Saturday, June 24, 2017

Demonstrating Love and Affection

One of the most exuberant singles of the disco era, the Emotions' Grammy winning "Best of My Love" would top the R and B charts for three weeks beginning  June 25,1977. The song, written by Earth Wind and Fire's Maurice White and Al McKay and performed by members of EWF, would top the US pop charts for five straight weeks. Shout out to Wanda Hutchinson for hitting the big vibrato notes, though all three ladies are taking us to church!

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Passage of Time

On June 24 of 1977, James Taylor released his first album for Columbia Records and his biggest selling studio album JT. It was one of the purchases that arrived in my dorm room one winter day after I had joined the Columbia Records and Tapes club with about three million other subscribers. 

The passage of time has streaked by, but I still have great affection for this album. Taylor is in great voice, even though he was still battling his drug demons. The slow songs are extremely thoughtful and rewarding to the close listener while the fast songs actually rock. Sweet Baby James is his best but I'd argue this comes second.

The dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau gave JT a B, writing

 James sounds both awake--worth a headline in itself--and in touch; maybe CBS gave him a clock radio for opening an account there. "Handy Man" is a transcendent sex ballad, while "I Was Only Telling a Lie" and "Secret o' Life" evoke comparison with betters on the order of the Stones and Randy Newman, so that the wimpy stuff--which still predominates--sounds merely laid-back in contrast. Best since Sweet Baby James, shit--some of this is so wry and lively and committed his real fans may find it obtrusive

Rolling Stone's Peter Herbst called JT a welcome comeback album, writing:

JT is James Taylor coming out of his personal closet. In "Looking for Love on Broadway" he sings, "Had my fill of self-pity," and that's epochal stuff for the man who almost single-handedly developed the eyes-affixed-to-the-navel songwriting and performing posture. Yet the album supports Taylor's claim.

 Only one song on JT, "Another Grey Morning," even skirts depression, and that song illustrates Taylor's evolution rather neatly. The form and content of Taylor's most striking work have always reflected an intense duality: the imagery was all "night and day," the singing hauntingly schizoid. Taylor could sound icily calm intoning lyrics such as "Ain't it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind," or couch his most distressingly unhappy lyrics in jaunty tunes like "Sunny Skies."

But "Another Grey Morning" makes no bones about its intentions; it makes no effort to put on a happy front. It's about the effect of one person's depression on another, and Taylor's stirring imagery and singing evoke emotion rather than flatten it. In fact (not to get too academic), his use of gray rather than his traditional black and white signals a psychological and artistic breakthrough.

 There are all kinds of evidence of that breakthrough on JT. The singing throughout is ringingly warm, the phrasing relaxed and intelligent. And the variety of material allows Taylor to span a broad emotional range. On Danny Kortchmar's seething "Honey Don't Leave L.A.," Taylor keys the song with his rough, authoritative reading of the line, "They don't know nothing down in St. Tropez." Taylor is actually a pretty convincing rock singer here, as he is on the album's unabashedly happy opener, "Your Smiling Face." 

 Taylor presses his luck occasionally, but at least he's taking risks. On "I Was Only Telling a Lie" he seems to be imitating Tom Rush's posturing lower register (as in "Who Do You Love?"), and his attempt to evoke a déclassé atmosphere in the same song ("half flat six-pack of lukewarm beer") is a little strained. Strained, too, is his gospel-jazz novelty, "Traffic Jam." Taylor tells us "how I hates to be late," not even realizing, I suspect, the meaning of the use of such archaic black idioms.

 But the risk taking generally pays off. "Bartender's Blues" could have been a sendup of country and  western were its chorus not so utterly convincing. And Taylor's remake of Jimmy Jones' mile-a-minute "Handy Man" is so unlikely that it vitiates the usual criticisms of Taylor's soul interpretations. Taylor's sensually slow version of "Handy Man" is a masterpiece of adaptation and singing. As an uptempo number it was slightly adolescent; through Taylor's gentle cooing the song becomes more overtly, and successfully, sexual.

 JT is the least stiff and by far the most various album Taylor has done. That's not meant to criticize Taylor's earlier efforts — I'm a fan of even his most dolorous work. But it's nice to hear him sounding so healthy.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ev'rything You Fling Rock Stone

The 70's streak continues for Burning Spear who follows up the one-two punch of Marcus Garvey and Man in the Hills with another excellent album, Dry and Heavy.  That's despite the fact that Burning Spear is no longer a trio but Winston Rodney all on his own. Robert Christgau gave the album a B , writing:

 The sweetness of Winston Rodney's vocals here is surprisingly acute--especially on the unselfrighteous nonviolence sermon "Throw Down Your Arms," the generalized love song "Any River," and the title cut, an impressionistically spaced-out reminiscence of his schooldays. But despite the welcome crib sheet I don't find that any of the other tracks holds my attention. That's the way it is with sweetness.

His anti-war song "Throw Down Your Arms" ends with laughter, infusing it with optimism.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Punish the Punks!

On June 18, 1977, the day The Sex Pistols began recording the rest of the tracks that would make up their classic Never Mind The Bollocks debut album, Johnny Rotten was attacked by a gang of nine men wielding razors and at least one machete outside the Pegasus pub in Islington, London. The attack left him with a slashed arm and tendon damage.

Six days earlier, after the Pistols sabotaged the Queen's jubilee,  The Sunday Mirror ran story with the headline "Punish the Punks!" Apparently some readers took it to heart.

