Thursday, December 31, 2015

40 Year Itch: Goodbye 1975 !!

   Thanks for joining me for another year of rehashing the classics and uncovering the nuggets from an entire year in rock and soul. What better way to end than by listening in on the best New Year's Eve Party of 1975: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA? One of several December 1975 shows professionally recorded under the supervision of Jimmy Iovine for a possible live album, this concert featured the last slow version of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" the band would play live for fifteen years. The up-tempo version is always one of the highlights of a Springsteen concert ( and would be released as a single in early 1976) but this is a great song no mater how they play it.

The full set list from that night:


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

40 Year Itch : The 5 worst hit songs of 1975

   It was the 70's so much of what made the Top 40 was awful but nothing was quite so revolting as these top five hits from 1975. 

1. MORRIS ALBERT: FEELINGS -- Over. Wrought. With lyrics so generic they could be about a lost love or a dead pet gerbil.

2. GEORGE BAKER SELECTION and JONATHAN KING :  UNA PALOMA BLANCA --There were two competing versions of this wretched song on the charts at the same time

3. JOHN DENVER WITH OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: FLY AWAY --A song about a depressed city dweller leaping off a building?

4. WING AND A PRAYER FIFE AND DRUM CORPS : BABYFACE --When a 50 year old song gets trashed by disco treatment everybody of every age loses.

5. MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY : WILDFIRE --The dead horse song

Monday, December 28, 2015

40 Year Itch : 40 Best Singles of 1975

Queen Bohemian Rhapsody
10cc I'm Not in Love
Bee Gees Jive Talkin
Earth Wind and Fire Shining Star
David Ruffin Walk Away from Love

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes Wake Up Everybody
Roxy Music Love is the Drug
Bob Dylan Tangled Up in Blue
David Bowie Fame
Bruce Springsteen Born to Run

Hot Chocolate You Sexy Thing
Dwight Twilley Band I'm On Fire
Ohio Players Love Rollercoaster
Augustus Pablo King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown
War Low Rider

Donna Summer Love To Love You Baby
Steve Harley Come Up and See Me ( Make Me Smile)
KC and the Sunshine Band Get Down Tonight
The O'Jays I Love Music
Bruce Springsteen 10th Avenue Freeze Out

Willie Nelson Blue Eyes Crying in in the Rain
Television Little Johnny Jewel
The Four Seasons Who Loves You
Ozark Mountain Daredevils Jackie Blue
Pete Wingfield 18 With a Bullet

Grand Funk Railroad Bad Time
Leon Haywood I Want A' Do Something Freaky To You
The Fatback Band ( Do the) Bus Stop
Dr Feelgood She Does It Right
Max Merritt and the Meteors Slipping Away

Fleetwood Mac Over My Head
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes Bad Luck
Art Garfunkel Breakaway
Sparks Something for the Girl with Everything
James Brown Reality

Gary Wright Dream Weaver
Bachman Turner Overdrive Hey You
Stretch Why Did You Do It
Andy Fairweather Low Wide Eyed and Legless
Captain and Tennille Love Will Keep Us Together

Saturday, December 26, 2015

40 Year Itch : 25 Fave Albums from 1975

Fave Albums of 1975

Patti Smith Horses
Brian Eno Another Green World
Nils Lofgren
Neil Young Tonight's the Night
Dr Feelgood Down By the Jetty

Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger
Roxy Music Siren
Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks
Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
Parliament Mothership Connection

Burning Spear Marcus Garvey
Neil Young Zuma
Steely Dan Katy Lied
Fleetwood Mac
John Cale Helen of Troy

Richard and Linda Thompson Pour Down Like Silver
Hawkwind Warrior on the Edge of Time
Neu '75
The Who By Numbers
Ronnie Lane One for the Road

Bob Dylan and the Band Basement Tapes
Bee Gees Main Course
Wings Venus and Mars
Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti
Amazing Rhythm Aces Stacked Deck

