Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Walking With Gorillas

Joe Jackson : Is She Really Going Out With Him?

On October 31, 1978 Joe Jackson released "Is She Really Going Out With Him?",  his debut single and an anthem for any guy who has been placed squarely into the friend zone. Upon its rerelease in May of 1979, it would be a UK#13 and US#21 hit, kicking off a very interesting and varied career.

About the songs origins, Jackson said:

Now, that is just one of those songs that started with the title. I heard that phrase somewhere and I thought that could be a kind of funny song about gorgeous girls going out with monsters. It just started from there. It was just a funny song, or supposed to be funny. It was a great surprise to me when some people interpreted it as being angry.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

By The Meat Factory Door

The Boomtown Rats : Rat Trap


In October of 1978 The Boomtown Rats released "Rat Trap", the first new wave single to top the UK pop charts, dethroning John Travolta and Olivia Newton John's "Summer Nights" after their seven week stand. Bob Geldof says the song was inspired by a friend he met in an Irish slaughterhouse. To critics who said the tune sounded an awful lot like something Bruce Springsteen might have recorded with the E Street Band, Geldof said “Bruce Springsteen couldn’t write a song as good as this, even if he tried.”

Yeah,  he was a bit of an ass before he decided to try to save the world.

The week the song hit #1, the band played Top of the Pops ( name checked in "Rat Trap") and began the number by tearing up pictures of Travolta and Newton John. Then Geldof pretended to play the candelabra as he explained in his autobiography.

"The Musicians' Union had forbidden me to play saxophone on the video, as obviously I hadn't done so on the record. But I saw a candelabra on the piano at the shoot and I put a mouthpiece in the central candle holder and played it. The impact of video came home when during the next few British gigs kids pulled out candelabras from nowhere and began playing them during the sax solo in 'Rat Trap'"

Monday, October 29, 2018

Half Painted Pictures

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes : Trapped Again

In October of 1978 Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes released Hearts of Stone, the band's masterpiece. With three songs written or co-written by Bruce Springsteen and seven by Stevie Van Zandt (who also produced) , powerful drumming by Max Weinberg and a horn section propelling listeners through the album, the stage was set for Southside Johnny Lyon to give the greatest vocal performance of his career. He didn't let anyone down. Hearts of Stone is one of the best rock and roll albums of the year.

Hopes were high this would be the band's breakthrough but before the tour began, Lyons hurt his hand. The tour was derailed and the band was dropped by the label. This would be the high point of the band's career.

From a Rolling Stone article about albums baby boomers love that millennials don't know:

You'll rarely hear "Southside" Johnny Lyon's name without some mention of Bruce Springsteen, as the careers of the two Jersey acts will always be linked. Lyon's previous two albums featured songs written by Springsteen and his E Street consigliere Steven Van Zandt, as well as covers and a much less serious demeanor. On Hearts of Stone, it seems Lyon was ready to prove he had the performance chops of his pals, who again contributed to songwriting and production. A tad more explicitly indebted to classic soul than a typical Springsteen album is, Hearts of Stone, which, in 1987, snuck on to Rolling Stone's list of the best albums of the previous 20 years, is one every young and old E Street fan needs to own.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Billowing Fragments

Brian Eno : M386

In October of 1978 Brian Eno released Music For Films, a collection of musical scraps and sketches from previous recording projects that had an original 1976  run of 500 copies that were distributed to film production companies. Among the more interesting tracks on the 1978 album are "Two Rapid Formations", an outtake from Another Green World featuring Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks and the viola of John Cale and "M386", a slowed down reimagining of Another Green World's "Skysaw". 

Although it comes across as fragmented, Music For Films did make Eno money, with many of the tracks finding their way on to movie and tv documentary soundtracks over the years.

"One of them has been used about twenty-five times in different programmes,’ he told Mojo’s Andy Gill. ‘It’s about thirty seconds long and it took me thirty seconds to make.’

