Tuesday, April 30, 2019

It's Cold Outside

Tubeway Army : Are 'Friends" Electric?

In April of 1979, Tubeway Army released Replicas , a dystopian science fiction themed concept album based on unpublished short stories leader Gary Numan had written. Inspired by Philip K Dick, the stories revolve around Machmen (think the replicants in Blade Runner) and the Grey Men who rule the world. Numan is dressed as a Machman overlooking "The Park" on the cover.

The best known track is the menacing "Are 'Friends" Electric?", the first synthpop hit to top the U.K. charts. Asked by a Guardian reader if he was inspired by Ultravox or any other band blending rock and synthesizers, Numan responded:

I had no idea that any kind of electronic scene existed at all. I don't think any of us did, we were all locked away in little rooms in various cities thinking we were the only people that had discovered synths. We were all wrong and it was just luck that gave me the first big electronic single. Plenty of other people had been doing it before I stumbled along.

I remember the first time I heard "Cars" in the United States. Nothing sounded like it before to my inexperienced ears. In the U.K. I'm sure it was the same thing with "Are Friends Electric?". Not everything is driven by synthesizers. The drums are organic which gives the song a breath of humanity even as Numan sings "You know I hate to ask /But are 'friends' electric?/ Only mine's broke down/ And now I've no one to love"

"The Machman" is a terrific deep cut, more rocker than synthpop. "Me, I Disconnect From You" is the opening track of the album, a clear sign that if you were looking for the warmth of James Taylor and Cat Stevens, you had purchased the wrong record.

Robert Christgau, the dean of rock critics,  gave the album a B+ writing;

Resistant as I am to the new strain of synthesizer punk now reaching us from England, I didn't connect to this for months--not until I listened to the singing. Numan's lyrics abound with aliens and policemen and pickups in what sounds at first like the worst sort of received decadence, but his monotone is too sweet and vulnerable for that impression to stick. To you it may be sordid sex and middlebrow sci-fi; to him it's romance and horror. The debut (Tubeway Army, Beggar's Banquet import) is faster, more pointed, and includes no instrumentals. This is catchier, more haunted, and includes two.

Monday, April 29, 2019

You're So Hot, Teasing Me

ABBA : Does Your Mother Know

On April 27, 1979 ABBA released "Does Your Mother Know", the first single from their upcoming album Voulez Vous. The 34 year old guitarist Björn Ulvaeus gets a rare opportunity to sing lead, telling some young jailbait he's not interested in the kind of fun she's suggesting. Though maybe they could dance and flirt together. Meanwhile his beautiful blonde wife Agneta has to sing "But I can't take a chance on a chick like you". They would be divorced within a year.

Nevertheless, it;s a catchy tune that topped the charts in Belgium, and reached the top 5 in Great Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands. In the United States it was a Top 20 hit. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hot 100 Debuts April 28, 1979

Raydio : You Can't Change That

On April 28, 1979, the week Blondie's "Heart of Glass" hit #1 in the US, a surprising number of the Summer's most memorable tunes debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including Raydio's "You Can't Change That", which would enter the Top 10 in August. A live version of the song appears on the No Nukes album. Raydio's leader Ray Parker Jr. would write and record the #1 smash "Ghostbusters" a few years later. 

Here are some of the other tunes that made their chart debut that week

61 — SHE BELIEVES IN ME –•– Kenny Rogers (peaked at #5)
63 — WE ARE FAMILY –•– Sister Sledge (peaked at #2)
65 — CHUCK E.’S IN LOVE –•– Rickie Lee Jones (peaked at #4)
68 — DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY –•– Van Halen (peaked at #15)

76 — GOOD TIMIN’ –•– The Beach Boys (peaked at #40)
78 — I WANT YOU TO WANT ME –•– Cheap Trick  (peaked at #7)
79 — GEORGY PORGY –•– Toto (peaked at #48)
80 — AIN’T NO STOPPIN’ US NOW –•– McFadden and Whitehead (peaked at #13)

