Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nasty Little Feet

Irony. Something most people seemed to get in the 1970's when Randy Newman could write a song like "Short People", making fun of racists, sexists and what Newman called "sizists" and hit #2 in the U.S. Today, you visit the YouTube page of the video below and  you get comments like "THIS IS RACIST TOWARDS MIDGESTS, PLEASE, STOP IT NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and "It was the most offensive and stupid song of the seventies."

Granted, if you were beaten up in middle school by bullies who felt empowered by this song, you have every right to hate "Short People", the first single from the album Little Criminals which was released on September 23, 1977.

Randy should write a song called "Be Kind to Midgests" just to make up for all the turmoil he brought into the lives of bad spelling short people.

Here is the Playboy review of the album  :

Little Criminals is Randy Newman's first album in... hell, we don't even want to count the years. In his absence, a whole generation of semi-demented, would-be perverts calling themselves punk rockers has tried to cop his act. We aren't calling Newman the first punk rocker -- for one thing, he's intelligent. For another, his piano belongs in a Salvation Army band or a smoky San Francisco bawdyhouse. But we are calling Newman perverted, wry and one of our favorite crazies. The long-awaited album is everything we hoped for. There's a vicious song about short people. There's a song about a city that begins with the letter B (first "Birmingham," now "Baltimore." Next stop, Berkeley?). There are hypnotic love songs with simple phrases running over chords like worry beads. There's a patriotic number called "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America." The album's getting plenty of airplay; it might even make Newman a star.

And from Robert Christgau who gave the "disappointing" album a B+ grade:

Always the master craftsman, Newman doesn't waste a second here, doesn't permit an inept lyrical insight or musical fillip. But over the past three years he doesn't seem to have written one song that ranks with his best. Among all these explorations of America's dirty white underbelly, only the out-and-out jokes -- the gross intolerance of "Short People" and the Eagles music on "Rider in the Rain" -- distinguish themselves. Very disappointing.

Monday, September 25, 2017

You're My Guitar Hero

On September 23, 1977 The Clash released the single "Complete Control", an angry response to their record label CBS releasing "Remote Control" as a single without the band's permission:

They said release 'Remote Control'
But we didn't want it on the label
They said, "Fly to Amsterdam"
The people laughed but the press went mad
 Ooh ooh ooh someone's really smart
Ooh ooh ooh complete control, that's a laugh

Most bands had some line like "complete artistic control" in their record contract, but as The Clash learned, there was no way to enforce such a thing. Maybe, in retrospect,  signing with CBS was not the most "punk" thing they could have done.

They said we'd be artistically free 
When we signed that bit of paper T
hey meant let's make a lotsa mon-ee 
An' worry about it later

One of the 77's greatest musical moments happens into the song when Joe Strummer cheers on Mick Jones's solo with the line "You're my guitar hero!". The first Clash song to feature new drummer Nicky "Topper" Headon, it was originally recorded with reggae great Lee "Scratch " Perry at the console.

The single peaked at #28 in the UK and was included on the US version of the debut album.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What Ever Happened to Leon Trotsky

On September 23, 1977 The Stranglers released No More Heroes, the band's second and nastiest album. To help promote the record, The Stranglers appeared on Top Pops in Amsterdam to mime the title track.  After a couple of bad takes, the band switched instruments. Drummer Jet Black playing guitar. J J Burnell attacking the drums. Hugh Cornwell doing a wretched job on keyboards and Dave Greenfield pretending to sing. One of 1977's punkiest moments and absolutely entertaining.

Clearly The Stranglers were out to offend again, with songs like "I Feel Like a Wog" and "Bring on the Nubiles" (Lemme lemme fuck ya fuck ya /Lemme lemme fuck ya fuck ya /Lemme lemme lick your lucky smiles).

Jon Savage savaged the album, writing "The Stranglers offer nothing positive...no life force, nothing vital. Not so it's frightening, just dull and irritating"

NME's Tony Parsons adds "Just like gonorrhea, The Stranglers' music is way to catchy for anyone to be certain they will not fall under its lethal spell."

But it was Mick Jagger who had the most read review:

"Don't you think The Stranglers are the worst thing you've ever fuckin' heard?  I do . They're hideous, rubbishy. ..so bloody stupid. Fuckin' nauseatin' they are!"

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Just For One Day

On September 23, 1977 David Bowie released the greatest single of the year, "Heroes" b/w "V-2 Schneider". Though it's often thought of as an ass kicking song about two lovers taking on the world, upon closer inspection it's a sad tune about lovers hanging in there "just for one day".

The backing track Bowie sang on MARC sounded nothing like the final version.

  Though not a big hit upon its release, "Heroes" is the high point of Bowie's Berlin trilogy. The song may have even got its name from the Neu song "Hero". You can hear the Velvet Underground influence as well. Songwriting credit goes to Bowie and Brian Eno. Producer Tony Visconti played a big role and even sings backing vocals. Carlos Alomar plays guitar. George Murray is on bass and Dennis Davis is on drums. But the most famous contribution is from Robert Fripp who layed down three guitar solos the first three times he heard the song. In the clip below Visconti says the solos were pretty but meaningless until he layered all three of them together. These master class stories always fascinate me.

All that was missing were the lyrics. Bowie asked Visconti and others to leave him alone so he could come up with something. Among the inspirations Bowie quoted is the Otto Mueller painting Lovers Between Garden Walls.  