Thursday, December 24, 2015

40 Year Itch: Best Discoveries from 1975

  1975 was a much more fascinating year for music than I initially thought it would be. Here are some of my favorite discoveries this year . ( OK, I knew the Augustus Pablo, Neu and Stealers Wheel tracks before, but they seem to fit into the mix). The ZipFile is a CD length sampler. Thanks to everyone who checked in this year. What will 2016 have in store? I'm seriously considering 1966 as opposed to 1976.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

40 Year Itch : Three We Missed

Andy Fraser : Changed Man

   A founding member of Free and vocalist with The Sharks, bass player Andy Fraser 's "Changed Man" was one of the most played songs in my "1975" iTunes playlist this year. Fraser died in March.

Frankie Miller : A Fool in Love

After his 1975 albums, Fraser tried to start a band with Scottish Otis Redding sound-a-like Frankie Miller, whose "A Fool in Love" came off his album The Rock, recorded in San Francisco.

The Trammps : Hold Back the Night

"Hold Back the Night" was a UK#5 hit in 1975 for the Philadelphia band whose "Disco Inferno" would be part of the mega-selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Graham Parker has a Top 30 hit with  "Hold Back the Night" in 1977

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

40 Year Itch : Under Lock and Key

Parliament : Handcuffs

  A deep cut from 1975's funkiest and most out-there album, Mothership Connection. This is the album that had everyone in the know singing "Make my funk a P-Funk I wants to get funked up!" Still putting on the best shows when I caught them twice in the 90's. Once as damn near the only white boy in a Greenville, South Carolina club and the second time in an antiseptic showroom in Lake Tahoe. They burned the roof off the muther both times!

Monday, December 14, 2015

40 Year Itch: White Shining Silver Studs

Patti Smith : Land

   When you consider Patti Smith's Horses from this side of the punk rock explosion, it's a raw, revolutionary debut - a "catalyst" for punk. But consider the year Horses ( with its defiant cover shot by best friend Robert Mapplethorpe) actually came out: 1975. 
      The Captain and Tennille had the year's biggest pop hit and Elton John's Greatest Hits was  the year's top selling album. It was the year of Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and Abba. Of 10cc's "I'm Not in Love", KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way ( I Like It)" and Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy".

   Horses was a far different animal. It began with what has been called the greatest opening lines of any album: "Jesus died for somebody's sins /but not mine" and would go on to become one of the most startling debuts in rock history.

   The opening cut reimagines Them's "Gloria" with fragments from a spoken word piece Smith had written called "Oath", performed as early as 1973.

   The band plays garage rock chords around the poet's improvisational, Arthur Rimbaud influenced performance, described later by Bauhaus's Tom Murphy as though she were "possessed and sometimes she goes into hysterical, indecipherable sections which amaze me".

  Guitarist Lenny Kaye was already the professor of garage rock. He helped assemble and wrote the liner notes for Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era and is believed to be one of the first to use the term "punk rock" to describe the music of that era.

   "Kimberly" is a good example of the way Kaye's guitar based pop hooks supported Smith's free-form poetry. My sense had always been that we're hearing of the end of the world and Patti is reaching out to comfort her younger sister. I got the sister right part but as Patti Smith told The Guardian, "Housing developments were a new thing, postwar, they'd build them for poor people in areas that nobody wanted. Ours was literally on a swamp. We lived across the street from an old abandoned barn that got hit by lightning shortly after Kimberly was born. I went outside and I was holding her, watching this barn in fl ames. Hundreds of bats lived in it, and you could hear them screeching, and see bats and owls and buzzards flying out.'"

