carly Simon and James Taylor Mockingbird

Saturday, April 12, 2014

40 Year Itch: Suzi Q Tours the US of A

On April 12, 1974 Suzi Quatro opened her US Tour at the Michigan Palace in front of her parents in her hometown of Detroit. She had already become a UK Glam sensation with three #1 hits--none of which did much business in the US. Still, Suzi and her band of Brits had a great time with, as she related in her autobiography Unzipped..."the endless TV Stations, the hamburger and hot dog stands, the malls, the guitar shops ( even better, the pawn shops where (we ) picked up loads of cheap guitars, the streets of Detroit, Sunset Strip, the huge expressways.

      At one of her final shows, at the Whiskey in LA, Iggy Pop joined Suzi onstage.Problem was he was wasted, so we had to have security "escort" him off. Sorry Iggy, no offence. But if you're gonna get on my stage you'd better be "together", you know what I mean?

  Next stop: Australia where Suzi was such  huge star she couldn't go outside without being surrounded by screaming fans.

   Suzi would finally find fame in the US as Leather Tuscadero on the hit TV show Happy Days and with "Stumblin' In" her Top  5 1978 hit with Chris Norman whose band Smokie also failed to otherwise find a US audience.

Friday, April 11, 2014

40 Year Itch: Oh No, Oh No, Oh No, Oh No

It's not the best film ever made, but I've seen worse.
-Ringo Starr 

   On April 11th, 1974 the soundtrack for the Apple film Son of Dracula was released, eight days before the movie premiered in Atlanta. The movie stars Harry Nilsson who took payment in the form of cosmetic dentistry. It is, by all accounts, abysmal. Ringo Starr financed the whole thing as a tribute to the classic monster movies of Hammer and Universal. He even managed to round up an all star cast of Peter Frampton, Keith Moon and John Bonham to play in the Count Downes, the son of Dracula's band. The movie tanked. Even when it was re-released as Young Dracula to try to cash in on Young Frankenstein's success. ( At least that movie inspired one rock n roll hit: Aerosmith's "Walk This Way").


   The soundtrack is a dud as well. With the exception of the Top 40 single "Daybreak" ( featuring George Harrison on cowbell), all of the songs on the album had been previously released on Nilsson Scmilsson or Son of Schmilsson.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

40 Year Itch: I Hear A Symphony



    Canterbury art rockers Caravan follow-up one of their finest albums, 1973's For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, with this live set recorded with the 39-piece New Symphonia Orchestra. Hey, it worked for Procol Harum (whose live album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was their top seller) and Deep Purple ( 1969's Concerto For Group and Orchestra). The Caravan offering doesn't have as many fans but I think it's a treat, especially on the longer tracks like "For Richard" from 1969's If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You. A remastered version is longer and much better recorded.


These Italian prog rockers/ jazz fusionists sported both the softest and most melodic tunes in progressive rock and one of the fastest drummers ever on record : the perfectly named Furio Chirico.


 Check out the track "Positivo/Negativo" and you too will be wondering why this album is out of print.

Having broken worldwide with their novelty number "Hocus Pocus", these Dutch masters of progressive rock get serious again and produce the fan favorite Hamburger Concerto. It's a little surprising that a band with a recently inducted guitar god (in Jan Akkerman)  has recorded an album so dominated by keyboardist (Thijs Van  Leer). A grower that requires patience and appreciation.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

40 Year Itch: What the Purists Were Missing

    By April of 1974 Blue Note had released two albums that would challenge Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters for the top spot on the jazz charts. Trumpeter Donald Byrd's Street Lady, his follow-up to the smash hit Black Byrd, sounds like a groovy Blaxploitation soundtrack. There's even some wah wah guitar from David T Walker, who played on Jackson 5 hits. Harvey Mason, who played drums on Head Hunters, finds the pocket on every Street Lady cut. 

   But 1974 was the really the year of Jazz flautist Barbara Ann ("Bobbi") Humphrey whose Blacks and Blues ( also featuring Walker and Mason and Black Byrd brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell) has become a jazz funk classic. Bobbi Humphrey takes most of the solos on the album and that's just fine. She also sings Minnie Riperton-like on "Just a Love Child" and "Baby's Gone". A perfect soundtrack for sunny days.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Battle of Billy The Hero

Although it was a song about the American Civil War, "Billy, Don't Be Hero" was written by two Brits, Mitch Murray and Peter Callander. When the Nottingham band Paper Lace won an ITV talent show called "Opportunity Knocks", Murray and Callander had the band record the tune which went to Number One in the UK on March 16, 1974. 

    As the song climbed the UK charts Murray and Callander desperately tried to get the Paper Lace tune distributed in the US. But they were met with rejection everywhere until Mercury Records finally bought the master. By then it was too late.

   That's because producer Steve Barrie heard the Paper Lace single at ABC Records and quickly dispatched the TV friendly band, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, to cover the tune. Their version hit the Billboard Hot 100 on April 20, 1974 beating Paper Lace by a week. DJ's played the songs back to back and asked listeners to choose the better version and The Heywoods won by a landslide.  

   Paper Lace had to settle for a peak position of 96 on the Hot 100 while Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods took the song all the way to Number One for two weeks in June of 1974. ( The Heywoods would hit the singles charts again later in the year with "Who Do You Think You Are")
   Don't feel too bad  for Paper Lace. They scored a #1 hit in the US two months later with "The Night Chicago Died".