85 — (Wish I Could Fly Like) SUPERMAN –•– The Kinks (peaked at #41)
86 — YOU CAN’T CHANGE THAT –•– Raydio (peaked at #9)
87 — EASY TO BE HARD –•– Hair  / Cheryl Barnes (peaked at #87)
88 — HOW COULD THIS GO WRONG –•– Exile (peaked at #88)
89 — DANCE AWAY –•– Roxy Music (peaked at #44)
91 — MIRROR STAR –•– The Fabulous Poodles (peaked at #91)

94 — BANG A GONG –•– Witch Queen (peaked at #94)
95 — MY BABY’S BABY –•– Liquid Gold (peaked at #45)
96 — MY LOVE IS MUSIC –•– Space (peaked at #96)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Life Is A Pop O' The Cherry

David Bowie : Boys Keep Swinging

On April 27, 1979 David Bowie released the single "Boys Keep Swinging" b/w "Fantastic Voyage" in the U.K. (though not in the United States). Both are tracks from his forthcoming album Lodger and both feature the same chord progression. The major difference is the band, following a suggestion from Brian Eno's deck of Oblique Strategies cards, swapped instruments. Guitarist Carlos Alomar plays drums and drummer Dennis Davis plays bass. Both are solid musicians, but the best musical moment is the guitar solo by Bowie's touring guitarist Adrian Belew., who may have inspired the song with his endless enthusiasm.  He told Uncut Magazine 

"In New York, David was doing vocals for 'Boys Keep Swinging.' He played me it and said: 'This is written after you, in the spirit of you.' I think he saw me as a naïve person who just enjoyed life. I was thrilled with that."

The single peaked at U.K.#7, thanks in part to the video featuring Bowie in drag.

About the song Bowie told Busted Magazine in 2000: 

"The glory in that song is ironic. I do not feel that there is anything remotely glorious about being either male or female. I was merely playing on the idea of the colonization of gender."

Is it better to be one or the other? 

" That is, in my opinion, an absurd question."

Friday, April 26, 2019

Little Mummy's Boy

The Undertones : Jimmy, Jimmy

On April 22, The Undertones single "Jimmy,Jimmy" b/w "Mars Bars" entered the U.K. charts at #57. The single, featuring a cover shot of singer Feargal Sharkey holding a trophy he won at an Irish cultural festival, would peak at U.K.#16, the first of four Top 20 hits for the band from Derry. It's an upbeat rocker about a sickly boy that ends with the line "Now little Jimmy's gone /He disappeared one day/ But no one saw the ambulance /That took little Jim away".

The B side satirically praises Mars Bars for the energy giving glucose and strength building caramel. Sharkey tells David Bowie there is indeed life in Mars.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Dialed About a Thousand Numbers

Donna Summer : Hot Stuff

On April 25, 1979 Donna Summer released Bad Girls, a double album that became the best-selling of her career thanks to the #1 singles "Hot Stuff", "Bad Girls", and the #2 hit "Dim All The Lights".  Disco was still at its height and Summer was still the reigning queen of disco in 1979, but she felt the genre was choking her to death. So she and producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte decided to add elements of rock and funk to the palette.

The first song on the album, and the first single, is "Hot Stuff". That's Doobie Brother and disco hater Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on guitar. The song offers a blueprint for incorporating rock into dance music that Michael Jackson used for "Beat It". Lay down the beat and make room for a rocking guitar solo.  When Summer took the song to Casablanca label chief Neil Bogart, he told her the song rocked too hard for her and suggested she give the song to Cher. She refused, won the argument and scored a #1 hit and a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

The title track was the second single. Summer said she was inspired by an incident involving a Casablanca secretary:

"I was in my office in the old Casablanca building," she said. "I sent my secretary to do something, and the police stopped her on Sunset Boulevard. She was dressed in business attire, but they were trying to pick her up. That ticked me off. I pondered why that would happen to innocent people -- and then I developed compassion for the girls, working on the street." And the "toot-toot, beep-beep" at the end of the track? "I figured, what do guys do when they pick up girls? I had to emulate them tooting their horns."

