Saturday, April 30, 2016

40 Year Itch : Make Way for the Positive Day

   On April 30, 1976 Bob Marley and the Wailers released Rastaman Vibration, the first of Marley's albums to reach the Top 10 in the Billboard 200 chart where it peaked at number 8, thanks in large part to the success of the album's US #51 single "Roots, Rock, Reggae".

   It's always seemed odd to me that the album doesn't share the critical praise of the preceding albums Natty Dread and Live or the ones that immediately followed, Exodus and Kaya. That might be because this is the first Wailers album I ever owned, a cassette I found in a storage attic at my boarding school. The moment I first heard the crystal clear production, the synthesizers and the positive vibes of its opening cut, I was hooked. Rastaman Vibration was my introduction to reggae music and remains one of my ten desert island albums.

  I've only recently learned that the wisdom of the lyrics I've been hearing in "War" comes from a speech by Ethiopian emperor Haile Salassie, believed by many Rastafarians to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say war.
 That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes -
Me say war.

  Not one of these album tracks appears on the best selling greatest hits collection, Legend. I envy every music fan that hasn't heard Rastaman Vibrationan album to be savored in its entirety. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

40 Year Itch : The Boss Visits Graceland

    On April 29, 1976 , after wrapping up his Memphis concert, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Floyd hung out backstage. (Floyd had come onstage that night to sing "Raise Your Hand", "Knock on Wood" and "Yum Yum, I Want Some " but not "Big Bird" ) 

    But that wasn't the only big Memphis star Springsteen wanted to meet that night. I'll let the Boss tell the rest of the story ( even if he gets the year wrong).

The entire Memphis Concert: 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

40 Year Itch : Black and Blue

   To promote their new album, Black and Blue, released in April of 1976, The Rolling Stones displayed model Anita Russell all tied up ( by  Mick Jagger it turns out!) and sporting bruises with the tagline "I'm Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones - and I love it!"
  Not everybody else loved it...including the intrepid spray can artist who climbed up to the Hollywood billboard below to write "This is a crime against women!". More protests convinced the record company to take the billboard down.
  Anita's comment: "People should have more of a sense of humor."

   The album itself is a mixed bag, recorded with various guitarists who were auditioning in Munich for the Rolling Stones spot that Ronnie Wood would eventually win. The best thing on the entire album might be Canned Heat's Harvey "The Snake" Mandel's distinctive wah wah guitar on the lead off track "Hot Stuff". ( Doesn't Bill Wyman look thrilled to be entering the disco age?)

The second best thing is "Hand of Fate" which sounds like a classic Keef Richards tune, only the lead guitar is played by American session man Wayne Perkins. The third best: anything Billy Preston did.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

40 Year Itch : The Flash in My Head

Graham Parker : Between You and Me

   In which the angry young Van, whose attitude would inspire Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and every self -named punk in the UK and beyond, takes a few minutes to sing a beautiful song apparently about a fading love. Produced by Nick Lowe and backed by veterans of the pub rock scene, Graham Parker's debut would deservedly win massive critical acclaim. Add up The Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll points for this and Heat Treatment, also released in 1976, and Parker would have been beat Stevie Wonder for album of the year! Howlin Wind remains my favorite Graham Parker album even after all these years.

Monday, April 25, 2016

40 Year Itch : Someday a Real Rain Will Come

Bernard Herrmann : Main Title

Bernard Herrmann : Diary of a Taxi Driver

I have the final say, or I don’t do the music. 
-Bernard Herrmann

   In the first ten seconds of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, you know this is going to be a cab ride through hell. That was the kind of unsettling psychological power composer Bernard Herrmann had. We knew this of course, thanks to his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock ( Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo). Directors could cut pages of dialogue and let Herrmann's music tell the story.