Within weeks,another Eno production would hit record stores. One that couldn't be more different: a collection of underground no-wave rock band called No New York.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Adrenalin Ejecting

Japan : Automatic Gun

On October 27, 1978 Japan released their second album, Obscure Alternatives, just six months following the debut. It's almost like the band knew they would only be together for four years. Japan, apparently fully recovered from their tour with Blue Oyster Cult and the barrage of tomatoes hurled in their direction, are ready to go for broke. They play glam. They play new wave. They play reggae and on the instrumental "The Tenant", they even play Low era Bowie. Though members of the band shrug off their first two albums, listeners can hear the beginning of the New Romantic sound. And it's actually pretty exciting.

“We were a very self-contained group of people,” songwriter and guitarist David Sylvian told The Quietus. “So we always felt on the outside… of anything, to an extent. We genuinely did not feel part of any movement or genre. Yes, image and presentation had been important to us from the beginning, but it became something I was less and less interested in sustaining. It had been convenient, given me a persona to hide behind. Initially I don’t think I could have walked onto a stage without that. I was just too shy. A mask got me through it. Once I decided as a writer I wanted to express myself clearly, it had to be done away with. Elegance isn’t something that should be contrived.”

Friday, October 26, 2018

How Long Now?

The Skids : The Saints Are Coming

In October of 1978 The Scottish punk rock band The Skids released their Wide Open EP, featuring the anthemic single "The Saints Are Coming". It would peak at UK#48 in November. and become a football terrace singalong. Songwriter Stuart Adamson would take his anthem writing abilituies to the next level in his future band Big Country.

 In 2006 Green Day and U2 would team up on a cover version to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

La la la la la la


Television Personalities : Part Time Punks

In 1978 London's Daniel Treacy a.k.a. Television Personalities released 500 copies of a four song EP Where's Bill Grundy Now? featuring "Part Time Punks", a song lauded by Spin Alternative Record Guide as "musically and conceptually a decade or so ahead of its time...single-handedly defining the do-it-yourself amateur's shamble that would one day become indie rock."

Treacy's song mocks the parade of trendy toothpaste abstaining punks he saw loafing around his parents apartment on Kings Road:

Then they go to Rough Trade
 To buy Siouxsie And The Banshees.
They heard John Peel play it
 Just the other night.
They'd like to buy the 'O' Level single
Or "Read about Seymour",
But they're not pressed in red
So they buy The Lurkers instead

They play their records very loud...
They pogo in their bedroom 
In front of the mirror 
But only when their mum's gone out

Treacy hasn't had an easy time of it, vanishing for years at a time for reasons mostly associated with drug abuse and health problems.


Keith Richards showed up at a Rockpile gig in NYC. Nick Lowe tells the story:

Throw another Stratocaster on the fire and I'll tell ye a story. It was 1979, and Rockpile had just toured for three months supporting Blondie. And we fetched up at the end of the tour playing five nights of our own at the Bottom Line in New York, two shows a night, sustained by the kind of things that sustained rock bands after long and grueling tours.

 On the last night, we're backstage before the second show, and there's a rumour that Keith Richards was in the club. Everyone knew he'd been in Canada on this drugs charge and they're thinking, "What, so you get out of jail in Toronto and head straight for the Bottom Line to see Rockpile? I rather doubt it!" But you could tell he was there. There was a feeling coming through the wails, a real buzz, electrifying. He was with this nice woman called Barbara Charone and she came backstage and said, "Look, I've got Keith Richards with me, can I bring him back to see you?' And obviously we said yes, but we thought, “The great man has just got out of jail, bit of a narrow squeak there. It's just too naff to start slinging stuff up his nose, so let's keep the gear out of sight. He isn't going to want to do any of that!”

 And then, suddenly, there he was. Now Dave Edmunds had known him from way back in the early ‘60s from some gigs his band and the Stones did in the valleys, about ‘62, and he was always very snooty about Keith ripping off Chuck Berry and all that -- which seemed pretty rich coming from the guitarist in Rockpile, which was basically a load of old Chuck Berry riffs played faster and a lot louder! Anyway, I said to Keith, "Do you want to do a couple of tunes?" -- obviously that's what people were expecting -- and he said, "Is there somewhere we can 'discuss' all this?" In between the two dressing rooms was this tiny little broom cupboard -- literally a broom cupboard, full of mops and hoovers - and Keith and I squeezed in. And much to my astonishment, he produces this enormous flagon of substances, casually tipping piles of it onto the top of his fist, most of it falling on the floor, very generous with it of course. Then Edmunds turns up, so we're squeezed in like students in a phone box and, having agreed to do Chuck Berry's “Let It Rock,” we all head back to the dressing room where all the hangers-on and groupies have been chucked out and an argument breaks out between Edmunds and Keith as to the precise execution of the opening riff -- the old animosity from the valleys breaking out again; they'd obviously had some altercation back then which Dave hadn't quite got over.