   So what did the punks really get from Horses? I think it's the bursts of energy you hear in "Gloria" and "Land" and especially in the bonus cut, a live version of The Who's "My Generation", coupled with the sneering vocals--all attitude--from Smith. 
   Horses, produced in fitful weeks of arguments by John Cale,  is the first album to come from New York's punk rock scene. But it's not punk. It's art of the highest order.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

40 Year Itch : Do You Remember the Days of Slavery?

Burning Spear : Slavery Days

    Don't let the trancelike, easy skanking rhythms and bright horns distract you from the powerful lyrics of Winston Rodney ( aka Burning Spear) who appealed to Black Pride by updating the "Back to Africa" messages of Marcus Garvey. On a future album he would castigate an Italian hero with the line "Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar". On this one he asks us all "Do you remember the days of slavery?" Rodney, now 70,  remains the consciousness of roots reggae music.

Friday, December 11, 2015

40 Year Itch : Soul Dracula

Hot Blood : Soul Dracula

   Though it made little in the way of impact in the US until it appeared in the 2014 Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive, the German band Hot Blood's 1975 single "Soul Dracula" did find its way in Japan where it sold 600,000 copies becoming that nation's top disco hit of 1976.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

40 Year Itch: Turn the Black Night, Blue

Andy Fairweather Low : Wide Eyed and Legless

   A drinker's lament that hit the top 10 in the UK, thanks in part to the dreamy production of Glyn Johns. The former Amen Corner leader played on Gerry Rafferty's City To City album and is a journeyman musician who could be seen on stage with the likes of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison. Written today, the song about drunkenness might have been called "Pissed as a Fart".

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

40 Year Itch : No More Sleepin' In Bed

Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes : Wake Up Everybody

    From the most popular R and B album of  Christmas 1975 comes the title cut "Wake Up Everybody", an epic "message" song written by John Whitehead and Gene McFadden and produced by Gamble and Huff. This is the seven and a half minute album version with the prolonged funky jam that rolls on while Teddy Pendergrass calls out preachers, politicians and cheating businessmen. The song may have topped the soul charts for two weeks in early 1976, but I'm not sure the world actually woke up. The lyrics could have been written last week...which may explain why John Legend and friends recorded a cover version five years ago.

Friday, December 4, 2015

40 Year Itch : He Ain't No Gentleman Jim

   I met the late Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in 1999 when he was doing interviews to promote the Denzel Washington movie, The Hurricane. He was smart and smooth and enjoying the moment. First Bob Dylan ("How can the life of such a man/  Be in the palm of some fool's hand? /To see him obviously framed /Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land /Where justice is a game.") , now Denzel Washington were exonerating the twice-convicted accused triple-murderer. Pop culture had fully acquited Carter.

  But even back in 1975, as Dylan's tune was rising in the charts on its way to US # 33, propelled by a Madison Square Garden benefit concert with Muhammed Ali in attendance and the band in white face, at least one of his friends had her doubts.

  Joni Mitchell had talked to Hurricane Carter a few times on the phone "and I was alone in perceiving that he was a violent person and an opportunist. I thought 'Oh my God, we're a bunch of patsy white liberals. This is a bad person. He's fakin' it'."

  Rubin "Hurricane" Carter had been convicted  alongside John Artis of a 1966 triple murder at a Paterson, New Jersey bar. Cops stopped the two men in a car matching witness descriptions with guns the same gauge as those used in the murder. Dylan describes the court case that sent Carter to prison for life : 

All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance 
The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance 
The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums 
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum 
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
 No one doubted that he pulled the trigger 
And though they could not produce the gun 
The DA said he was the one who did the deed 
And the all-white jury agreed. 

   Dylan was inspired to write "The Hurricane" after reading Carter's book , The 16th Round. He and Jacques Levy were convinced Carter had been framed. 

   But by late January of 1976, he quit playing "The Hurricane". The publicity Dylan had drummed up got Hurricane Carter in front a judge who released the boxer from prison in March of 1976. The next day Carter beat up a woman who had spent half a year working on his release. In November, Carter was retried and found guilty. In 1985, he was released on procedural grounds after spending nineteen years behinds bars.