     This was Herrmann's last film. He had died months before the movie came out. Taxi Driver , dedicated to Herrmann, was the top movie of 1976 for five weeks. For any number of reasons, my dad wouldn't let his 12 year old son see it. The film is Scorsese's most disturbing. The paranoid, lonely, isolated Travis Bickle is his most intense character. Herrmann's soundtrack, with its late night jazz sounds and percussion, underscores an atmosphere of menace throughout the movie.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

40 Year Itch : Got Myself Together

Brass Construction : Movin' 

   On April 24, 1976 Brass Construction's debut album topped the US R/B album charts, where they would reign for three weeks. Credit B.T. Express producer Jeff Lane and the 8:40 lead off track "Movin" for the Brooklyn funk band's success. A #1 R/B single, "Movin'" also spent four weeks atop what would be known as the disco dance chart. The single is great but the full version ( below) is the way to go.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

40 Year Itch: Today New York ...Tomorrow the World

The Ramones : Blitzkrieg Bop

  On April 23, 1976, the same day the Rolling Stones released the recycled riffs of Black and Blue, four misfits from Queens brought forth the year's most revolutionary and most influential album. 14 songs in 29 minutes! All recorded for $6400. No guitar solos. No golden locked singers. Just a whole bunch of funny songs with "Wanna" in the title. Here, by many accounts, is the birth of punk rock.

   Looking back, we can gauge the significance of the album easily. Both the Clash and the Damned formed shortly after catching the Ramones' UK tour. The fast and furious three chord songs would show up only slightly altered in tunes by the Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols. 

  But at the time, the critics wondered whether the band would actually sell. 

   Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone magazine put it this way: "Where's your sense of humor and adventure, America? In rock and roll and matters of the heart, we should all hang on to a little amateurism. Let's hope these guys sell more records than Elton John has pennies. If not, shoot the piano player. And throw in Paul McCartney to boot."

  Creem's Gene Sculatti wrote: "Serving its radical function, the Ramones' debut drives a sharp wedge between the stale ends of a contemporary music scene bloated with graying superstars and overripe for takeover. Right now, the Ramones have their hands on the wheel."

   Nick Kent of NME wrote "As a punk artefact, it separates the men from the boys. If you love hard-ass retard rock, you'll bathe in every groove. If you pride yourself on being a sensitive human-being, this record will gag on you like a gatorade and vermouth fireball."

   Alas, The Ramones debut would only sell 6,000 copies in 1976, peaking at #111 on the US charts and neither "Blitzkrieg Bop" nor " I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" would chart at all. It would take 38 years for the album to go gold.

Friday, April 22, 2016

40 Year Itch: Stop a Minute

J. Geils Band : Wait

   From their double live album Blow Your Face Out!, released on my dad's 40th birthday, April 22, 1976, the J. Geils Band brought out this chestnut from their debut album. At the time Faye Dunaway's husband , Peter Wolf,  rivaled Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger as rock's greatest frontman. After a while Magic Dick's harmonica blowing might grate on your nerves but this is still one of greatest live albums of all time.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

40 Year Itch : The Gossip Sisters

Lijadu Sisters : Amebo

   Identical sisters related to Fela Kuti , Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu were stars in their native Nigeria and cult favorites in the US and Europe. The 1976 album Danger, recorded with multi-instrumentalist and fuzz guitar fanatic Biddy Wright, is a fascinating listen. The Knitting Factory label re-released the album in 2011 and David Byrne toured with the duo. "Amebo" , by the way, is apparently a Nigerian word for "gossip".

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

40 Year Itch: Reinventing the Jazz Guitar

Pat Metheny : Sirabhorn

  On his debut album, Pat Metheny teams up with Jaco Pastorius ( On one of his earliest recordings) and drummer Bob Moses for an ethereal jazz release free of all the effects later Metheny albums would have. On "Sirabhorn", named for a Siamese princess, Metheny plays a 12-string electric guitar with a unique tuning. Not sure any 1976 album has grown me as much as this one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Hit for Lightnin' Licks and Thunder Thumbs

Brothers Johnson : I'll Be Good To You

   Released in April of 1976, The Brothers Johnson single "I'll Be Good To You" topped the soul charts and peaked at #3 on the pop charts in the Summer of '76. Ask any bass player about Louis "Thunder Thumbs" Johnson's technique and you'll hear nothing but pure acclaim. Quincy Jones producing.

