Thursday, March 31, 2016

Those We Missed: March, 1976

  On March 31, 1976 Led Zeppelin released Presence, the album the band recorded instead of going on tour thanks to the injuries Robert Plant suffered in a car accident. The word that best describes the album is "turgid". 

  Rather than waste a lot of space on this album, let's look at some other records we missed from March of 1976, including three live blockbusters.

Robin Trower : Daydream

   March of 1976 saw the release of the year's best live album. Robin Trower leads a trio through a set recorded in Stockholm a year earlier. Trower fans rate this above all his studio efforts, even Bridge of Sighs. Magnificent! 

Joe Walsh : Walk Away

Joe Walsh recorded this 34 -minute live career retrospective just months before joining the Eagles.

Johnny Winter : It's All Over Now

   When our college radio station took requests for a fundraising three day marathon, the old timers would pledge $10 to hear classic numbers like this one. Winter changes at least one line in this Bobby Womack crisis to celebrate the joys of oral sex. You need to hear Captured, Johnny Winter's third live album, in one sitting for the full effect. Raucous! 

Eddie and the Hot Rods : Writing on the Wall

  Among the hardest rocking of the UK pub scene-sters, Eddie and the Hot Rods would have a break out year in 1976, winning the NME poll for 1976's most promising band. It's all anticipated by this March 1976 single featuring the hard blowing harmonica sounds of Lew Lewis. The single would appear on the forthcoming Teenage Depression.

Michael McDonald's quest for world supremacy began here when he took over lead vocalist and some songwriting duties for Doobie Brother Tom Johnston.

  On Amigos, much to everyone's relief --and by everyone I mean primarily CBS Records executives, Carlos Santana finally seemed to tire of his jazz fusion adventures and returned to the latin influenced rock that made fans of millions. The result: Santana's first Top 10 album in four years. 

Doctors of Madness : Mainlines

A sixteen minute Glam Rock epic may have been a year or two behind its time, and 14 minutes too long for the punk rock explosion to come. But people swear on the third or fourth hearing you'll come to realize it's a masterpiece.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

40 Year Itch : The Pains of Boyhood

The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver : Arms of Mary

   A year after Rod Stewart took the Sutherland Brothers' tune "Sailing" to #1 for four weeks in the UK, the folksy brothers teamed up with the rock band Quiver to record some spotless pop tunes. "Arms of Mary" is the stand-out, a Top 10 UK hit and #1 in Ireland and The Netherlands that would later be covered by the Everly Brothers.  Quiver bassist Bruce Thomas would eventually join Elvis Costello and the Attractions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

40 Year Itch: Sloppy Under the Midday Sun

Graham Parker and the Rumour: Silly Thing

   On March 26, 1976 Graham Parker and the Rumour released the Nick Lowe produced single "Silly Thing". Sure, it sounds like something Van Morrison might have released a few years earlier, with its Stax-influenced horns, its playful piano lines and the "hey hey"s in the chorus. But Graham, who two years earlier was a gas station attendant before Stiff Records founder Dave Robinson discovered him, wasn't trying to obscure his Cockney accent. That --and his contempt for, well, everything--was something he would emphasize as his career took off, inspiring every UK punk rocker to follow suit no matter where they came from. The song came from his forthcoming album, Howlin' Wind, one of the year's most critically acclaimed records.

Monday, March 28, 2016

40 Year Itch: The Sun Has Left the Sky

Camel : Song Within a Song

   On March 26, 1976 Camel released its fourth studio album, the highly regarded Moonmadness. The follow-up to critically-acclaimed concept album The Snow Goose has a concept as well: songs based on each band member's personality."Air Born" about guitarist and flautist Andrew Latimer, "Lunar Sea" about drummer Andy Ward, "Chord Change" about keyboardist Peter Bardens and the single "Another Night" about bassist Doug Ferguson. 
   The highlight, to these ears, is the second track "Song Within a Song". As you might guess, there are two songs in this seven minute track. The first three minutes wouldn't sound out of place on a Pink Floyd album. Then Andy Latimer's guitar signals a shift in gears and we're off on a moog-ish romp with Peter Bardens leading the way. 
   Moonmadness would be the final album featuring all four founding members as Ferguson moved on to form Headwaiter. But the next album would another special one thanks to some help from Brian Eno.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

40 Year Itch : Heard a Big A-Rumble

Hank Mizell : Jungle Rock

    On March 28, 1976 a 53 year old American rockabilly singer named Hank Mizell had a hit song in the UK Top 20. It was called "Jungle Rock" and it was recorded nearly twenty years earlier in 1958 for Eko Records. Charly Records, which specialized in old and obscure music,  released the single apparently without Mizell's knowledge. As the single leapt up the charts, a mad search ensued for Mizell. The Top of the Pops host said "We'd love to have him on the show. Trouble is nobody can find him". With that,  Pan's People performed the song in a memorable costumed romp.