  As The Hurricane movie received more attention during awards season, it became clear that the film had glossed over many of the facts of Carter's life and the case itself.

At the Golden Globes, Denzel Washington put his arm around Carter and said "This man right here is love".

  I'm not convinced one way or another. Sixteen years later, I can't shake the feeling that I might have sat across from a cool killer.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

40 Year Itch: A Dread That Shakes My Body

David Ruffin : Walk Away From Love

  This million-selling single penned by Van McCoy contains what may be the greatest male vocal performance of 1975. Listen how former Temptation David Ruffin ( who sang "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud To Beg")  hits the falsetto notes on "breaks my heart". Disco wasn't just about the beat. There was still room for great vocals and Ruffin delivers on this #1 R and B gem.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

40 Year Itch : Shack Up

Banbarra : Shack Up

  Looking for great beats and breaks?  How about a funky bass line and breathy female background vocals? Sampled by Public Enemy and covered by A Certain Ratio,  Banbarra's "Shack Up" is a new discovery for me and a guaranteed floor filler at your next disco night. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

40 Year Itch : Gettin' Robbed, Gettin' Stoned

AC/DC : It's a Long Way To The Top

  From the AC/DC's second Australia-only release, T.N.T, released December 1, 1975, comes the hardest rocking song to ever feature bagpipes. As you can see in the video below, shot on the back of a pick up--Rolling Stones style--on the busy streets of Melbourne, it is singer Bon Scott who plays the pipes. More than anything else, this rock and roll veteran wanted to get to the top. Now he had the band to get him there.

   Ladies, lock up your daughters. These boys are not up to any good.

Monday, November 30, 2015

40 Year Itch : Any Way the Wind Blows

   In 1975, I was a skinny private-schooled alien from Connecticut who suddenly fell from the sky and landed in in a dust cloud called Sparks, Nevada. My step-father had moved there with my mom and younger sister because he was convinced he could make a living counting cards in the casinos. Every night, he'd go through a six pack of Budweiser at the kitchen table while my mom dealt him black jack cards.

   He was smarter than the average hustler, but the casinos had seen him coming from a mile away and he got banned from John Ascuaga's Nugget, The Eldorado, Circus Circus,  Harrah's and every gambling establishment in the state. One night he headed off to a casino and didn't come back. Mom had a practiced hand at shuffling and dealing cards by then so she got a job at a Circus Circus. She was barely earning a living, but she agreed to take me and my other sister in. 

  That's how I wound up going to Sparks Middle School, the only kid walking into class wearing business casual instead of K-Mart t-shirts with illustrations of sports cars and surfboards. It sucked. My mom sent us off to school with 35 cents, the cost of a subsidized school lunch. From a an upper-middle class lifestyle, I was now living like a poor boy from a poor family. 

But for some reason a kid with the presidential name of John Adams, befriended me and brought me to his house one day. He wanted to play me a 45 he had just bought with lawn mowing money: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".

It was the greatest song he'd ever heard. And I had to say I agreed. 

  The first instrument you hear on Freddie Mercury's "Opera Song", written on various scraps of paper, and recorded with 180 overdubs and a vocal section that took 70 hours to record, is the same piano Paul McCartney used to record "Hey Jude". I've heard the many interpretations people have come up with over the years. Most thinking it's Mercury's "coming out" song.

  But that afternoon, I heard a melodramatic plea from a doomed murderer to his mother. And, 40 years later, I'm sticking with that.

  With "Bohemian Rhapsody" playing in my head I walked home and discovered an old Ford pick up parked in front of the house. My step-father had returned. He was now driving a cab and needed a place to crash.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

40 Year Itch : Hissing of Summer Lawns

   The immediate critical evaluation of 1975's Hissing of Summer Lawns was not kind. Rolling Stone declared the album the worst of the year, and suggested that Joni Mitchell had both run out of melodic ideas and gave too much room for the "cliche-ridden" support of Tom Scott's L.A. Express.