Fans of the futuristic euro- disco sounds of "I Feel Love" will get more of a kick out of "Sunset People" and "Our Love", both released as singles in 1980 after Summer had left Casablanca for Geffen Records. 

In all Bad Girls sold more than two million copies and finished #10 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll. It might be my favorite of her albums if only I didn't have such a soft spot for "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It" which helps A Love Trilogy top that list.

Critic Robert Christgau gave Bad Girls an A-, writing:

You tend to suspect anyone who releases three double-LPs in eighteen months of delusions of Chicago, but Donna is here to stay and this is her best album. The first two sides, for songs per, never let up -- the voice breaks and the guitars moan over a bass-drum thump in what amounts to empty-headed girl-group rock and roll brought cannily up-to-date. Moroder makes his Europercussion play on side four, which is nice too, but side three drags, suggesting that the rock and roll that surfaces here is perhaps only a stop along the way to a totally bleh total performance. Me, I still love my Marvellettes records.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Her Mouth is Stuffed With Flies

The Soft Boys : Human Music

On April 24, 1979 The Soft Boys released their debut album, A Can of Bees. Led by the irresistible and quirky Robyn Hitchcock and featuring future Katrina and the Waves hitmaker Kimberley Rew, this album may pale in comparison to the follow-up,  Underwater Moonlight, but it does have its moments. "Human Music" is a jangly love song with three part harmonies that could have come from any Robyn Hitchcock album in the last 40 years . It's so pretty you might overlook the bizarre lyrics:

Darkness is the shore of light, 
the truth is framed with lies 
And a girl can smile so sweetly 
though her mouth is stuffed with flies

Robyn Hitchcock wrote about the Soft Boys in 1979 for The Quietus:

Morris (Windsor, drums) and Andy (Metcalfe, bass) inclined to The Beach Boys and Steely Dan; Andy, Kimberley and I were big into Fairport, Richard Thompson, and The Albion Band; while I was magnetized by Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart, but we all loved the Beatles, which marked us out, irrevocably, from the permitted heroes of punk. As we learned to play electric music, we festooned it with harmonies and booby-trapped it with odd time signatures.

Hitchcock goes on to write the album that was ignored by everyone but a few record store clerks in the United States ( Like future R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck).

The Can of Bees tour was a demoralizing experience: long silences in the van punctuated by Kimberley sighing, "Looks like rain."

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hold On To That Paper

Talking Heads : Paper

By the spring of 1979 Talking Heads were ready to record their third album. They had survived an appearance on American Bandstand in March, where David Byrne sang "Take Me To The River" while the rest of the band pantomimed playing their instruments. 

After the song was over, Dick Clark headed over to interview the band. David Byrne froze up a bit. His interview reminds me of my mildly autistic son trying to answer an adult. Tina Weymouth explains "David is organically shy".

On April 22, 1979 a Record Plant truck parked outside Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth's loft ( See video below at 14:50) . Audio cables were run through the windows. This is where the band always rehearsed so why not try to record here?

Byrne has some songs all ready. One was about paper. Another one was about New York (30:15 on the video below) . A third was about air. (23:14 on the video below . Both of Tina's sisters would perform backing vocals as "The Sweetbreaths"). This time, the band really wanted producer Brian Eno to go all out and help make what would become Fear of Music the weirdest and funkiest album ever recorded.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Waiting On a Friend

The Rolling Stones : Before They Make Me Run 

On April 22, 1979 Keith Richards had some company when he played two benefit shows for the blind, as he was sentenced to do by a Canadian judge after his conviction for heroin possession. First Keith played a set with The New Barbarians (featuring Ron Woods, Meters drummer Ziggy Modeliste, Stanley Clarke on bass and Rolling Stones sidemen Ian McLagan and Bobby Keys) that included "I Can Feel the Fire" and "Before They Make Me Run". The lights went down, then came back up as Keith sat alone on a stool with an acoustic guitar playing the opening notes to "Prodigal Sun". The singer who appeared next to him drew a roar from the crowd. It was Mick Jagger. When the song ended, the test of The Rolling Stones joined them to play a nine song set drawn heavily from Some Girls.