    Mizell, eventually located in Tennessee working as a clerk in a shipping office, was convinced to fly out to the UK to help promote "Jungle Rock".  The single would hit #3 in the UK and #1 in Holland

UK TOP 20 for March 28, 1976

 4. John Miles : Music
 6. Gallagher and Lyle : I Wanna Stay With You
 7. Elton John Pinball Wizard
 8. The Beatles : Yesterday
 9. Marmalade : Falling Apart at the Seams
10. The Glitter Band : People Like You, People Like Me
12. The Drifters: Hello Happiness
13. The Eagles : Take It to the Limit
15. Guys and Dolls : You Don't Have to Say You Love Me
16. Peters and Lee : Hey Mr Music Man
17. Randy Edelman : Concrete and Clay
18. Hank Mizell : Jungle Rock
19. C.W. McCall : Convoy
20. Hot Chocolate : Don't Stop It Now

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Album of the March, 1976 : Jailbreak

Thin Lizzy : Jailbreak

    On their make it or break it sixth studio album, Jailbreak, released on March 16, 1976, Thin Lizzy delivered the goods. There's more swagger on this album anything Bruce Springsteen released, though Phil Lynott admits the Boss may have helped Thin Lizzy finally break out: "Suddenly there was this Yank writing the same kind of songs as we were, the romantic street-fighting thing, and maybe people started looking around for something similar, a little closer to home".

   Not everyone was kind about their own comparison. Robert Christgau gave Jailbreak a B-minus writing : "The proof of how desperate people are for new Springsteen is that they'll settle for this -- even "The Boys Are Back in Town" is the sort of thing that ends up in Bruce's wastebasket. If Irish teen traumas are as boring as Phil Lynott's descriptions of them, it's no wonder they have trouble maintaining their birthrate. And if Irish teen traumas are as secondhand as Scott Gorham's guitar lines, the Irish will probably end up preferring Springsteen too."

History shows this was one of those rare times the dean of rock critics got it wrong, especially about "The Boys Are Back in Town", with its twin guitar work from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. A Top 20 hit in the US as well as a UK#8 hit, "Boys" was an instant classic. My then 8 year old son took to it immediately when I first played it for him in the car. WE were the boys who were back in town as we drove around on our errands. 

There was equal menace in the title cut. Such a tough riff! No wonder Thin Lizzy would survive the punk revolution. What punk couldn't appreciate that sound or lyrics like
Tonight there's gonna be a jailbreak 
 Somewhere in this town 
 See me and the boys we don't like it 
 So were getting up and going down...  

   Thin Lizzy were set to take over the world but on the US tour Lynott fell ill with hepatitis. Two years later, with the release of Live and Dangerous, we would all hear what we missed.
     In any case Jailbreak is one of the essential albums of 1976. Buy it now!

Friday, March 25, 2016

40 Year Itch: Under His Carpet

                             Wings ( featuring John Bonham) : Beware My Love demo

   On March 25, 1976 Wings released its first "democratic" album and it is, as you might imagine, a very mixed affair.  Every member of the band got a chance to write or at least sing on an album by one of the very top bands in the world. It didn't work for Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1972 ( who remembers Mardi Gras?) and the first impression was that it didn't work for Wings either. Robert Christgau wrote "(McCartney) He certainly adds some tricky textures to otherwise forgettable songs, but that can't disguise their triviality".

   The album kicks off with "Let 'Em In", a Top 5 name-dropping hit in both the US and the UK. Denny Laine sings "The Note You Never Wrote" and on his own "Time to Hide". Linda sings on "Cook of the House". Drummer Joe English sings on "Must Do Something About It". And guitarist Jimmy McCulloch sings on "Wino Junkie", a song he wrote with fellow former Stone the Crows bandmate Colin Allen.

   Especially on the remastered album it really doesn't matter who's singing. The star of the song is McCartney's bass which has been moved up in the mix. On his US #1 smash, "Silly Love Songs", the bass is far more interesting than the lyrics, a response to critics who said McCartney had gone soft.

  40 years have passed and I have yet to get tired of listening to this "Silly Love Songs". What the hell is wrong with me?

   About the song McCartney says: "Over the years people have said, 'Aw, he sings love songs, he writes love songs, he's so soppy at times.' I thought, Well, I know what they mean, but, people have been doing love songs forever. I like 'em, other people like 'em, and there's a lot of people I love -- I'm lucky enough to have that in my life. So the idea was that "you" may call them silly, but what's wrong with that?