Monday, April 18, 2016

40 Year Itch : Mad About You Darling

Hot Chocolate : Don't Stop It Now

  Well of course they re-wrote "You Sexy Thing"! Wouldn't you if you could? 
The song peaked at #11 in the UK.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

40 Year Itch : Argue, Fuss or Fight

Nick Lowe : Keep It Out of Sight


   During his "wilderness years" without a label, Nick Lowe covers a Wilko Johnson tune from Dr Feelgood's Down By the Jetty. Produced by Dave Edmunds, the single was only released in Holland.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

40 Year Itch: Rosicrucius Is Your Story Told?

Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel : White White Dove

  From the UK Top 20 album Timeless Flight, "White White Dove" surprisingly failed to make any impact on the singles chart at all. How did the UK public fail to buy up every copy of a single that name checks an anti Catholic secret society established in medieval Germany?

Friday, April 15, 2016

40 Year Itch : Diamonds in a Sulphur Mine

Van Der Graaf Generator : My Room ( Waiting For Wonderland)

  Delicate and highly personal, Peter Hammill's "My Room ( Waiting for Wonderland)" is my highlight of Van Der Graaf's critically praised Still Life, released on April 15, 1976. The user generated website Rate Your Music ranks Still Life in its top ten albums of 1976. With lines like "I wait by the door, wondering when you will come and keep me warm/ I pray for the end of the night, hoping the light will still the storm which presently entraps me", this could almost be mistaken for a love song. And to think Hammill and the boys are still recording! The band's next album is expected in September.

The Rate Your Music Top 10 for 1976
1.David Bowie Station to Station 
2 Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life 
3 Ramones Ramones 
4 Rainbow Rising 
5 The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers 
6 Judas Priest Sad Wings of Destiny 
7 Bob Dylan Desire 
8 Thin Lizzy Jailbreak 
9 Van der Graaf Generator Still Life 
10 Rush 2112

Thursday, April 14, 2016

40 Year Itch : Let's Funk Tonight

Giorgio Moroder : I Wanna Funk With You Tonight

   I've already admitted how much I love most of Donna Summer's A Love Trilogy. (Hey, I'm as shocked as you are!) Giorgio Moroder, along with Pete Bellotte, is, of course, the mastermind behind the euro-disco craze of that era. In 1976 Moroder released his own disco album and it's every bit as sleazy as the cover suggests. Especially the laughable "I Wanna Funk With You Tonight". Side A is a 15 minute version of the Moody Blues hit. Is it possible that this is all a joke? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

40 Year Itch : Baby Traps

   On April 13, 1976, the legendary jazz Buddy Rich sat down at a kit and performed a four minute drum solo on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Fans of the movie Whiplash may recognize the way Rich slows down the beat at 2:35 in and then speeds up again, sending the TV audience into a frenzy. When this perfectionist performed a solo he was playing with the one musician who wouldn't let him down.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

40 Year Itch: Sh-sh-sh-shoes

Fox : S-S-S-Single Bed

   Years before Altered Images' Clare Grogan made helium-soaked cutsey voiced singers cool, Noosha Fox made them sexy. "S-S-S-Single Bed", which leapt into the UK Top 20 the week of April 11, would bounce into the top 5 and actually top the charts in Australia. A distinctive pop hit from 1976.

   It is also interesting to note that there were six Beatles singles in the UK Top 40 at the time: 
"Hey Jude" ( at #12) , "Yesterday" (#13), "Paperback Writer (#27), "Get Back (#28),"Strawberry Fields Forever" (#34) and "Help" ( #37). In a last ditch effort to get some money out of the Beatles catalog before their contract ended, EMI released as many singles by the Beatles as they could, leading to 23 of them hitting the top 100 in the UK charts.

Monday, April 11, 2016

40 Year Itch : Something Slick Downtown

Johnny "Guitar" Watson : Ain't That a Bitch

  41 year old bluesman Johnny "Guitar" Watson had been recording since the early 50's when this 1976 album won him a Grammy nomination as Best New Vocalist. Recorded a year after Watson played on Frank Zappa's One Size Fits AllAin't That a Bitch isn't so much a blues album as a funky R and B showcase of Watson's wit and capabilities as a producer.

  "Man when I recorded that album I had a serious ego problem," Watson would tell Mojo Magazine. "I felt like I could do anything --and somehow it all worked, it was the strangest thing. I did all the horns on studio time, said to the musicians, bring your manuscript and your horn and play what you want when you get there!".