The papers that morning suggested the beneficiary, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, would lose money from the cost of renting the hall. 

“Listen,” Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone's Chet Flippo, “the judge’s sentence was to play for the disabled. Not for money. If it’d just been a matter of charity, of providing money, we’d have just written them a check. But the judge wanted Keith to perform, so we put on a show.”

Two shows actually. Both bootlegged under the name Blind Date and Blind Date Revisited.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

No Fear of Tomorrow

The Pop Group : We Are Time

On April 20, 1979 The Pop Group released Y, an album that went mostly unnoticed in America but is now regarded as one of the most important albums ever made by the likes of Pitchfork (Top 100 Albums of the 1970s) , The Wire (The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made) and Uncut (The 100 Greatest Debut Albums). At the time of its release NME described the album as "a brave failure. Exciting but exasperating." 

To me this album sounds like what happens when you tell every talented member of a band they should play their instruments the way Mike Garson played his avant-garde piano solo on David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane".

Since 1996 the album has started with their previously discussed  breakthrough single "She is Beyond Good and Evil". The most memorable of the tracks on the original debut album is "We Are Time". You wouldn't want to walk into a dark empty farm house with this playing on your headphones but it's catchy as hell. 

The album came out at a time when critics and music fans were wondering what would be the next step after punk. The older critics heard he influences of Captain Beefheart, Kratutrock, dub reggae, and Albert Ayler . They helped hype the band which landed supporting roles on tours with Pere Ubu and Patti Smith.

What you may miss the first few times you listen to Y is the radical political views of the band. In an interview with Simon Reynolds for his book of post-punk interviews called Totally Wired, leader Mark Stewart says they were questioning everything.

When we were ranting, we meant it from the heart – it was all coming out in a mad rush. But we were questioning so many things, and that questioning came out of punk. When I first heard the Pistols and Clash, I really thought they were questioning the value of everything. We felt we had to challenge with the music as much as through the lyrics. And really go for it. Talking to people, the power of some of those Pop Group shows . . . I still meet people to this day who say it gave them a shared fiery feeling. That there were other people who felt as frustrated as they did.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Natty Dreadlocks

Black Uhuru : Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

In 1979 the Jamaican roots reggae band Black Uhuru released Showcase, a collection of seven mesmerizing tracks by the line-up that would create some of the best reggae albums ever made. Michael Rose, with his Middle Eastern vocal stylings, and Duckie Simpson had now been joined by Sandra "Puma" Jones, a former social worker who hailed from Columbia, South Carolina. Produced by Sly and Robbie for their labelTaxi Records, they recorded "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", inspired by the Sidney Poitier movie.

The song "Shine Eye Girl" features Keith Richards on rhythm guitar. This is the album that started Black Uhuru mania. Look for the album under the reissued title Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Soon signed to Island Records, they were the great reggae hope after the death of Bob Marley. They made some great albums. 1981's Red is a classic and Anthem is the one I played all the time. 

Michael Rose left for a solo career in the mid '80s and Puma Jones died of cancer in 1990. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Brave New Cattle

Ze Ramalho : The Devil's Fight with the Owner of Heaven

 In 1979, the Brazilian songwriter Ze Ramalho released A Peleja do Diabo com o Dono do Céu (The Match of the Devil with the Owner of Heaven), his second solo album. Now, I am always at a disadvantage discussing Brazilian rock and folk stars because I know absolutely no Portuguese. I've always been attracted by the feel of the music and had at best a cursory sense of what the lyrics mean. The title track begins with lyrics that translate "With so much money spinning in the world /Who has, asks a lot; who does not have, ask for more".

Ramalho is a big reader, an intellectual and a fan of Bob Dylan. He's recorded both "Knockin On Heaven's Door" and "Mr Tambourine Man". He's also skilled at wordplay, taking musical influences from the Northeast part of Brazil and incorporating them into his music. He may best be known for his  biting social criticism.