   Right now I'm going through a "Time to Hide" phase, even if  the "Will I love you tomorrow?" bridge is weak. Deeply flawed albums can also be interesting albums and Speed of both.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

40 Year Itch : Another Shot of Rock n' Roll

Nils Lofgren : Incidentally...It's Over

   Nils Lofren's follow-up to his first solo album, one of my very favorites of 1975, just doesn't have the same impact. Blame it on the songs, the session musicians ( drummer Aynsley Dunbar and bassist Wornell Jones) or the curse of the sophomore slump. The best track, "Incidentally...It's Over", features the same rhythm section who played on the debut.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

40 Year Itch : Hideous Destructor

Judas Priest : Tyrant

   There's no sugar-coating what life is going to be like for listeners of the metal classic Sad Wings of Destiny, the Judas Priest album released on March 23, 1976. Just look at the names of some of the songs : "Victim of Changes", "Deceiver", "Tyrant", "Genocide". Want to get your ears pierced? Let Rob Halford's vocals do the job!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

40 Year Itch: Let's Get Real, Real Gone

Elvis Presley : Baby Let's Play House

   By March 21 of 1976, Elvis Presley was literally bigger than ever. He had gained so much weight that in Cincinnati, he split the inseam of his blue studded jumpsuit during an afternoon show ( at 23:00 in the video below) and had to change into a less interesting white one. That show was reviewed by the Cincinnati Post under the headline "Elvis : F-A-T but Fun". The evening show wasn't even fun. A concert-goer wrote the Post complaining that The King of Rock and Roll "looked pale, his eyes were puffy, and he had difficulty talking" and remembering the lyrics. In 17 months he'd be dead.

    The next day RCA Records released The Sun Sessions, an album that reminded its listeners that before he ever became a star Elvis Presley was a young revolutionary with more charisma than anyone who would follow. Here is a compilation of singles Presley had recorded in Memphis for Sam Phillips in 1954-55. Today they are almost all considered classics: "That's All Right (Mama)", "Good Rockin' Tonight", "Mystery Train", "Blue Moon" and "Baby Let's Play House" which contained the line John Lennon stole for "Run For Your Life": "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man". 
  To listen to The Sun Sessions is to hear the birth of rock'n'roll.

Monday, March 21, 2016

40 Year Itch : Big Ed is All on the Lawn

Bobby Womack : Daylight

  Featuring background vocals by the Pointer Sisters, "Daylight" --released in March of 1976 --was a Top 5 soul hit for Bobby Womack. It's all about the lifestyle of a hard partying night owl, staying up waaaay too long with Big Ed and other folks getting down in their stocking feet at 5 in the morning. It doesn't get any better than Bobby.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

40 Year Itch : Arrest of the Thin White Duke

David Bowie : TVC-15

  On March 20, 1976 David Bowie, Iggy Pop, a bodyguard and a local woman named Chiwah Soo were arrested at the Americana Rochester Hotel on marijuana charges. Bowie and Pop had apparently picked up two women in the bar and brought them up to their 17th floor suite. The women were both undercover officers. They called in the waiting police who found half a pound of marijuana. Bowie, Pop and the two other spent the night in jail. Released on $2000 bail, with no charges pressed, Bowie escaped the whole incident untarnished. Very lucky considering the hard-drug use going on at the time.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Boogie Fueled Rocket Ship

Status Quo : Mystery Song

   March 1976 was quite the month for releases from the British light heavyweights. Of the new batch of Slade, Status Quo and Sweet albums, my money's on Blue For You. It features both the hit "Rain" and the fan favorite "Mystery Song" which has the slow build of a great Feelies tune before taking off like a boogie-fueled rocket ship. Brilliant! Is it too late to enlist in the Quo Army?

Sweet: Lies in Your Eyes

   In contrast, the new Sweet single is a freakish ear worm. The follow-up album to Desolation Boulevard has some hard rocking bubblegum including last year's classic single "Action". I need to give it a few more listens obviously.

