Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Colored Hair and Cheap Tattoos

Ultravox! : Young Savage

With their second single of '77, released on May 31st, post glam rockers Ultravox! sound like they're taking the piss out of punk rockers, especially with lines like "Every sneer is thrown away /With practised gestures of disdain /The outlaw stance is so pedantic /Hate the world, it's so romantic " but drummer Warren Cann says it's more autobiographical. In fact most of the song is addressed to a difficult girl. 

In any case, "Young Savage" demands to be played as loudly as possible.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Raitt Runs Away

Bonnie Raitt : Runaway

This week in 1977, Bonnie Raitt's cover of Del Shannon's UK#1 smash "Runaway" entered the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart at #98. The song would peak at #57 in July, her highest charting single until the 1990s when Bonnie released the #1 album Nick of Time

"Runaway" comes from Bonnie's 1977 album, Sweet Forgiveness, the commercial pinnacle of her early career. Many critics didn't care for the "Runaway" cover, but had good thing sto say about the album. Case in point: Robert Christgau with this A- review. 

Although Paul Rothchild edited Bonnie's road band as painstakingly as he did the El Lay pros of Home Plate, this came out sounding unfashionably raw, almost live, because instead of punching in the perfect note and the clean tone he went for the most intense moment available from months of takes. I don't like "Runaway," which is flat and plodding and wrong for her, and I wish there were a stunner like "Good Enough" or "Sweet and Shiny Eyes" here. But Bonnie is singing rougher than ever before. Anyone who can induce me to dance to Eric Kaz has got to be doing some kind of job.

Monday, May 29, 2017

No Impact Whatsoever

Joy Division : Warsaw

On May 29, 1977 a band calling themselves Stiff Kittens made their debut at the bottom of the  billing on an evening at the Electric Circus in Manchester. By the time Sounds reviewer Ian Wood began writing the review, they had already disposed of the name suggested by Buzzcock Pete Shelley and changed their name to Warsaw. They would best be known as Joy Division until the lead singer took his own life in 1980. The remaining members formed New Order. Wood was unimpressed to say the least, citing Mary Whitehouse, a moral crusader who sued movie theaters ( over "Blow Up") and wrote letters to Top of the Pops ( over Chuck Berry singing "My Ding a Ling"). 

Buzzcocks/Penetration/John Cooper Clark/Stiff Kittens Manchester, Electric Circus 

SCENE. Middle-class, middle-aged (well, over 20), has-been rocker sent off to review punk gig. Can he stand it? Ummm . . . But can he understand it? Doubtful, doubtful. But for what it's worth, the first act Stiff Kittens a.k.a. Warsaw a.k.a. whatever-they're-called-next-week rate zero even on my Mary Whitehouse odorometer. The guitarist must be some refugee from a public school, the neatest thing about the bassist is his headgear and the singer has no impact whatsoever. By the fifth number or so they can just about put together a coherent riff, but I don't think even the most demented headbanger could get off to this. Someone tells me it's their first gig. So let's pass over the rest. Next, please. 

And next happens to be the poet, John Cooper Clark. This isn't a poetry column, but whoever programmed this gig deserves a medal, for Clark is a local genius, normally found at Stuffy arts gathering. Yet his lines have the same attack of Rotten or Strummer, with the advantage of a sense of metre and a polysyllabic vocabulary. Plus the fact that he knows what he's talking about. He could be a revelation for the blank generation. 'You Never See A Nipple In The Daily Express' is an acid and deadly put down of all that the establishment stands for: ignorance, double-standards and hypocrisy. For 'Salome At The Ritz' we have a floor show. 'Salome', dark mac and white shades, strips off as the story progresses, revealing herself ... to be a boy. The kids at front don't believe it. 'Salome' toys with a can of Heinz Spagetti. Someone throws beer at his/her genitals and she wraps spaghetti around their lapels. 