 And then suddenly this change came over Keith Richards, presumably to do with the quantity of refreshment he'd consumed. He changed from being a perfectly normal rational lovely bloke and became this caricature of Keith Richards before my very eyes, this sort of shambling individual, just as loveable, but virtually incapable of playing a note. Dave Edmunds said, "Look, he won't last the distance, he's had it." I said, "The punters will go mad if he doesn't appear." Edmunds wasn't happy. "Get him on first. Start with him, don't end with him, he's not going to make it."

 So I put this thought to Keith and he didn't seem to think it was a bad idea, so ... showtime! We walked out onto the stage, small stage packed with gear with this little amp we'd borrowed for Keith sitting there in the middle of the floor. I had never heard anything like the noise that greeted us. The look in people's faces. They went absolutely insane, true madness, completely potty when they saw him -- and he did look fantastic. There's a bootleg of all this so you can hear the evidence. Both Edmunds and Keith do their individual versions of the opening riff to “Let lt Rock,” so immediately we're in trouble. But off we went.

 The first thing I noticed -- the place jumping -- was that suddenly all the bottom went out of my bass guitar. I thought I'd blown a valve or something. Then suddenly it switched to this searing treble, sounding like a mandolin, then the deepest reggae rumble. I looked round and there was Keith fiddling with the controls of my amp. He obviously thought my amp was his amp. A roadie appeared to show him where his amp was -- I don't think he realised it was an amp, he hadn't seen anything this tiny since he was back in the valleys with Edmunds; as far as he was concerned amps were something at eye-level -- but he peered at this thing and tweaked it a bit and eventually got some sort of sound out of it.

 The break comes along so Edmunds goes, "All right Keith!" and this very wonky solo appeared and the song sort of petered out. But people went absolutely crazy -- you would honestly have believed it was The Beatles. Edmunds looked narrowly at Keith, turned to us, shrugged and said, "Right, who's going to get rid of this c**t?" I said, "Well, I'm happy, the crowd's happy." Edmunds says, "OK, we'll just ignore him and get on with the rest of our set."

 So now we're playing a load of Rockpile songs he's never heard, but it's actually starting to sound pretty good; it's locking together. And, encouraged by this, Keith seems to find a little gap in the music and steps forward to take another solo. And it's sounding great, working up those Chuck Berry lines, the confidence is building, and he's so astonished he's been able to do it, he's sort of lost his balance and teetered backwards on his little Cuban-heeled boots, the amp just behind him at knee height, stumbled into it, the old knees have buckled and he's sat down quite heavily on it, the rock god pose losing some of its shine in the process. And this hapless roadie came on and quietly ushered him offstage. And I remember his slightly puzzled look, slightly hurt, what could he possibly have done wrong? It wasn't a very dignified exit.

 But the irony of course, was the show never recovered. We had lost our magnificence. The excitement had peaked, the balloon had burst, the moment had gone, and Rockpile expertly playing a load of Rockpile songs of course couldn't hold a candle to Rockpile playing Chuck Berry very badly with Keith Richards on guitar. I don't know if the two things were connected but we never played The Bottom Line again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Shmatta, Shmatta, Shmatta

The Rolling Stones : Shattered

On October 24, 1978 Keith Richards showed the world he wasn't just another drug addict, when a Canadian judge gave him a one-year suspended sentence and placed Richards on a year’s probation after he pled guilty to a reduced charge of possession of heroin. Charges of possession of cocaine and possession of heroin with intent to traffic, which could have resulted in a life sentence for Richards. The judge also ordered Richards to continue treatment for his heroin addiction and that he perform a benefit concert — by himself or with a group — for Toronto’s Canadian National Institute for the Blind within six months. 