Friday, March 18, 2016

40 Year Itch : Don't Need a Cure

Pere Ubu : Final Solution

Everything I’ve done has been a failure.
-David Thomas

   On March 18, 1976,  Pere Ubu released the single "Final Solution" b/w "Cloud 149". No Nazi reference intended, this disquieting, monstrous epic is actually an anthem for the alienated teenager living inside each and every one of us. We're all outsiders. And if we can't get a girl to touch us, at least we have rock'n'roll. As for the sound of Pere Ubu, singer David Thomas once told The Guardian "I used to say that the bass player is actually the band’s guitarist, the guitarist is the bassist, the synthesiser is the vocal and I’m the horn section. "

Thursday, March 17, 2016

40 Year Itch : Three A.M. It's Me Again

Boz Scaggs : What Can I Say

    In March of 1976, Boz Scaggs released Silk Degrees, an album that spawned four hit singles including "Lowdown" (US#3) , "Lido Shuffle"(US#11), "It's Over" (US#38) and the album's opening track "What Can I Say"(US#42). With studio musicians and co-writers who would later form Toto, Silk Degrees lived on the charts for 100 weeks and yet Rolling Stone's David Leishman, among the first to hear the album,  wrote in his tin-eared review:

    Without solid rock as a base, Scaggs's more diverse approach falters. He sings well in the disco fashion, but the tunes don't have the meat to complement the first-rate become as big a force as his is a talent, Boz Scaggs needs to reintroduce his own rock and roll. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

40 Year Itch : Freak That She Was

Marvin Gaye : Since I Had You

   If Let's Get It On was Marvin Gaye's seduction album, I Want You, released on March 16, 1976,  is his sex album. 

   And just in case lines like "Let me explore all your treasures/ I'll turn you on to all of those freakish pleasures" ("Come Live With Me Angel) or "I'll be stroking you in and out /Up and down, all around /I love to hear you make those sound" weren't explicit enough, producer Leon Ware dropped in enough orgasmic female moaning ( from Gwenda Hambrick) a red-faced NME reviewer wrote "Although getting down, getting mellow, and getting it on are paramount considerations in the privacy of my own home, I don't particularly want to be party to someone else's night life. Not on record anyway ... Like peeking through the windows of the Gaye residence in the wee wee hours. Perhaps that's your kick, but personally I find it a mite frustrating." 

Both the title track and the album topped the soul charts.

"Since I Had You" is a deep cut produced by Gaye and Ware.

"After the Dance",  a US POP #74 hit, is my favorite song on the album

Leon Ware's Musical Massage, released in September of 1976, is a sampler's delight.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

40 Year Itch : 5 Facts About Kiss Destroyer

On March 15, 1976 Kiss released Destroyer, one of the band's best known and best selling albums, despite the fact that its running time barely squeaks past 33 minutes and that's with at least two and a half minutes of sound effects.

 Here are five more facts about Destroyer.

1. Lou Reed and Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin came in to help make the album. He had seen the band play live in front of 15 and 16 year old boys and no girls. He told the band they needed to be the kind of bad boys the girls could love.
   “The whole idea of the album was to show some sensitivity," Ezrin tells Music Radar." It wasn’t going to all be cock and balls. One of the first songs to come up was Do You Love Me? For me, that was the best symbol of what I was hoping to do with the record. As it turned out, that one never became a hit single, but it did inform the project.”

2. Another Ezrin touch was stealing a little of Beethoven's Pathetique for the ballad "Great Expectations". ("I laugh every time I hear it," he told Kisstorian Ken Sharp).

3. Ezrin replaced guitarist Ace Frehley on two tracks, "Flaming Youth" and "Sweet Pain". Dick Wagner, who toured with Lou Reed's "Rock and Roll Animal" tour plays on both of these tracks. It's something that bothers Frehley to this day.

4. Ezrin takes a great deal of credit for the Top 10 hit "Beth", the last minute addition to the album that became the band's best selling single of all time. 

“When the song Beth was first played for me, it was bouncier, with almost a country or rockabilly vibe to it. It was also a little chauvinistic, like they were saying, ‘Me and the boys, we got something going on. You can sit there and wait.’ It was also called ‘Beck.’

 “I asked them if it was OK for me to take it home to mess around a little bit, and Peter [Criss] said it was fine with him. I came up with the piano thing, which started to define it as more romantic and sensitive, so I changed the lyrics. First, I called it ‘Beth,’ and then I added stuff about ‘our house is not our home,’ along with a sense of sadness and loss about the death of the relationship. But that line ‘I hope you’ll be all right’ – that was important.

 “I played it for everybody, and they thought it sounded good and that we should try it. I don’t think they realized how important it would be for them until they heard it being recorded during the orchestra date. I played piano on it – they’d heard my piano part before. But the orchestra really made them think, ‘Wow, this is going to be important.’

5. Ken Kelly, a cousin of the legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, painted the cover. Casablanca Record execs though the original version was too violent and too apocalyptic so Kelly repainted it. In the midst of his second rendition, Kiss manager Bill Aucoin told Kelly the band had just updated their costumes and he would have to start over one more time. The end result probably sold as many albums as the music within...and Kelly was hired again to paint the Love Gun cover.