The biggest single from the album translates into "Brave New Cattle". It calls out apathetic Brazilians for  letting their freedoms be curtailed by dictatorial government of Ernesto Geisel. Geisel led the military regime from 1974 to 1979, only to succeeded by another general, João Figueiredo:  

The people flee from ignorance 
Though they live so close to her 
And dream of better times gone 
Contemplate this life in a cell

For perspective, in the United States the lyrics that moved us the most in 1979 were "Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind /I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind /My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa! M-m-m-my Sharona".

I want to add this comment to the post because it adds so much context. I am learning as I explore 70's music and am always willing to bow to someone who knows more about any subject:

Hi, great to know that you appreciate Brazilian music. Brave New Cattle was a big hit at this time along with other great songs from Zé. BTW, I think you will also love the first record "Zé Ramalho". "Avohai" and "Chão de Giz" were also hits in Brazil. Zé is actually from the Northeast from the country and there you also find great artists like Alceu Valença (one of my favorites), Geraldo Carneiro, Elba Ramalho, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and lot more. Also, the guy with the black hat was "Zé do Caixão" "Coffin Zé" a famous actor in Brazil with his terror movies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Kisses Taste Like Magic

Teena Marie : I'm a Sucker For your Love

In April of 1979 Teena "Lady T" Marie released her debut single "I'm A Sucker For Your Love", a duet with her friend and mentor Rick James. This funky classic became a Top 10 R+B hit in the US and peaked at U.K.#43. Thanks to a bland album cover, nobody knew Teena Marie wasn't black until she made the first of many appearances on Soul Train.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Dignity Of Labour

The Human League : The Dignity of Labour

Five months after a backstage visit by David Bowie who would then tell the NME he'd seen the future of music, The Human League released their first EP, The Dignity of Labour Pts 1-4 in April of 1979. This isn't The Human League of "Don't You Want Me", this is a band made up of 70s experimental sci fi buffs who'd offered the world "Being Boiled" a summer earlier. That was kind of the big bang of synth pop.

This is a strange follow-up: four instrumentals inspired by the Soviet space program. That's cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to ever enter space,  on the cover. It all sounds like Kraftwerk junior to these ears. Best as a music bed for  "Techno 2000" DJ's. 

The clip below also contains the flexidisc with the band arguing about the cover.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Chairman of the Bored

Iggy Pop : I'm Bored

In April of 1979 Iggy Pop released New Values, cited as one of the 13 favorite albums of The Pixies's Frank Black who told The Quietus  "There’s honest admission of frailties and the human condition. It is saying, 'I am the lamest, I am the shortest.' It’s still bravado and fuck you, get out of my way, it’s not just saying I want to fuck you either. He’s trying to say some stuff. It’s not diary rock. When Iggy gets poetic, he’s the best Iggy. "

To be forever compared to the pair of Bowie produced masterpieces that preceded it, New Values shows Iggy teaming up with fellow ex Stooge James Williamson behind the board and touring Stooge Scott Thurston playing most of the instruments. Pop told NME's Nick Kent that the album is really about the things that concern James Osterberg. Things like? Well, first of all, that he's bored. He's the Chairman of the Bored.

And second of all, at Five Foot Seven he is no giant, though he might look like one to someone who is Five Foot One. 

I think this might be my favorite Iggy Pop album because we get to hear Iggy Pop unchained from the influences of David Bowie. He's a funny guy."I got a hot-ass pair of shoulders" he sings on the title track. "I love girls," he sings on "Girls", "I like to look at cha." Yes, the song "African Man" is a bad idea especially when he adds monkey chants but the everything else has great energy. 

New Values received quite a bit of critical praise finishing #15 in the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Critics Poll. Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B+ writing:

This album provides what it advertises only to those who consider Iggy a font of natural wisdom--there are such people, you know. But it does get at least partway over on the strength of a first side that has the casual, hard-assed, funny feel of a good blues session--except that it rocks harder, which ain't bad.