Looking back on the verdict, Richards writes in Life that he had a blind angel in his corner, Rita Bedard.

Despite her blindness, she hitchhiked to our shows. The chick was absolutely fearless. I'd heard about her backstage, and the idea of her thumbing in the  darkness was too much for me. I hooked her up with the truck drivers, made sure she got a safe lift and made sure she got fed. And when I was busted, she actually found her way to the judge's house and told him this story. And this is how he arrived at the concert for the blind. The love and devotion of people like Rita is something that still amazes me. So aha! A way was found.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The One Eyed Midget

The Saints : Swing for the Crime

In October of 1978, The Saints released Prehistoric Sounds, their third album and, according to no less an authority than Go Between Robert Forster, their best. As bored with punk rocks as the Eternally Yours single "Know Your Product" suggested, The Saints recorded a hybrid album of punk and soul. It works better than you'd guess, especially with the big ballsy brass interjections,  but sales were lacking and Harvest dropped the band.

"I think there are a few good songs on that album," says singer Chris Bailey. " But it feels stilted in places, it sounds like a record made by a band falling apart, and sure enough soon after recording the album, the line-up of the band changed quite drastically."

Bailey would keep the name,  but guitarist Ed Kuepper went back to Australia to form The Laughing Clowns while bassist Algy Ward joined The Damned.

As the years have passed, more critics have agreed with Forster, including critic Clinton Walker who writes "an extraordinary record - one of the period's best bar none - a brooding, melancholic collision of electrically charged rock balladry and swooping, brassy arrangements. Broadly misunderstood, it meant nothing to no-one." 

Monday, October 22, 2018

No Blind Spots

Wire : Outdoor Miner (long version)

In 1978 Wire released Chairs Missing, the English art band's follow-up to their 1977 masterpiece Pink Flag. Chairs Missing takes the artsy rockers another full step into the new world of post punk, adding keyboards and, God forbid, guitar solos. It's a transitional album with some tunes ( like "Sand in My Joints")  that recall the short, sharp and shocking songs of Pink Flag and others that anticipate Wire's slow, atmospheric and, yes, pretentious efforts coming on 154.

As usual, one of the great joys of Wire's music comes in the lyric sheets of Graham Lewis. "Outdoor Miner", the catchiest song in Wire's catalog, is about an insect known as a leaf miner. 

Face worker, a serpentine miner 
A roof falls, an under-liner 
Of leaf structure, the egg timer

The single version is twice as long as the album cut and features some sublime piano by producer Mike Thorne. 

Pitchfork ranks Chairs Missing #33 on their list of the top 100 albums of the 1970's. Here's Ryan Schreiber'a take :

Trailing their landmark debut, Pink Flag, by only eight months, Wire’s Chairs Missing was a shock to the punk community that first embraced them. In a scene where “progressive” was a four-letter word, and keyboards and effects were weapons of the enemy, Wire bravely shrugged off their rudimentary roots and quested for something more. Critics and fans responded badly, and that Wire shared a label with Pink Floyd only added to their infamy. 

 With 25 years of hindsight, Chairs Missing is the most punk record they could have made, taking the scene’s ethics of defiance, disregard, and contempt to the greatest possible extreme. Though by no means a prog-rock opus, the album indulges in pedals, loops, and, yes, keyboards and synths, to brilliant effect, while retaining all of the pop immediacy, compositional integrity, and acute lyricism of its predecessor. Equal credit is due to producer Mike Thorne, who was responsible for squeezing these sounds of primitive machines, and Wire themselves, whose impatience and high standards pushed him to perfect the sounds they imagined. Hilariously, tying this into the whole of the list, Thorne recalls in an article on his website that “Wire said I should play synthesizers on the next album. I said, ‘I can’t move my fingers fast enough.’ They said, ‘If you don’t do it, we’ll get that Brian Eno in.’” This is one rare instance in which I can honestly say that would have been a huge mistake: He’d have killed all the joyous impulsiveness that makes this album one of the most charismatic, unpretentious experimental records the ’70s ever produced.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

My Heart Stays Cool

Pointer Sisters : Fire

Bruce Springsteen may have written "Fire" for Elvis Presley and Robert Gordon may have recorded it first, but it was The Pointer Sisters who scored a US#2 hit with the tune, their first Gold single. It was released in October of 1978. If you're keeping score, Manfred Mann's Earth Band hit US#1 with "Blinded By the Light", a Springsteen song; the Sisters hit US#2, and Patti Smith hit US#13 with Springsteen's "Because the Night".  The Boss has so far only peaked at US#23 with "Born to Run".