   So I was surprised when my step brother suggested he dub a CD copy of the album for me. And even more surprised how, over time, I've come to enjoy the album as much anything in the Joni repertoire barring Blue.

The lyrics are full of an artist's arched eyebrow-ed observations of suburban life:

  He bought her a diamond for her throat 
He put her in a ranch house on a hill 
She could see the valley barbecues 
From her window sill 
See the blue pools in the squinting sun 
Hear the hissing of summer lawns

  Some of the jazz sounds dated, but there are also slices of world music on the album --like the Burundi drums on "The Jungle Line", presaging Echo and the Bunnymen's live Burundi drummer collaboration "Zimbo" by seven years.

  Hissing of Summer Lawns may be one of the best reminders that an album that divides critics is worth our attention. Time has proved Joni was right all along. And if we need further proof, no less an expert than Prince has called Hissing his favorite all time album.

SOUNDS ALBUMS 1975 critics poll
1. The Hissing Of Summer Lawns - Joni Mitchell
 2. Blood On The Tracks - Bob Dylan
 3. Natty Dread - Bob Marley And The Wailers
 4. The Who By Numbers - The Who
 5. Still Crazy After All These Years - Paul Simon
 6. Caught Up - Millie Jackson
 7. Back To The Night - Joan Armatrading
 8. Nils Lofgren - Nils Lofgren
 9. Visions Of The Emerald Beyond - Mahavishnu Orchestra
 10. Hot! Menu! - Sadistic Mika Band

Saturday, November 28, 2015

40 Year Itch : Give Me Missing Persons

Steve Prefontaine, 1975
Little Feat : Long Distance Love

  Jimmy Page called Little Feat his favorite American group. At their height, they were Elvis Costello's favorite too. He saw them open for The Doobie Brothers in 1975. Jackson Browne called Lowell George "the Orson Welles of Rock".

  But just as all those years on the road were about to pay off and make Little Feat a household name, Lowell George began downplaying his role in the band. Maybe it was the other projects he had going on ( he produced other artists and helped Emmylou Harris and Rickie Lee Jones get Warners contracts), or his head butting with keyboardist Bill Payne. Maybe it was his health. But The Last Record Album sees Payne and guitarist Paul Barrere taking on more of the songwriting responsibility. They were good for one sure-fire classic, "All That You Dream", but for me the highlight is Lowell's soulfully sung "Long Distance Love" and just about anything he played on slide guitar. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Rainn Wilson : The Greatest Albums of the Early 80's

   I'm reading Rainn Wilson's entertaining and thoughtful memoir because we both share Western Washington roots and I just want to let people know there's a chapter dedicated to his favorite albums of the early 80's. Until a friend passed him some cassettes with The Clash, The Police, Squeeze and Elvis Costello albums on them, he was a dedicated Classic Rock fan. He would soon don rectangular sunglasses, a skinny piano tie, and begin taking acting lessons.

    The chapter featuring his fave albums has fun descriptions I won't repeat here because I seriously fear the wrath of Dwight Schrute. And trademarks and stuff.

The Clash London Calling 
Talking Heads The Name of This Band is Talking Heads 
XTC English Settlement 
Squeeze East Side Story 
Elvis Costello Imperial Bedroom 
R.E.M. Reckoning 
Laurie Anderson Big Science 
Husker Du Zen Arcade 
The Replacements Let It Be 
X Wild Gift 
Violent Femmes 
The Smiths

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

40 Year Itch : Lady Madonna Let It Be

Barclay James Harvest : Titles

A poor man's Moody Blues? Where Pink Floyd meets Bread? While the jury may be out on Barclay James Harvest, most rock fans are at least amused by "Titles" the first time they hear it. It's a song made up in large part of Beatles song titles so you get lines like “Across the universe one after 909/I’ve got a feeling for you blue and I feel fine”. The second time they hear this 1975 single, they may not be as amused. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