Stereogum ranked the album the 3rd best of the entire Iggy Pop/The Stooges catalogue, ahead of all but Lust For Life and Fun House and calling it "secretly one of the best records of his career"

Sunday, April 14, 2019

U.S. Top 20 April 14, 1979


The Doobie Brothers : What a Fool Believes

On April 14, 1979 The Doobie Brothers returned to the top of the U.S. Hot 100 charts for the first time since in five years when "Black Water" hit number one. Beneath them, a buttload of disco from Gloria Gaynor, Amii Stewart, Wings, Cher,  The Jacksons and Rod Stewart and some easy listening tunes by Anne Murray, Little River Band and Frank Mills who recorded "Music Box Dancer" five years earlier.

1 2 WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES –•– The Doobie Brothers (Warner Brothers)-13 (1 week at #1) (1) 
2 1 I WILL SURVIVE –•– Gloria Gaynor (Polydor)-18 (1) 
3 7 KNOCK ON WOOD –•– Amii Stewart (Ariola America)-12 (3) 
4 4 SULTANS OF SWING –•– Dire Straits (Warner Brothers)-10 (4) 
5 6 MUSIC BOX DANCER –•– Frank Mills (Polydor)-12 (5) 

6 3 TRAGEDY –•– Bee Gees (RSO)-10 (1) 
7 15 REUNITED –•– Peaches and Herb (Polydor)-5 (7) 
8 9 HEART OF GLASS –•– Blondie (Chrysalis)-9 (8) 
9 11 STUMBLIN’ IN –•– Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman (RSO)-12 (9) 
10 10 LADY –•– Little River Band (Harvest)-15 (10) 

 11 13 I WANT YOUR LOVE –•– Chic (Atlantic)-10 (11) 
12 12 I JUST FALL IN LOVE AGAIN –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-12 (12) 
13 16 GOODNIGHT TONIGHT –•– Wings (Columbia)-3 (13) 
14 21 IN THE NAVY –•– The Village People (Casablanca)-5 (14) 
15 19 HE’S THE GREATEST DANCER –•– Sister Sledge (Cotillion)-10 (15) 

16 17 LIVIN’ IT UP (Friday Night) –•– Bell and James (A+M)-12 (16) 
17 20 TAKE ME HOME –•– Cher (Casablanca)-10 (17) 
18 5 SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING –•– Peaches and Herb (Polydor)-17 (5) 
19 8 DA YA THINK I’M SEXY? –•– Rod Stewart (Warner Brothers)-17 (1) 
20 30 SHAKE YOUR BODY (Down To the Ground) –•– The Jacksons (Epic)-9 (20)

And entering the charts at #88:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Insinuate, Intimidate and Complicate

Thin Lizzy : Do Anything You Want To Do

On April 13, 1979 Thin Lizzy released Black Rose : A Rock Legend, one of the year's best albums. Recording in Paris with Tony Visconti producing, this melodic, hard rocking album showcases the guitar theatrics of off and on member Gary Moore. The opening track is "Do Anything You Want To Do", a U.K.#14 hit. The video below is typical of the era, with the band playing in front of a wall wall.

Both Phil Lynott and the other guitarist Scott Gorham were chasing the dragon during sessions, strung out on smack. It's a credit to Visconti and Moore that the album sounds as tight as it does. Fans consider this among their very best releases.

On "Got to Give It Up", Lynott addresses his drug problem. 

Tell my sister I'm sinking slow 
Now and again I powder my nose 
In the end I lost my bottle 
It smashed in a casaba

A casaba is a melon. Yeah, I had to look that up.

Gary Moore couldn't put up with the heroin abuse and walked. he was replaced by future Ultravox lead man Midge Ure.

Friday, April 12, 2019

To Play Without a Paracute

Lou Reed : The Bells

In April of 1979, Lou Reed released The Bells, an album that "dropped into a dark well" as Reed himself said. I'm only listening to it for the first time this month, egged on by an ecstatic contemporaneous review by Lester Bangs in his last ever for Rolling Stone:

The Bells isn’t merely Lou Reed’s best solo LP, it’s great art. Everybody made a fuss over Street Hassle, but too many reviewers overlooked the fact that it was basically a sound album: brilliant layers of live and studio work in a deep wash of bass-obsessive noise. Most of the songs were old, and not very good, with a lot of the same old cheap shots...all through (The Bells), Reed plays the best guitar anyone’s heard from him in ages. As for the lyrics — well, people tend to forget that in numbers like “Candy Says,” “Sunday Morning” and “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” Lou Reed wrote some of the most compassionate songs ever recorded.