Bruce had recorded "Fire" for Darkness on the Edge of Town, one of more than 50 songs for the album but when he trimmed the songs down to those that fit thematically, "Fire" was out. On tour in '78, Springsteen played fiery versions of both "Fire" and "Because the Night". So there. 

The next time he wrote a song for somebody else, it was a little tune called "Hungry Heart" for The Ramones. This time Jon Landau convinced Bruce to keep it for himself. Good call. "Hungry Heart" hit US#5 in 1980.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Wrong Things Right

Rachel Sweet : B-A-B-Y

In October of 1978, Stiff Records released 16 year old Rachel Sweet's debut album, Fool Around. Recorded four weeks after her mother died of cancer, the child prodigy joined the Blockheads in the studio, singing four lead vocals in the first hour. Later Graham Parker's horn section played on some of the tracks. The album sounded good but Stiff didn't hear a single. Producers visited second hand record stores looking for ideas and came up with two possibilities: Dusty Springfield's "Stay Awhile" and Carla Thomas's "B-A-B-Y".  Sweet and the band recorded both  just a few night before the record went to press. "B-A-B-Y" became a UK Top 40 hit.

Sweet would earn a fortune as executive producer of TV shows like Dharma and Greg and Hot in Cleveland. In 2010 she sold a home she bought from Madonna for nearly $5 million.

Friday, October 19, 2018

I Found a Shining Star

Dan Hartman : Instant Replay

Six years after writing and singing lead on The Edgar Winter Group's Top 20 hit "Free Ride", Dan Hartman returned to the charts with "Instant Replay", one of Disco's most infectious pop singles. Is this the biggest hit ever recorded in Connecticut?  In October of 1978 "Instant Replay" entered the UK charts at #72 on its way to becoming a Top 10 hit. 

The somewhat silly music video features Hartman on keyboards,  future Saturday Night Live  music director and Hall and Oates bassist G.E. Smith ( This was his big break), future KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent and Sparks drummer Hilly Michaels ( a few year before he began living with Marianne Faithfull). The song would also reach US#29 in 1979.

In 1984 Hartman would enjoy his biggest single, the US#6 hit "I Can Dream About You". He also wrote "Living in America", a US #4 hit for James Brown. A closeted gay man, Hartman was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980's and died in 1994 at age 43.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Little Driving on a Saturday Night

Sniff 'n' The Tears : Driver's Seat

In 1978 Sniff n The Tears released the single "Driver's Seat". One of the all time perfect pop sings, it would take an entire year, until the Fall of 1979, before it would peak on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at US#15. (In November of 1980, the song would hit the Top 10 in The Netherlands). They may have been one hit wonders, but singer Paul Roberts had a second talent he could rely on,as a visual artist. Roberts painted all the band's album covers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Alter Your Native Ulster

Stiff Little Fingers : Alternative Ulster

On October 17, 1978 the Belfast punk rockers, Stiff Little Fingers, released "Alternative Ulster", their second single. The song offers Belfast youth a third choice between the republican and loyalist paramilitaries: punk rock. Irish journalist Henry McDonald recalls getting stopped by police with his punk rocker friends. After taking their names and addresses, and learning the friends came from all corners of the sectarian-divided city, they shook their heads in disbelief.

Many of those punks would go on to become politically active, helping to facilitate the reconciliation that would happen with the Good Friday agreement two decades later.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Gonna Raise a Holler

The Flying Lizards : Summertime Blues

In October of 1978 The Flying Lizards released their debut single, a laconic reading of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues". 1978 was a great year for eccentric covers. Devo's version of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" first comes to mind. Then there's the Talking Heads cover of "Take Me to the River", Sid Vicious's "My Way", The Jam's "David Watts", Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone". Siouxsie and the Banshees's "Helter Skelter". The Flying Lizards would follow the laconic post rock formula to Hitsville in 1979 with "Money".