Then we have penetration.Scene stealers, Penetration - (Dont Care collection) No, Penetration, from Durham. Lift-off. This band are killers. There's a she-vixen of a singer with a great voice, a guitaist with a superb feel for dynamics and some totally original licks quite unlike anyone else you care to name. The bassist, who's about 6'6" and the drummer play hard, fast and never miss a lick. In comparison with say the Pistols, on their first visit to this town 9 months-ago, Penetration are way, way ahead. They could knock a ferret dead at six paces. A and R men, please note. 

Finally we read the Buzzcocks. They lack the technical sturm und drang of Penetration, but then this isn't what the Buzzcocks are about. They don't so much parodise the hoopla and hype that surrounds the New Wave, merely ignore it. Pete Shelley writes teen-anthems. With his mock-leopardskin top and sawn off Woolies guitar, you can tell the guy has a sense of humour. Especially when halfway through the set he has to borrow some string for his guitar. 'Orgasm Addict', 'Fast Cars', 'Breakdown' and 'Oh! Shit' are simple (but not dumb) vignettes drawn from life today but about the other side of life for kids everywhere. And then there's the classic 'Boredom', with that classic two note solo. It's a pity though that the limitations of their equipment don't seem, on this evening at least, to let the subtleties shine through, for the other 'Cock: aren't merely a vehicle for Shelley. Collectively, Buzzcocks (the others are Garth on bass, Steve Diggle on rhythm and John Maher on drums) have real Northern Soul, y'know, and they're streets ahead of any of the other Manchester New Wave 'Devolution' (sic) you may have read about elsewhere. But is there understanding south of Potters Bar? Parlez-vous Salford? 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

That Cold Black Cloud

Television : Knockin' on Heaven's Door

On May 28, 1977 Television played the Hammersmith Odeon, with Blondie opening. A Melody Maker critic was there. His review does not mention Blondie. 

IT WAS clear, from the moment Tom Verlaine and Television wandered nonchalantly from the stage of the Apollo at the conclusion of their remarkable concert in Glasgow ten days ago, that I would soon have to attend a repeat performance by this most extraordinary young American band. That appearance in Glasgow, as I reported last week, left me in a state of breathless exhaustion, in awe and admiration for Television's collective musical talent and the individual perception and vision of their leader, Tom Verlaine. As I said in the aforementioned review, I was hungry to hear more of the band, though simultaneously apprehensive that I might be somehow disappointed: in Glasgow they had taken me entirely by surprise and I wondered whether familiarity, however tentative, with their approach would blunt the intensity of their attack on a second showing.

 I really should have known better.

 It took Television only minutes at London's Hammersmith Odeon on Sunday to reconfirm the deliriously exciting impression they had made in Glasgow. As Verlaine and his co-guitarist, Richard Lloyd, rang out those classic, star-spangled chords that so beautifully grace " Venus," my blood froze, just as it had at the earlier concert. Verlaine's vocal here may have veered off course occasionally, but there was no denying the immense majesty of the music. His solo was characteristically eloquent and incisive. I don't mean to underestimate the astute and thrilling contributions of Lloyd (who was in a more subdued mood than at Glasgow, though capable still of delivering solos of cutting virulence), but it is Verlaine who commands one's attention: he's possibly the most distinctive and individual guitarist I've heard since Hendrix. 

He resorts to no flamboyant pyrotechnics, neither does he rely on any cheap aural or visual effects to enhance his performance. No, like Phil Manzanera, Verlaine concentrates upon a novel and enthralling exploration of the possibilities of his instrument. He's capable of the most sinister delicacy (as on the eerie "Little Johnny Jewel," which featured also a commanding Verlaine vocal and the inspired translation of "Knock-in' On Heaven's Door"); alternatively, his lyricism frequently gives way to Outbursts of the utmost ferocity - as he so powerfully demonstrated on "Elevation," the abrasive reading of "Friction," and the new "Foxhole," which I can barely wait to have on record. 