40 Year Itch : Chauffeur Driven

10cc : Art for Art's Sake

    This UK #5 hit was the poppy preview to 10cc's weirdest and, I think, most wonderful album How Dare You! By this period, 10cc was a band made up of two fairly distinct songwriting teams: Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, both veterans of the 60's pop machines, wrote the easily accessible stuff ( like "Art for Art's Sake") while Lol Creme and Kevin Godley wrote the truly bizarre art school stuff. How Dare You! would be their last album together and it was the second album ( after Revolver)  I ever bought with my own money. I'll save a lengthier wrap up for the anniversary of the album's release.

   A fan of pop, I've always liked the straight ahead "Art For Art's Sake", even when it takes that Zappa like detour in the middle 8. Many rock historians say the song's title is inspired by the MGM motto "Ars Gratia Artis" but the songwriters say it's a line Gouldman's dad, Hymie,  used to always say to the band: "Art for art's sake, money for God's sake, okay"

Thursday, November 19, 2015

40 Year Itch : Ha Ha Woman

Electric Light Orchestra : Evil Woman

  Further proof that sometimes the best songs are the ones written in half an hour. A Top 10 hit in both the US and the UK, "Evil Woman" entered the US charts at #87 in mid November, 1975.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

40 Year Itch : A Broken Promise or a Broken Heart

Photo I shot this Summer of my hometown

Richard and Linda Thompson : Dimming of the Day

    I don't have this album, but having heard the two tunes posted below, I feel like I must be missing out on one of 1975's most beautiful releases. By 1974 Richard and Linda Thompson had adopted the Sufi faith and moved into a commune. Their sheikh had originally forbid them from recording music. On the other hand, they owed Island Records another album. It was like a toss up between Allah and Richard Branson. A compromise was reached and the couple recorded subtle songs of faith. 

   "Dimming of the Day" has often been interpreted as a love song but I don't think it is. The lyrics could just as well be sung to God:

 This old house is falling down around my ears 
I'm drowning in a river of my tears 
When all my will is gone you hold me sway 
I need you at the dimming of the day 
You pulled me like the moon 
Pulls on the tide 
You know just where I keep my better side 
What days have come to keep us far apart 
A broken promise or a broken heart

  What stands out is Linda's beautiful voice and Richard's eloquent guitar. Stunning! "Night Comes In" is simply epic. Perhaps Pour Down Like Silver is the real gem in the Thompson's discography.

Monday, November 16, 2015

40 Year Itch : Born to Waste

The Kinks : The Hard Way

   Only The Kinks ( and maybe The Who) could make three chords sounds so great! "The Hard Way" comes from the unfairly dismissed Schoolboys In Disgrace concept album, released in November of 1975. Although the chords may return listeners to the days of "You Really Got Me" and "I Need You", the lyrics are lines from a sexually repressed headmaster lecturing schoolboy Flash "You're much too dumb to educate/One day life's going to turn around and slap you in the face/Then you're gonna find out the hard way."
    There's a punk edge to the tune which made its way onto the Kinks set lists from the mid-70's to the mid 80's. I first heard it on the live 1980 album One For The Road. The song was later covered by The Knack. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

40 Year Itch : Say What?

Ohio Players : Love Rollercoaster

As if "Love Rollercoaster" , which debuted in the Hot 100 in November of 1975, wasn't funky enough to eventually propel the single to #1, a persistent suburban and inner urban legend had it that the high pitched screams barely audible in the mix were the sounds of the young cover model ( Playboy playmate Ester Cordet) getting stabbed to death. The story is that she was scalded by the hot honey poured all over her body and that she interrupted the recording session, threatening to sue the band. The scream actually belongs to keyboardist Billy Beck. The Ohio Players decided not to comment on the rumors. All that talk couldn't have hurt. Not only did the single hit #1 in January of 1976. The album peaked at #2. Oh, and Ester Cordet is still alive.