Monday, October 15, 2018

So Hard to Beat

The Undertones : Teenage Kicks

On October 15, 1978 The Undertones debut single "Teenage Kicks" entered the U.K. charts at #75. As the story goes, the first time the legendary DJ John Peel heard the song was the time he spun the record on air. He liked it so much he reportedly burst into tears and then played the song again. He would eventually declare "Teenage Kicks" the perfect three minute pop song and have the opening lines chiseled on his gravestone.

The drummer's intro, the raving guitars, Feargal Sharkey's quivering tenor and the very teenage boy attitudes about new girls in the neighborhood. It all adds up to a great song. Sounds declared "Teenage Kicks" the sixth best single of the year, but the song did not make any NME lists.

By this date in 1978 The Northern Irish band had signed with Sire Records who immediately launched the single from an otherwise unremarkable EP. "Teenage Kicks" peaked at UK#31.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Union Wages, Wedding Clothes

Billy Joel : Rosalinda's Eyes

In October of 1978 Billy Joel released 52nd Street, his follow-up to The Stranger. Within three weeks, it would do something The Stranger never did : top the Billboard album charts on its way to selling more than 7 million albums in the US and winning a Grammy for album of the year. Yes, I bought it too. I was 14. But these days I only listen to 52nd Street for "Rosalinda's Eyes", which made such a memorable appearance on an episode of "Freaks and Geeks". Rolling Stone ranks 52nd Street as the 352nd greatest rock album of all time, which means almost nothing to me.

Stephen Holden reviewed the album for Rolling Stone :

On 52nd Street and The Stranger, Billy Joel is the quintessential post-rock entertainer: a vaudevillian piano man and mimic who, having come of age in the late Sixties, has the grasp of rock and the technical know-how to be able to caricature both Bob Dylan and the Beatles as well as "do" an updated Anthony Newley, all in the same Las Vegas format. Joel seems to have been born knowing what many Seventies pop stars have had to find out the hard way: that rock'n' roll was always part of show business. Being a pianist (and a bravura one), he's also been more aware than many of his guitar-based peers that rock has always been a species of popular music and not a totally separate art form.

52nd Street, produced by Phil Ramone, is more rock-oriented than The Stranger and quite different in spirit. Whereas The Stranger -- particularly its centerpiece, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" -- captured the texture of urban neighborhood life in an Edward Hopper-like light, 52nd Street evokes the carnivalesque neon glare of nighttime Manhattan, using painterly strokes of jazz here and there to terrific effect.

The characters in Joel's new compositions -- a Puerto Rican street punk ("Half a Mile Away"), a social climber ("Big Shot"), a sexual bitch ("Stiletto"), a barfly sports fan ("Zanzibar") and a Cuban guitarist ("Rosalinda's Eyes") -- comprise a sidewalk portrait gallery of midtown hustlers and dreamers. The likenesses, though roughly sketched, are accurate and sometimes even tinged with romance ("Rosalinda's Eyes"). The artist's fault-finding songs are among his least interesting, and "Stiletto," a psychologically trite bit of misogyny, is the LP's one outright failure. Even the numbers that aren't portraits fit nicely into Joel's scheme. "Honesty," a big, brazen, Anthony Newley-type ballad, laments the cynicism and loneliness behind the facade of Gotham glamour, while "52nd Street" is a fragmentary pop-jazz picture post card. "Until the Night" niftily re-creates Phil Spector's New York.

Joel tried once before to imitate Spector (in "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" on the self-produced Turnstiles), but failed to build a mighty enough wall of sound. This time, his caricature of that master pop caricaturist works splendidly. The singer is as keenly aware as Spector of the ridiculousness as well as the sublimity of the big-city teenage sexual jungle, and because his Righteous Brothers imitation is as tongue in cheek as it is reverent, "Until the Night" works as both tribute and joke. Billy Joel and Phil Ramone are the first artist/producer combination to capture the precarious balance between the ludicrous and the monumental in Phil Spector (how can anyone take Spector more than half-seriously these days?), and Joel's lyric -- simultaneously nonsensical, self-parodying and romantic -- is as charming as it is bogus. "Until the Night" is the formal piece de resistance of an album that, though far from great, boasts much of the color and excitement of a really good New York street fair.