Verlaine, to his enduring credit, never allows his versatility, to degenerate into any empty display of shallow virtuosity (Nils Lofgrcn, please note): he is always in command of the situation. Everything he, like Lloyd, plays is considered and precise; there is no gratuitous overkill or aural massacre. "Marquee Moon," with which they concluded, was extended even beyond the length of the original recording (and that weighs in at nine minutes and 58 seconds), yet not once did my attention wander: indeed, such was the intensity of Television's performance that I sat in that theatre completely spellbound as Verlaine spiralled off into the stratosphere, never bereft dilring his lengthy solo of invention or inspiration. With musicians of a lesser calibre to support him on these audacious adventures Verlaine might find himself stranded, but Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca all displayed a rare, intuitive sympathy and lucid appreciation of their leader's imagination. 

All this praise you might dismiss as familiar hyperbole. But I can only insist that you hear Television for yourself before casually dismissing such adulation as the misguided drooling of an infatuated critic. For, I can assure you, this applause is no more than the appreciative recognition of a unique and important new band. 

ALLAN JONES Melody Maker May June 4th 1977)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

She Ain't No Human Being

Sex Pistols : God Save the Queen

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
A potential H bomb

On May 27, 1977 The Sex Pistols released "God Save The Queen", their first single on Virgin Records. It would--to the horror of Royalists celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee--race up the charts despite a unanimous ban on all radio and TV stations.  

God save the queen
She's not a human being
and There's no future
And England's dreaming

Had The Sex Pistols released a song with lyrics like these in Thailand or Saudi Arabia, they would have been imprisoned or much worse. Had Jamie Reid defaced a monarch in those countries, same deal.

God save the queen
'Cause tourists are money
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems

A student filmmaker named Julien Temple directed the music video below. In his book, England's Dreaming, Jon Savage described the evening:

The shoot was chaotic with Johnny Rotten acting like a prima donna and Vicious still ill. Yet somehow the atmosphere of madness worked well - the footage was both electric and humorous.

These days everybody is trying to out-shock every one else, so it may be hard to remember what it was like to have a song like "God Save the Queen" released in the Summer of '77. The video below does a fine job of that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mmmm, You're So Pretty

The Vibrators : Baby Baby

On May 27, 1977, after opening for Iggy Pop on his comeback tour, The Vibrators released their first major label single "Baby Baby". They may have been categorized as a punk band, but these pub rock vets actually could play their instruments. "Baby Baby" has sneering vocals but sounds more like a Mott the Hoople tune than something out of the U.K. punk rock scene. The NME critic wasn't impressed :

Sounds like the Hendrix version of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" would've done if the Vanilla Fudge had gotten hold of it. A rather slender little pop song with studiedly naive and innocent vocals, embellished with neat drumming: it'll take more than this to get you up there with the Big Five, boys.

I'm guessing the Big Five were the top punk bands of the day : Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers and ...The Jam? Upon the release of their debut album, Pure Mania, in June The Vibrators would tour the U.K. with -- you might have guessed it -- former Mott frontman Ian Hunter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Use the Force Luke

Meco : Star Wars Medley

At one point it was called The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars, but by May 25, 1977, the day it hit theaters, the name has been shortened to Star Wars. That first week, it was shown on only 42 screens. Most theaters wanted nothing to do with a movie starring so many unknowns. But of course that changed.  For five years the space opera would be the highest grossing film of all time. Everything Star Wars related could ride the film's wave of popularity, including the inevitable disco album.

Casablanca subsidiary Millennium Records signed Star Wars fan Domineco Monardo, who believed an album fully devoted to Star Wars would be a big seller. His LP Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk was due to come out the same time 20th Century Fox's soundtrack featuring the original John Williams score.

Legend has it that 20th Century Fox sent Millennium a black wreath with a banner announcing they would bury the disco album. Instead, Meco scored a #1 hit with its much edited single "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band", beating William's "Star Wars Theme" which peaked at US #10.  The full "Star Wars Medley" runs an ungodly 16 minutes. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don'tcha Change It

Gladys Knight and the Pips : Baby Don't Change Your Mind

This week in 1977 the new Gladys Knight and the Pips single, "Baby Don't Change Your Mind", entered the U.K. charts at #33. Written and produced by Van "The Hustle" McCoy, who also wrote David Ruffin's "Walk Away from Love", "Baby" would be the soundtrack to one sizzler of hot Summer , peaking at #4 in the U.K. and #10 on the US R and B charts. 