   The album would go gold and later provide samples for Snoop Doggy Dogg , Dr Dre and many others.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

US Top 20: April 10, 1976

Johnnie Taylor : Disco Lady

   From the album Eargasm, Johnnie Taylor's "Disco Lady" topped the US pop charts for four straight weeks on its way to becoming the first platinum single ever. That's despite the fact that it's not a disco song. With leering lyrics like "Lord have mercy girl, You dance so fine, and you're right on time/ Girl you ought to be on T.V. on Soul Train/ When you get the groove, It ain't no stopp-in/ Just can't help it, I'm finger pop-pin", the song became an instant seller. Columbia Records president Bruce Lundvall sent Taylor bottles of Dom Perignon champange. "I took a bath in it," Taylor later admitted. "It makes your skin so smooth!"

1 DISCO LADY –•– Johnnie Taylor 
2 DREAM WEAVER –•– Gary Wright  
3 LONELY NIGHT (Angel Face) –•– The Captain and Tennille 
4 LET YOUR LOVE FLOW –•– The Bellamy Brothers 
5 RIGHT BACK WHERE WE STARTED FROM –•– Maxine Nightingale  

6 DREAM ON –•– Aerosmith 
7 BOOGIE FEVER –•– The Sylvers 
8 ONLY SIXTEEN –•– Dr. Hook 
9 SWEET LOVE –•– The Commodores 

10 GOLDEN YEARS –•– David Bowie 
11 SHOW ME THE WAY –•– Peter Frampton 
13 SWEET THING –•– Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan 

14 DECEMBER, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) –•– The Four Seasons  
15 THERE’S A KIND OF HUSH (All Over the World) –•– The Carpenters 
16 MONEY HONEY –•– The Bay City Rollers 
17 DEEP PURPLE –•– Donny and Marie Osmond  

19 ALL BY MYSELF –•– Eric Carmen 
20 WELCOME BACK –•– John Sebastian 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

40 Year Itch : Burned in My Prime

Todd Rundgren : Love of the Common Man

  On April 9, 1976 Todd Rundgren released the single "Love of the Common Man", a nifty slice of pop perfection that radio stations simply did not play. That's why a local FM rock station in Reno, Nevada donated its promo single --as well as hundreds of others--- to the Washoe County Library. And that's how I got my 12 year old hands on this single ( as well as 10cc's "I'm Mandy Fly Me" and The Band's "Ophelia"). The library didn't want to keep track of the 45's so anyone could go into the Sparks, Nevada branch, grab a few at a time and keep them forever.
   I was a kid who would walk blocks and blocks past empty desert lots and small ranch houses with dead lawns and drop outs working on their broken down dirt bikes just to visit the library.

 What I didn't know at the time was that "Love of the Common Man" came from Faithful, with its Side A of note for note perfect copies of classic rock songs Rundgren loved like "Good Vibrations" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." Interesting once. Maybe twice and then you just have to ask "Why?"
     Side B had the good stuff, especially "Love of the Common Man", a return to the power pop form for those who loved Something/Anything. Rundgren was actually trying to avoid writing love songs at the time so I hear this as a celebration of the good nature of your everyday man, the kind who will catch you should you take a dive from your ivory tower.

Friday, April 8, 2016

40 Year Itch : All the Guitar Heroes

Chris Spedding : Guitar Jamboree

  One of gun for hire Chris Spedding's follow-ups to his 1975 hit "Motobikin'", "Guitar Jamboree", released in April of 1976, reveals why Spedding was such a sought after session guitarist. ( He also played with The Sharks, The Wombles, toured with Roxy Music and John Cale...the list goes on)  Here in the space of four and a half minutes, Spedding imitates Albert King, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend, Keith Richards, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jack Bruce, Paul Kossoff, Leslie West and Dave Gilmour. The song is well timed because many of these "men who made music history" would be left in the dust by the punk revolution brewing in the wings.