 Johnny Rotten:

Chris Thomas and I were in the Pegasus, just around the corner from Wessex Studios,’[Rotten] says, ‘and as we left, we were attacked in the car park by a gang of knife-wielding yobs, who were chanting, ‘We love our Queen, you bastard!’ Normally I’d say they were National Front, but a third of them were black. They were just lads out for violence. I got some bad cuts from that. It severed two tendons, so my left hand is fucked forever, and as I’m left-handed, I can’t close the fist properly. I’ll never play guitar: there’s no power to it. I jumped into the car and someone jumped after me with a machete and cut me from there [he points to his thigh about a foot down] . . . to there [his knee]. I had on extremely thick leather trousers at the time, thank fucking God, because it would have ripped the muscle out and now I’d be a one-legged hoppity.'”

There were other attacks in June of 1977. Pistols drummer Paul Cook was attacked the next day by six men who struck him with a crowbar. Gaye Advert and TV Smith of The Adverts were beaten up on June 21. At the hospital they were asked what did they expect, dressing up like that? Rotten again was brutalized two days later. On the last day of the month , The Damned's front man Dave Vanian was attacked in his dressing room, sustaining a dislocated shoulder.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Better Off Dead

On June 20, 1977 The Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart was driving his porsche home from a local club when he lost control of his car, crashing through a guardrail. A tree prevented Hart's car from  tumbling down a ravine. Hart emerged with a broken collarbone, smashed ribs and a broken arm. "I opened my eyes [in the hospital] and Jerry was there: 'You look like shit!'" he says.

Hart needed two month of rehab which meant the Dead would not be able to immediately tour to promote their debut album for their new label, Arista. It was called Terrapin Station, named for the epic, side-long suite.

Dead fans had to occupy themselves with The Grateful Dead movie, released earlier in the month. It's a concert film shot over the course of a five night stand  at San Francisco's Winterland.A midnight movie classic, it received rave reviews form the Dead's other drummer Bill Kreutzmann.

"Producing that thing really consumed Jerry’s time, on a day-to-day basis, throughout the hiatus. ... What are you going to do in that situation? Say, 'Okay, you can only have this much money and if the thing’s not complete, who cares, wrap it up?' Or are you going to find more money for it and let it become a really worthy project that your band leader and good friend really believes in?... as Jerry had known all along, it captured and defined our identity, since it had the visual element to go along with the music, the animation to go along with the interviews, and the B-roll that really showed viewers with their own eyes the circus that was a Grateful Dead show in San Francisco circa 1974. ... the part of the movie that ate up the biggest slice of the budget and took the most amount of work – the animated sequence in the beginning – is my favorite part. Back then, animation was all done by hand, frame by frame"

On September 3rd the band returns to the road in front of more than 100,000 people at Englishtown Raceway in New Jersey. They hadn't lost a step.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Oooh My Head Is Spinnin'

On June 19, 1977 CBS Television taped the Elvis Presley concert in Omaha, Nebraska. It would be one of the last concerts the King would ever perform. There are some good moments to be sure, but after paying $750,000 for the rights to a concert special, CBS executives were shocked by how "off", how sweaty and how out of shape Presley seemed.

By this point Presley was heavily medicated for pain. He had serious constipation problems, going weeks without a bowel movement. And yet he would gorge himself on junk food. It is no accident that he died on the toilet two months later. It is also interesting to note that by age 42, Presley's hair was as white as sheet. He dyed it black.

Some highlights from the video below: 
at 8:30 he admits he's nervous to the delight of the fans
at 23:00 he begins handing towels out to screaming women, something he does throughout the show
29:00 he sing "Little Sister" as part of a medley of hits
at 1:00:00 he gives "Hurt" a heartfelt performance that makes you concerned for his heart.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

You'd Be About 60 Now

On June 17, Hawkwind released Quark, Strangeness and Charm, an album full of all three qualities. Quark, not to be mistaken for the sound a duck makes, is a scientific term for a subatomic particle. It's the kind of thing science fiction buffs long time Hawkwind associate Michael Moorcock and the band's new vocalist Robert Calvert could spend hours discussing. Moorcock's friend, Michael Butterworth, has just written a SF novel, The Time of the Hawklords, about a fantasy version of the band whose instruments has the power to save the world.

Ignored by Rolling Stone and regarded only as the birthplace of Motorhead by Spin, Hawkwind received little fanfare in America and even less after bassist Lemmy Kilmister . I was one of those who almost didn't bother listening to Quark. So I was surprised by how much I liked this album. It's a new sound for Hawkwind, more poppy especially on the title cut which sounds like a Roxy Music outtake.

For some fans, this is the favorite album. I've actually had a hard time figuring out what song to spotlight. "Hassan-i Sabbah" has a cool Middle Eastern vibe. "Damnation Alley" is a post apocalyptic rocker. But I've settled on "Spirit of the Age" which begins with ear splitting electronic noises before settling into a krautock vibe and lyrics that tell the tale of a space traveler who has to leave his girlfriend on earth:

I would've liked you to have been deep frozen too 
And waiting still as fresh in your flesh for my return to Earth 
But your father refused to sign the forms to freeze you 
Let's see you'd be about 60 now, 
And long dead by the time I return to Earth 
My time held dreams were full of you, 
As you were when I left; 
Still underage
Your android replica is playing up again
Oh, it's no joke 
When she comes she moans another's name