Robert Christagu was less pleased with the album, which he graded a B-:

Despite the Chapinesque turns his voice takes when he tries to get raucous, he makes a better Elton John than Leo Sayer--he's got that same omniverous hummability. But when he is (was) good, Elton balances(d) off the smarm with camp, while Billy makes as if he really wants people to believe the words. Yuck.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Treated as Property

Public Image LTD : Public Image

On October 13, 1978, the day after Sid Vicious had been arrested for the murder of Nancy Spungen, Johnny Rotten's new band, Public Image LTD released their debut single "Public Image". It begins with the lines"You never listen to a word that I said, you only seen me for the clothes that I wear, or did the interest go so much deeper it must have been the colour of my hair... "

Lydon had written the song while he was still in the Sex Pistols. Now he was in a band with former Clash guitarist Keith Levene, inexperienced bassist Jah Wobble and,  for a short time,  Canadian drummer Jim Walker.

Lydon called writing the song 

"the freest moment, like escaping the trap of the Pistols at a stroke...I wanted to declare where we stood in the world, and 'Don't be judging me by the publicity machine and all that nonsense that I had to put up with the Pistols'."

Lydon continues:

This bit was important: 'I'm not the same as when I began/ And I will not be treated as property'. It's just saying 'Who are you telling me what is and what isn't? You can wither pay attention or you can get stuck in that hole in the ground that you've all buried yourselves in. Well, put the soil over the top. Goodbye."

PiL signed an eight album deal. The single peaked at UK#9 and ranked #2 on NME's list of the best singles of the year.  As one fan of the record said "Everything on U2's first three albums has its roots in this song."

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Order of Death

Public Image LTD : The Order of Death

On October 12, 1978 Sid Vicious says he woke up a drugged stupor to find his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, dead on the bathroom floor of their room in the Hotel Chelsea in New York. She had suffered a single stab wound to her abdomen. It didn't look like much of a cut but it was enough for her to bleed to death. "I stabbed her, " Vicious said. "But I never meant to kill her."

Is there any chance Sid Vicious was framed? His Sex Pistols bandmate John Lydon thinks so. In Lydon's book, Anger is My Energy,  he suggests drug dealers, possibly Mafia-run, killed Nancy when Sid couldn't pay them for the drugs he bought:

Nancy was killed, and that poor foolish boy was left holding the knife, not knowing what's going on. To me there's no mystery in it at all. You owe money, that's what you're gonna get. And there ain't no police going to hunt it down different.

The boy's life was over, and there he was in Rikers Island jail, in New York, with really not much option. As soon as he got out on bail-bang!-he banged up another number in the vein, and goodbye...Don't look for no mystery in it. This is what you get because this is what you want. Get the PiL song now?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fits into a Pram

Gang of Four : Armalite Rifles

On October 12, 1978 Leeds rockers Gang of Four released its Damaged Goods EP, featuring the title track and "Love Like Anthrax", both of which would appear on the Entertainment album and the anti-violence "Armalite Rifle", about the American designed weapon used by the provisional IRA during 'The Troubles" and nicknamed "the widowmaker".

Armalite rifle use it everyday
 It'll do you damage it'll do you harm 
Blow your legs off blow your guts out 
I disapprove of it so does Dave (Allen, bass player for Gang of Four)

The band's appeal wasn't just in its political statements. It was the music. Dave Allen explained what Gang of Four was doing musically in an interview with Stereo Embers:

The four of us in a rehearsal room deconstructing rock music was a joy for me. If you dig deep, you’ll find influences everywhere, from Wilko Johnson in Andy’s guitar work, repetitive drum patterns that could have been crafted by Can– or, as Hugo has put it, as simply as Charlie Watts – and bass lines inspired by dub reggae and Bootsy Collins.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I Am the Wind

Chris Bell : I Am the Cosmos

In 1978 Chris Stamey's Car Records released "I Am the Cosmos"b/w "You and Your Sister", a single  by former Big Star member Chris Bell that sold about 700 copies. In his memoir A Spy in the House of Loud, Stamey says it was Bell's bandmate Alex Chilton who turned him on to the song.