The video below is a lot of fun. You can see Gladys's older brother "Bubba" Knight, cousin William Guest and Edward Patten practicing their new steps with the great Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins behind them.

First recorded by The Stylistics in 1976:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Equal Rights and Justice

Peter Tosh : Equal Rights

In 1977 former Wailer Peter Tosh followed up Legalize It with Equal Rights, an album with a much heavier and more widely encompassing message. If music critics took Tosh lightly, they were in for a surprise.

"Legalisation of herb is only part of the justice that man is supposed to get, but equal rights is all of man's rights, seen?" 

The album was recorded in Jamaica, a nation in crisis. Power cuts, rationing, roadblocks and outbreaks of violence made it difficult to get around. Tosh, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar and others recorded on a 12 track Ampex at Randy's in Kingston.

The Equal Rights track "African" is one of Tosh's most enduring songs. Like "Apartheid", it's inspired by the South African townships taking on the apartheid regime. As John Masouri notes in Steppin' Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh, "African" sounds a lot like a Marcus Garvey speech:

All black people across the globe, in American and in Africa are part of a single race, a single culture and have to be proud of the color of their skin. All of Africa must be independent and united. Africa for Africans! 

With Bob Marley in exile, Peter Tosh had become the most prominent Rasta artist left in Jamaica.

The critics knew Equal Rights was special. Robert Christgau gave the alum a B+ grade, writing: 

What's most impressive about this music is its sinew. The tracks are strong, yet although they usually include at least seven instrumental parts, they never sound lush, full, or even jubilantly multi-percussive, which given Tosh's increasingly ominous lyrics is a good thing. Yet while Tosh's lyrics are more correct politically than Marley's, they're only marginally more eloquent. His singing is rather less eloquent.

Equal Rights was Lester Bangs second favorite album of the year. His year end album list went as follows:

 Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation 30;
 Peter Tosh: Equal Rights 15;
 Ramones: Rocket to Russia 10;
 Iggy and the Stooges: Metallic K.O. 10;
 Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols 5;
 Ramones Leave Home 5;
 The Persuasions: Chirpin' 5;
 Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head 5;
 The Saints: I'm Stranded 5;
 Suicide 5.

Jamaica's Weekend Star said it far outstripped the debut:

It is an extremely powerful musical collection containing some of the hardest-hitting, most revolutionary lyrics produced anywhere for a long time. 

A funny thing happened on the way to New York where Tosh was scheduled to promote the new album on radio stations. He decided to light up a spliff on the plane, which was met by police at Kennedy airport.

Clive Chin, who was arrested with Tosh, said the bail gearing didn't got very well :

Peter cuss him out and says he's the minister for Ganja and herb should be legalized. I couldn't believe it. At one point the judge lean over to the clerk of the court and say "What is he saying ?" The clerk told him Peter must be a mad man or talking in arabic 

Tosh and Chin were freed.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fifty Tons of Shit

Genesis : Pigeons

In May of 1977 Genesis released a three songs EP called Spot The Pigeon, the last studio release to feature guitarist Steve Hackett. Hackett's "Inside and Out" is the most prog-rock tune on the EP, taking up the entire second side. Classic Genesis.

The first side is made up of two pop songs, a clear sign of where Genesis was heading (the UK #7 /US #23 hit "Follow You Follow Me" was nine months away). The tunes are not concerned with the subjects that drove Peter Gabriel to grab his pen. "Match of the Day" is about hooliganism at a soccer match and "Pigeons" is about...pigeon poop. 

"Pigeons is fun," says Tony Banks in Dave Thompson's Turn It Off Again: Peter Gabriel , Phil Collins and Genesis. "It was really a little experiment to try and do a song around one note really. It's a good little song from that period really. I like it"

The EP was a popular item in its day, climbing to #14 in the U.K. singles chart despite little play by the BBC.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hey Hey Is Artie Home?

The Heartbreakers : Chinese Rocks

They were the New York punkers who supposedly wore neckties so they could tie themselves down for injections.  Legend has it that it was The Heartbreakers who introduced heroin to the U.K. punk scene, but Jayne County --among others--disputes that story. 