Monday, March 14, 2016

40 Year Itch: And We're All Junkies

Elliot Murphy: You'll Never Know What You're In For

   By the time Elliot Murphy's third album had come out, most of the critics who gushed about his becoming "the new Dylan" had moved on to fellow Tri-State artists Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. They might have missed out on Smith's best album, Night Lights. Produced by Steve Katz (Lou Reed) , Murphy recorded with a band made up of former Velvet Underground guitarist Doug Yule, and two former members of the Modern Lovers : bassist Ernie Brooks and future Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison. Billy Joel plays piano on "Deco Dance".
   The effect was to update Murphy's sound. 
   As for Patti Smith, Murphy doesn't sound like a fan. His song "Lady Stiletto" may be one of the biggest disses in rock history

"Her T-shirt's ripped with a passion/
Her mind's been raped by the Rolling Stones/
She keeps her weight down by fasting/
on Jim Morrison's bones"

Elliott and Bruce in 2005:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

UK Top 10 : March 14, 1976

Brotherhood of Man : Save Your Kisses for Me

  Well I can't really go through the entire year of 1976 without dredging up the biggest UK hit of them all can I ? By the time the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest rolled around in April, Brotherhood of Man's catchy but god-awful "Save Your Kisses For Me" was already the #1 hit in England. They must have been favorites to win, but Martin, Nicky, Lee and Sandra needed something to clinch victory from the likes of the Swiss entry "Djambo, Djambo" and Germany's "Sing Sang Song".

  And that's where the cheesiest choreography ever televised comes into play. There is no better explanation for the necessity of punk music that what you see here: 

1. Brotherhood of Man : Save Your Kisses for Me
2. Barry White : You See the Trouble With Me
4. John Miles : Music

6. Gallagher and Lyle : I Wanna Stay With You 
7. Elton John : Pinball Wizard

8. The Beatles : Yesterday
9. Marmalade : Falling Apart at the Seams
10. Glitter Band : People Like You, People Like Me

Saturday, March 12, 2016

40 Year Itch : Butchered Like Lambs at the Slaughter

June Tabor : The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

   By most accounts, librarian and part-time singer June Tabor was the first to record the powerful anti-war classic "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" on her album of traditional English folk music, Airs and Graces, released in March of 1976.
 Her a capella rendition may still be the definitive version but you won't likely hear Tabor performing the song in concert. 
      "I sang 'Waltzing Matilda' at Inverness Folk Festival and I couldn't finish it because I was crying and the whole audience was crying", she told Mojo Magazine.
       She has said repeated performances diminishes the power of the song.

"And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" was written by Eric Bogle in 1971. It's sung from the point of view of an old Australian veteran maimed in the WWI Battle of Gallipoli. 

 In a mad world of blood, death and fire 
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive 
But around me the corpses piled higher 
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit 
And when I woke up in my hospital bed 
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead 
Never knew there were worse things than dying 
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda 
All around the green bush far and near 
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs 
No more waltzing Matilda for me

You may have heard versions by The Pogues , Joan Baez or the Dubliners. And speaking of cover versions, here's Tabor with Oysterband performing Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in 2011.

Friday, March 11, 2016

40 Year Itch : Knocked Out Loaded

James Booker : Junco Partner

    Produced by Joe Boyd, Junco Partner captures the legendary New Orleans pianist James Booker's virtuoso, poly rhythmic piano playing in the second best way possible: just Booker and his piano in a studio. The best way, of course, is with an audience present and an open can of Schlitz within reach. Booker could turn a classical waltz into a Bourbon Street party. I've always wished I could play the piano like this.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

40 Year Itch : Moon the Loon Collapses

Keith Moon feeling better, 1976

    On March 8, 1976 in Boston, on the first night of The Who's North American tour, drummer Keith Moon collapsed on stage just two songs into the concert. It happens at about 6:30 into the video below.  

   A writer for the Boston Globe wrote that Moon “stood up, knocked over a pair of cymbals, careened off his gong, and subsided into the arms of two roadies.”

   In the video, John Entwistle is heard saying "We've got a little bit of a problem. Keith Moon is in very, very bad shape and this is not bullshit we're going to try and work something out."
   With that, the band left the stage. Later, Roger Daltrey came back on stage and announced that Moon was really ill and The Who would try to do a makeup concert. The crowd booed. Some yelled "Get another drummer!" ( which is what The Who did at the Cow Palace in 1973). Someone started a small fire. By all accounts, the make up concert was a great one.