The thing was, Chilton didn’t have any sonic evidence to back up this opinion (in that era, the evidence would have been a cassette tape). So he grabbed my guitar from the corner and sang me the song, starting with its first sad, lovelorn lines: “Every night I tell myself, ‘I am the cosmos, I am the wind,’ but that don’t get you back again.” Then Alex stopped cold and laughed out loud at how perfect and yet pitiful, how “Bell-like,” that couplet was. He said he thought it was Chris’s crystallization, his “River Deep, Mountain High,” his highest achievement.

Stamey picked the beautiful acoustic ballad  "You and Your Sister" as the B side which features harmonies by Chilton. Before the year was over, Bell would die in a car accident.

 Stamey remembers:

Big Star’s producer, John Fry, told me that this little record was one of the two things in the world most precious to Bell right before his fatal auto accident later that year, a kind of validation for him after his dismay over the relative obscurity of the first Big Star record. It’s a powerful, unforgettable, angst-filled landmark track that has since cast a wide shadow. There’s really nothing quite like it.

Listening to these songs, some critics have come to the conclusion that Big Star's influential sound mainly came from Bell.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Crimson Flare From a Raging Sun

Judas Priest : Hellbent for Leather

On October 9, 1978 Judas Priest release Killing Machine, retitled Hell Bent for Leather for its 1979 US release. And yes, this band was all about the leather by this point; the band adopting their now-famous "leather-and-studs" fashion image, inspired by Rob Halford's interest in gay leather culture. 

I only started listening to this album in the past week. What stands out to these ears is how polished the sound is. Like big dollar action movies, the best heavy metal albums just sounded better than anything else at the time. It also sounds like the band spent a lot of time studying Queen's News of the World. "Take on the World" is their "We Will Rock You" and "Burnin Up" is their "Get Down, Make Love". 

Also noteworthy: a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)". Understandably a fan favorite.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Like Two Flamingoes in a Fruit Fight

Captain Beefheart : Tropical Hot Dog Night

In October of 1978, Captain Beefheart returned from a four year hiatus with Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), an album some critics believe to be the best of his career.

"I'd never just want to do what everybody else did. I'd be contributing to the sameness of everything," Don Van Vliet told Richard Cromelin of Wax. "Finally I got a completely perfect picture. These people I have now are playing it better than ever before. They're playing more of a spell, right where I want it. I was dealing with a lot of shapes, textures, releases, dissolves, all kinds of things. I've always tried to play spells. I don't think music gets enough of them"

Guitarist Don Tepper says the band rehearsed madly, taking direction from Beefheart.

Often he'd use colours like 'Play that like a smoky yellow room, make it more sulphur yellow; or 'Play it like a bat being dragged out of oil and it's trying to survive, but it;s dying of asphyxiation...or 'Play like your arm's being ripped of" or he'd say 'Play it like trailer-park trash, inbred, monkey-headed cat'. The process took some time, but when I knew him more and more his language became very easy to understand."

Some of the songs had been recorded in 1976 for the original Bat Chain Puller, which wouldn't see the light of day for nearly 40 years due to a lawsuit between Frank Zappa and his Discreet Records partner Herb Cohen. Among them, "Harry Irene" and the title track which came by its odd rhythm from the windshield wipers on Van Vliet's car.

Robert Christgau gave the album an A grade, writing:

Inspired by the Captain's untoward comeback, I've dug out all his old albums and discovered that as far as I'm concerned this is better than any of them--more daring than Safe as Milk, fuller than Trout Mask Replica, more consistent than Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Without any loss of angularity or thickness, the new compositions achieve a flow worthy of Weill or Monk or Robert Johnson, and his lyrics aren't as willful as they used to be. Bruce Fowler's trombone is especially thaumaturgic adding an appropriately natural color to the electric atonality of the world's funniest ecology crank

From Down Beat Magazine:

It is impossible to describe this LP without using phrases as meaningless as “excellent” or “fascinating”. Let it suffice to say Shiny Beast is an important alternative to contemporary popular music.