Johnny Thunders did NOT introduce junk to the kids of London! Everybody was either on sulphate or junk when I got there and Iggy was a known junky! Also, everyone knew about Lou Reed's junk problem. And they all knew about the junk songs of the Velvet Underground. If anyone in London made junk cool, it was Iggy and Lou Reed, and that is also highly debatable!

Who wrote "Chinese Rocks"? On L.A.M.F, The Heartbreakers debut album, the writing credit went to Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan ( the latter two former members of The New York Dolls). Years later Hell and Ramone agreed that Dee Dee Ramone wrote most of the song in Debbie Harry's apartment.

The reason I wrote that song was out of spite for Richard Hell, because he told me he was going to write a song better than Lou Reed's "Heroin", so I went home and wrote 'Chinese Rocks'.

The B side, "Born To Lose", is another great song, very much in the New York Dolls tradition. The Heartbreakers burned brightly and flamed out quickly, but what they've left behind is classic stuff.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Reality's So Hard

The Jam : Away From the Numbers

On May 20, 1977 The Jam released its debut album, the UK Top 20 hit  In The City. As drummer Rick Buckler noted in his memoir That's Entertainment, In The City was an attempt to capture the energetic band's live sound.The tight trio only needed eleven days to make the album, one of my favorites of theirs.

Among the most memorable tunes is "Away From the Numbers", the shoulda-been-a single track. Rick Buckler again:

Rick Buckler again:

"Away From the Numbers" did have something to do with The Who--The Who By Numbers, their album, and their early name, The High Numbers. The song had loads of Who influences in it. I think that song showed us scratching away at that particular heritage. It was all linked to the sixties mod thing. This was the track that we struggled with the most to record, taking a few takes to get it right. I'm not sure we even played it live before we recorded it; we didn't play it much live after either. I mean by the time In The City was up and running we had started working on Modern World as so there were always newer songs that found their way into the set.

The high energy set was infectious, captivating critics across the pond. Among them Robert Christgau who gave the album an A- rating:

Here we find an English hard-rock trio who wear short hair and dark suits, say "fuck" a lot, and sound rather like The Who Sing My Generation, even mentioning James Brown in one song. They also claim a positive social attitude--no police state in the U.K., but no anarchy either. Is this some kind of put-up job, pseudo-punk with respect for the verities? Could be, but it doesn't matter. When they complain that Uncle Jimmy the "red balloon" (or is it "reveloo"?) never walks home at night, they've got his number, but when they accuse him of sleeping between silk sheets they're just blowing someone else's hot air. In the end, they could go either way--or both. In the meantime, though, they blow me out. These boys can put a song together; they're both powerful enough to subsume their sources and fresh enough to keep me coming back for more. 

But the band would make its biggest impact in England where the NME 's Phil McNeill called The Jam "the acceptable face of punk rock" :

The Jam´s commercial potential is enormous. Their music and image and even their infectious teen-orientated ‘rebel’ lyrical pose are sufficiently attractive for them to popularise New Wave to the extent where it becomes meaningless ... 

 Weller´s chording is inspired, he skitters in early Townshend feedback licks with ease, he layers his guitar in a way that should be an object lesson to Wilko Johnson -- he´s just amazing ... his songs capture that entire teen frustration vibe with the melodic grace and dynamic aplomb of early Kinks and Who ... 

 Weller´s got a pretty good voice, a little like Cockney Arthur Lee ... the casual poetic edge works better than sloganeering ... 

 The acceptable face of punk rock indeed. Face it.

And from Melody Maker's Brian Harrigan :

The Jam bear no relation to the mass conception of punk ... part of today´s extensive musical reaction against the dinosaur bands who have dominated rock ... 

 Obvious that they have a great deal in common with The Who ... considerably more than copyists ... have produced tightly composed and performed songs ... 

 The Weller composed songs are anything but an embarrassement, he has a deft touch that places his material on a much higher plateau ... 

 Aggressive choked off vocal and even a reference to James Brown which in itself underlines the commitment to the spirit of the early Sixties ... 