I'm now halfway through the album and I'm not hearing the brilliance Lester Bangs is celebrating. In fact, I've never heard Reed sing like this. So hyper on some of these tracks.  He sounds like the comedian John Mulvaney imitating himself as a kid.

The Bells is a strange collection with three songs written in a short partnership with Crazy Horse's Nils Lofgren ("City Lights", "Stupid Man", "With You") who did not play on the album. Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry joined the sessions and can be heard on the nine minute title track, one of Reed's all time favorite recordings. What is it about? Reed said the lyrics came as he sang them and every time he hears "The Bells" it means something different. 

Another notable track is "Disco Mystic", which Bangs thought should have been a hit. Arista Records' Clive Davis didn't hear a single. The label didn't support the album, which peaked at 130 on Billboard's Top 200 Album chart. Reed would release only one album for Arista  before he'd have to go label shopping again. 

On the bright side, Reed was living in Blairstown New Jersey outside the city and reportedly weaning himself off of drugs. He and Sylvia Morales had an 18 acre wooded property where Reed would shoot baskets and snack on fruits and nuts.

"I really love it. It smells great. Even if you wanted to do something there's nothing here. It's appalling how much sleep I get."

In 1980 Lou and Sylvia would get married.

O.K., I've listened to the whole album and I think the best cut is "Families", which sounds like an honest assessment of his relationship with his mom, dad and kid sister. They apparently weren't all that happy with the song.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dared to Knock

Sun Ra : Door of the Cosmos

In 1979 the experimental jazz composer and cosmic philosopher and visitor from Saturn, Sun Ra,  and his Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra released the ultra smooth Sleeping Beauty. "Door of the Cosmos" is one of three tracks on the album, singled out by Pitchfork's Sheldon Pearce as one of 200 best songs of the 1970's.

 Written and arranged by Ra, the track is a wonder, a shot of that prism of light he claims beamed him down from the stars and started his revolution all those years ago.

The music gets wilder as Pharoah Sanders blows his horn. Some people claim this nine minute jam has the power to heal. The album is ranked among the top 10 of 1979 by the user reviewed database Rate Your Music.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Can't Control My Dreams

Emmylou Harris and Don Everly : Every Time You Leave

In April of 1979, Emmylou Harris released Blue Kentucky Girl, a Grammy winning collection of mostly classic country songs, many sung with other artists including Don Everly on the excellent Louvin Brothers cover "Every Time You Leave". Married to producer Brian Ahern and raising three children, Harris continues to explore the roots of contemporary country music.

This is the album where you'll find Emmylou's cover of "Hickory Wind", the most touching of Gram Parsons songs and the one she'd sing back up to when they toured together.  She sounds as homesick as an orphan.

"Beneath Still Waters" , originally recorded by George Jones, would hit #1 in 1980 while both "Save the Last Dance for Me" (originally recorded by The Drifters)  and the title track (originally recorded by Loretta Lynn) were Top 10 Country hits. 

Also notable is the track "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" featuring Dolly Parton and an uncredited Linda Ronstadt years before their hugely successful 1987 Trio album came out. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Dead and Dank and Rotten

Monochrome Set : Eine Symphonie Des Grauens

In April of 1979,  Monochrome Set released the single "Eine Symphonie Des Grauens", which translates into "The Symphony of Horrors", the subtitle of F.W. Murnau's 1922 vampire film Nosferatu. It is sung from the point of view of a vampire in love or at least blood lust.

I'm dead and dank and rotten 
My arms are wrapped in cotton 
My corpse loves you, let's marry 

As a track on the 1982 Cherry Red compilation Pillows and Prayers, the song got a lot of play on my college radio station. Without a lyric sheet handy, I doubt anyone figured out the subject matter of the song. We just liked the vibe.

The Monochrome Set are still playing. Last month they played several North American dates in support of a new album and box set. They closed their shows with their love song of the living dead.