   For some less inhibited mimicry, see Spedding play this song live below:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

40 Year Itch : Remembering the Hag

Merle Haggard : Union Station

   I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the death of Merle Haggard with this 1976 gem from his concept album My Love Affair With Trains. Among my ten year old son's faves, this album ranks right alongside Michael Jackson's Thriller. He shares Haggard's love of trains and this Ronnie Reno penned number hits all the right notes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

40 Year Itch: Giving Praise

The Abyssinians : Forward Unto Zion

The Abyssinians : Y Mas Gan

Satta Massagana for Jimmy Dread 
                         Cut off his ears and chop off his head
                                                              -The Clash "Jimmy Jazz"

  What if I told you 1976's best reggae album wasn't released by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or even Bunny Wailer? Consider the roots reggae album Satta Massagana by The Abyssinians. The title can be translated from Amharic (a Semitic language in Ethiopia) into "Giving Him Praise" and it's full of both spiritual songs of devotion ( like "Forward Unto Zion" and "Y Mas Gan") and political songs like "Declaration of Rights" and "African Race". Band members Bernard Collins, Donald Manning, and Linford Manning used 60's soul and Motown-style vocal harmonies ( the best you'll ever hear from a reggae group) to express their deeply spiritual messages. Satta Massagana has rightfully grown in reputation over the years. This may wind up being your favorite reggae album - period. Essential listening!

One of the original covers of Satta Massagana.

Monday, April 4, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Cocktail Party in Space

Marvin Gaye : After the Dance ( Instrumental)

  As we get into the month of April, how about one more track from March of 1976 that I can't seem to move on from just yet. Why, you might ask, would anyone suggest listening to an instrumental song on an album by the smoothest soul singer of his time? Well, it's because that smooth soul singer could also play the drums, and on I Want You, he can be heard experimenting with the synthesizer. It all sounds like some kind of spacey cocktail party jam. But I dig it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

40 Year Itch : Joe Strummer's Lightening Bolt

That's Joe Strummer on the right

The 101ers : Keys to Your Heart

   On April 3, 1976 the Sex Pistols opened for Joe Strummer's pub rock / rockabilly/ R and B band, the 101ers, at the Nashville. Within five seconds of hearing the punk rockers' opening set, Strummer saw the light: "As soon as I saw them , I knew that rhythm and blues was dead and that the future was here," Strummer told rock journalist Caroline Coon later in 1976. "But hearing the Pistols, I knew. I just knew. It was something you knew without bothering to think about it. Punk Rock is the music of the now."

    Just three months later, Strummer, Mick Jones, Bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes and a third guitarist , future Public Image Ltd's Keith Levene, played their first gig, supporting the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan Pub in Sheffield on July 4. They called themselves The Clash.

     The band's early playlists included the Strummer-penned 101er single "Keys to Your Heart", "London's Burning", "White Riot", "Career Opportunities", "1977" and "I'm So Bored of You" ( later rewritten as "I'm So Bored of the USA").

     Also at the gig that April evening was future Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan who would later say of the Sex Pistols "They were the best rock'n'roll band of all time . I just couldn't believe it. This was the band I'd been waiting for."

Saturday, April 2, 2016

40 Year Itch : I Know I Know I Know I Know

Donna Summer : Try Me I Know We Can Make It

  I couldn't be more obsessed with a song than I am right now with this 18 minute disco epic Donna Summer wrote with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte for A Love Trilogy. If you enjoyed the New Wave sounds of the 1980's you'll hear many moments that should thrill you.

   At 5:28 there is a simple but very catchy marimba solo that might take you back to "Love Plus One" from Haircut 100.

  And at 9:26 there is a breakdown that sounds like something Talking Heads might have recorded on '77.

  It's all sandwiched between a dance track that is disco at its highest art form. Try it. You'll get it a big kick out of it.

Friday, April 1, 2016

40 Year Itch : We Have Assumed Control

  My college roommate used to do these air drum impressions of Neil Peart which always ended with his arms flapping around so spasmodically that he would lose his balance and topple over. Although Peart wasn't the original drummer for Rush, the inclusion of this voracious reader of science fiction changed the band's direction for good.

  Ignoring the label's demand for a commercial album, the trio of Canadians who make up Rush indulged themselves on 2112, especially on the twenty minute title cut. It's the Ayn Rand inspired story of a guy who finds a strange device ( an electric guitar) which is destroyed by one of the screeching Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. His response is open to interpretation. Does he lead a revolution or hide in a cave and commit suicide? In any case, Rush came into its own on this album and eventually became the "biggest cult band in the world".