Lay down your prejudices and give them a try -- they´re guaranteed not to disappoint.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Doggie's Dinner

Nick Lowe : Marie Provost

In May of 1977, Stiff Records released its first EP, Nick Lowe's Bowi. As you may know, this was Nick's way of getting a laugh after Bowie released Low (without an E) in January. If Bowie could do that to Lowe, why shouldn't Lowe pay him back?

The third track is one's of Nick's very best. Marie Provost was a real person, a silent film star who died of acute alcohol poisoning at the age of 38. Her body was found two days later thanks to the incessant barking of her dachshund, Maxie. In his popular book, Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger reported that Provost's hungry dog "made mincemeat out of his mistress". But that claime has since been proven false. Still...what a great song!

The rest of the EP is made up of "Born a Woman", first recorded by Sandy Posey in 1966 and written by Martha Sharp. "Shake That Rat" is rollicking instrumental with Lowe crushing it on bass. Finally there's "Endless Sleep", later covered by Leo Kottke.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Don't Call a Doctor

                                           The Players Association : Love Hangover

I discovered this beauty on a deep dive through the Opium Hum blog, and only learned recently that The Players Association debut was actually a pretty popular album in its time. It danced its way into the Top 40 Jazz album chart ( thanks to all the flute, sax and trumpet solos) and even made its way into the Top 30 Black albums chart thanks in large part to their disco/jazz take of the Diana Ross #1 smash "Love Hangover". Drummer Chris Hills led the New York City based band. Jazz musicians would swing by to fill in here and there. That's Return to Forever veteran Joe Farrell playing flute on "Love Hangover", which was a popular tune at the discos in 1977.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When Love is the Question

The Bee Gees : Can't Keep a Good Man Down

In May of 1977 The Brothers Gibb released a double live album, all recorded on December 20, 1976 at the LA Forum. Here at Last Bee Gees ...Live would sell five million copies worldwide, but would stand as a mere footnote to what was to come.

After mixing the live album, and dubbing in whatever fixes they needed, The Bee Gees and their band recorded a few new songs at the Château d'Hérouville  for a low budget film originally entitled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, produced by RSO chief Robert Stigwood. Released in December of 1977, Saturday Night Fever would be a massive hit with a soundtrack selling 15 million units.

I was one of those who received the soundtrack for Christmas. I wanted to explore the Bee Gees back catalog and I think this was the only album I could find. It may not be the most rocking live album ever recorded. In fact it may be the least. But it's enjoyable-- a smart mix of their disco hits, near hits and medleys from their 60s era hits. Let the other guys listen to Double Live Gonzo, I have more fun revisiting this magical evening.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

All Hopped Up And Ready To Go

The Ramones : Sheena is a Punk Rocker

On May 15, four days before The Ramones European tour landed in Liverpool, the band's "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" had debuted at #35 in the UK pop charts. The Ramones would play 27 of their 148 shows that year in the U.K., racing through nearly thirty songs a night. The band must have been relieved when they finally arrived in a country where English is spoken. 

"It's not like America,"Johnny Ramone told Lisa Robinson who recalls the conversation in There Goes Gravity. "I miss home. We can't find lasagna or ravioli, and I miss milk. All the milk has stuff floating in it."

"The Ramones were like Archie Bunker at the Vatican," said one observer on the tour. 

The Ramones toured with supporting act, Talking Heads, who had just released the single "Love -> Building On Fire" and loved touring Europe. "Everything is so scenic," remarked David Byrne.

 But, Joey Ramone says, Talking Heads did not go over with the gobbing punk crowd.

"On our second trip over in '77 it was us and Talking Heads...Erics...I don't think The Heads went down too well there - too rowdy a bunch, they wanted to rumble with the Ramones. Talking Heads were too intellectual for that crowd."

One interesting note : In early June at a London show Talking Heads would met future producer Brian Eno, so taken by the band he would write "King's Lead Hat", an anagram for Talking Heads.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Walking on the Beaches

The Stranglers : Peaches

On May 15, 1977 The Stranglers most controversial single ,"Peaches", entered the UK charts at #37. The misogynistic, voyeuristic single would be one of the most notorious hits of the Summer of '77, peaking at #8. Hugh Cornwell is still taking a lot of crap about the tongue in cheek lyrics. It probably didn't help that he told one interviewer "I love putting women on a you can see up their skirts"or that guitarist John Ellis added "We love women's movements...especially underneath us."

Well I got the notion girl that you got some suntan lotion in that bottle of yours 
Spread it all over my peelin' skin, baby 
That feels real good 
All this skirt lappin' up the sun 
 Lap me up 
Why don't you come on and lap me up?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rocking the Casbah

The Undertones: All By Myself


By May of 1977 The Undertones has become the band to see at The Casbah, in the Irish band's hometown of Derry. By mid-year their set would include future UK Top 40 hit  and John Peel all time favorite song"Teenage Kicks", but an eight song bootlegged set shows the band covering the likes of the Velvet Underground (There She Goes Again) , The Heartbreakers (All By Myself) and The Ramones (Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue). They're not yet the Undertones we would come to know and  love, but Feargal Sharkey has already got the helium voice happening and the O'Neill brothers rock out like mad.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Future of Music

Donna Summer : I Feel Love

On May 13, 1977 Donna Summer released the strangely uneven concept album I Remember Yesterday. Side One featured a collection of disco songs done in the styles of popular songs from the 1940s -50s and 60s. Never mind all that! The album also included, on its futuristic Side Two, the UK#1/US#6 smash "I Feel Love", a nearly six minute floor filler so out of sight Brian Eno called it "The Future of Music".

David Bowie tells the story:

One day in Berlin ... Eno came running in and said, "I have heard the sound of the future." ... he puts on "I Feel Love," by Donna Summer ... He said, "This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years." Which was more or less right.

Forty years later it still sounds like something from the future, an almost alien take on electronic dance music. Incredibly monotonous and incredibly sophisticated all at the same time, with Summer breathing life into this artificial ear worm.

  Loyal readers know I've only recently rediscovered the joy of the terrific trio Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. back in '77 I wouldn't be caught dead listening to disco. Today I'm a huge fan of the good stuff. There really is good disco out there. And "I Feel Love" is the best of them all.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Gurls Gurls Gurls

The Scruffs : Break the Ice

Far too many people said "No" to the question posed by Memphis power poppers The Scuffs on the title of their 1977 debut album "Wanna' Meet The Scuffs?". And they missed out. Songwriter Stephen Burns and axeman Dave Branyan team up on some scorchers that take their cues from both Cleveland's Raspberries and the rockers by hometown heroes Big Star. The single "Break the Ice" got some local airplay.

 Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was an early fan, giving the debut an A- and writing 

Only a sucker for rock and roll could love this record, and I am that sucker. A middle-period Beatles extrapolation in the manner of Big Star (another out-of-step Memphis power-pop group on a small, out-of-step Memphis label), it bursts with off harmonies, left hooks, and jolts of random energy. The trouble is, these serve a shamelessly and perhaps permanently post-adolescent vision of life's pain, most of which would appear to involve gurls. To which objection the rockin' formalist in me responds, "I wanna hear `Revenge' again".

In the forty years that have followed, this debut has become a power pop classic. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ridin' High

Steve Miller Band : Jet  Airliner

Paul Pena : Jet Airliner

In May of 1977 Steve Miller Band released its tenth album. Book of Dreams was recorded at the same time as Fly Like an Eagle, and, like its twin,  contains just as many radio friendly hits and synthesizer noodlings .  Naturally it went triple platinum in the United States.

It is interesting to me that the first single, the US Top 10 hit "Jet Airliner", isn't an original Steve Miller song but a cover of a four year old tune by keyboardist Ben Sidran's buddy, Paul Pena. Royalties from the single were sometimes Pena's only source of income for the rest of his life.

Rolling Stone's Frank Rose wrote this positive review of Book of Dreams:

There are so many nice things you could say about the new Steve Miller album. You could say, for instance, that it sounds great turned way up loud, with its full-tilt rhythms propelling you into some kind of bright crystal space. You could talk about how open the sound is, how porous and rich, and how sunny and downright friendly Miller's voice sounds. You could rap endlessly about the skillful use of modern recording technique to achieve exciting textural effects. But the important thing to say, and it ought to be done straightaway, is how dazzlingly appropriate this music would be if it were coupled with some videotape of West Coast hang gliders used for a Pepsi commercial. 

 To those who have been dismayed by the progress of the Beach Boys' more or less grotesque attempts at a creative comeback, the recent commercial success of such journeymen survivors as Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac and Steve Miller is a heartening sign. It means that laid-back rock and no-thought lyrics can still be had in something other than the dude-ranch space-out of such L.A. hustlers as Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles. What is at stake is the future of open-highway rock. The success of Frampton, Mac and Miller -- especially Mac and Miller -- means the genre is not being abandoned to the cosmic cowpokes

This is important for variety's sake, and also because the cowpokes' vision of life as some sort of sun-drenched avocado sandwich seems essentially wrong. With the Beach Boys unsteady on their lurch toward reality, it's up to people like Miller to attempt the mindlessly breezy music the whole world wants and not even Paul McCartney can deliver every time. But this is tricky business; you can't just retread the old Beach Boys stuff. They preached fun to a generation that was opening up; Miller has to preach fun to a generation that's closing in.

 Miller has a strong nesting instinct. His idea of fun is apparently a combination of rural isolation and independence and happy domesticity. As the title of an album that's mostly filled with songs about love, his Book of Dreams is not much different from a hope chest. In "Swingtown," he coos, "Come on and dance/Let's make some romance." In "Jet Airliner" and "My Own Space" (neither of them his own compositions, it's true) he sings about the need for a home and the pain of leaving it. Then there's "True Fine Love," in which he really alters his pitch: "So come on pretty baby," he sings this time, "we're going to raise a family."

This pretty well sums up what Miller has to say. Most of his energies have apparently gone into the sound, and with good results. At its best, Miller's music has always been rich, clipped and characterized by a powerful forward momentum not unlike Fleetwood Mac's. At its worst -- when he was hampered by a schizoid image, a revolving-door band and the all-too-apparent absence of any purpose to his work -- it was sloppy, aimless and dull. But Miller began to pull himself out of his slump with The Joker in 1973, and thereafter he took steps to ensure that things went right. 

 Although his first nine albums had been crowded into a six-year span, he took his time recording a followup. When he finally released Fly Like an Eagle 13 months ago, it went crazy in the record stores -- Top Ten for months, almost triple platinum, three Top Ten singles. The record was so big that Book of Dreams, which tentatively had been scheduled for release as early as last December, had to be kept on hold for months. Now it's shipped gold; a repeat success appears inevitable

This is logical. Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams are essentially twin albums, mostly recorded during the three-year period that followed The Joker. Fly Like an Eagle is maybe a little stronger -- several of the songs on Book of Dreams were written by current or former Steve Miller Band members -- but even that is debatable. There's the same steady self-assurance here, the same easy confidence that made Fly Like an Eagle so easy to enjoy. Miller obviously knows exactly what he's doing. Every production decision -- as usual, he's produced himself -- was made to maximize the dramatic impact of the deep, easy roll that powers most of these songs. The producer's touch is light and sure; it brightens the sound and stretches its spatial dimensions. Miller's voice, open and adolescent as ever, comes through fresh and bouncy. All this gives songs like "Swingtown" and "True Fine Love" and "Jet Airliner" the kind of simple-minded but irresistible appeal that's so essential to Miller's style. 

What Miller gained during his three-year absence from the music scene was the security to drop his masks. Fly Like an Eagle was the first album on which he did not hide behind the kind of persona he ridiculed and apparently laid to rest with The Joker. What's emerged instead is the image of a "real" Steve Miller -- a jocular outdoorsman who's thinking about giving up his Ferrari (according to People) for a tractor. The real Steve Miller just wants to settle down and raise kids and live in bucolic splendor and have it seem as much fun as hang gliding. So do millions of his peers. It's nice they're getting together.