Another bit of inspiration came by accident when Bowie looked out the window and caught the married Visconti in an embrace with backing vocalist Antonia Maas. She would later help Bowie translate Heroes into "Helden", the German version.

Upon its release "Heroes" was not met with widespread praise. The NME's Charlie Gillett famously stated
  "Well he had a pretty good run for our money, for a guy who was no singer. But I think his time has been and gone, and this just sounds weary. Then again, maybe the ponderous heavy riff will be absorbed on the radio, and the monotonous feel may just be hypnotic enough to drag people into buying it. I hope not".

Friday, September 22, 2017

Drink Scotch Whiskey All Night Long

On September 23, 1977 Steely Dan released Aja, the very apex of studio crafted rock perfection; the height of jazz/rock fusion (even if that jazz veers more towards something you'd hear in a lounge rather than at the Village Vanguard.) With the help of nearly 40 musicians, Donald Fagen and the recently passed Walter Becker now come across as older, wiser beatniks without losing their sarcasm, sense of humor or warmth.

Among the album's fans was Ian Dury who said "Well, Aja's got a sound that lifts your heart up.. and it's the most consistent up-full, heart-warming.. even though, it is a classic LA kinda sound. You wouldn't think it was recorded anywhere else in the world. It's got California through its blood, even though they are boys from New York... It's a record that sends my spirits up, and really when I listen to music, really that's what I want."

From Robert Christgau's B+ review:

Carola suggests that by now they realize they'll never get out of El Lay, so they've elected to sing in their chains like the sea. After all, to a certain kind of reclusive aesthete, well-crafted West Coast studio jazz is as beautiful as anything else, right? Only I'm no recluse. I hated this record for quite a while before I realized that, unlike The Royal Scam, it was stretching me some; I still find the solo licks of Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, et al. too fucking tasty, but at least in this context they mean something. I'm also grateful to find Fagen and Becker's collegiate cynicism in decline; not only is "Deacon Blues" one of their strongest songs ever, it's also one of their warmest. Now if only they'd rhymed "I cried when I wrote this song" with "Sue me if I play it wrong," instead of "Sue me if I play too long." Preferring long to wrong could turn into their fatal flaw

Here's Michael Duffy's review in Rolling Stone :

Aja is the third Steely Dan album since songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen discarded a fixed-band format in late 1974. Since then they have declined to venture beyond the insular comfort of L.A. studios, recording their compositions with a loose network of session musicians. As a result, the conceptual framework of their music has shifted from the pretext of rock and roll toward a smoother, awesomely clean and calculated mutation of various rock, pop and jazz idioms. Their lyrics... remain as pleasantly obtuse and cynical as ever.

 Aja will continue to fuel the argument by rock purists that Steely Dan's music is soulless, and by its calculated nature antithetical to what rock should be. But this is in many ways irrelevant to a final evaluation of this band, the only group around with no conceptual antecedent from the Sixties. Steely Dan's six albums contain some of the few important stylistic innovations in pop music in the past decade. By returning to swing and early be-bop for inspiration -- before jazz diverged totally from established conventions of pop-song structure -- Fagen and Becker have overcome the amorphous quality that has plagued most other jazz-rock fusion attempts.

"Peg" and "Josie" illustrate this perfectly: tight, modal tunes with good hooks in the choruses, solid beats with intricate counter rhythms and brilliantly concise guitar solos. Like most of the rest of Aja, these songs are filled out with complex horn charts, synthesizers and lush background vocals that flirt with schmaltzy L.A. jazz riffs. When topped by Fagen's singing, they sound like production numbers from an absurdist musical comedy.

 The title cut is the one song on Aja that shows real growth in Becker's and Fagen's songwriting capabilities and departs from their previous work. It is the longest song they've recorded, but it fragilely holds our attention with vaguely Oriental instrumental flourishes and lyric references interwoven with an opiated jazz flux. "Aja" may prove to be the farthest Becker and Fagen can take certain elements of their musical ambition.

 Lyrically, these guys still seem to savor the role they must have acquired as stoned-out, hyperintelligent pariahs at a small Jewish college on the Hudson. Their imagery can become unintelligibly weird (Frank Zappa calls it "downer surrealism"); it's occasionally accessible but more often (as on the title song) it elicits a sort of deja vu tease that becomes hopelessly nonsensical the more you think about it. Focus your attention on the imagery of a specific phrase, then let it fade out. Well, at least it beats rereading the dildo sequence in Naked Lunch.

The last album, The Royal Scam, was the closest thing to a "concept" album Steely Dan has done, an attempt to return musically to New York City, with both a raunchier production quality and a fascination with grim social realism. The farthest Aja strays from the minor joys and tribulations of the good life in L.A. are the dreamy title cut and "Josie," which hints ominously about a friendly welcome-home gang-bang. The melodramatic "Black Cow" is about love replaced by repulsion for a woman who starts getting too strung out on downers and messing around with other men. "Deacon Blues" (a thematic continuation of "Fire in the Hole" and "Any World") exemplifies this album's mood: resignation to the L.A. musician's lifestyle, in which one must "crawl like a viper through these suburban streets" yet "make it my home sweet home." The title and first lines of "Home at Last" (presumably a clever interpretation of Homer's Odyssey -- I don't get it) put it right up front: "I know this superhighway/This bright familiar sun/I guess that I'm the lucky one."

 More than any of Steely Dan's previous albums (with the possible exception of Katy Lied), Aja exhibits a carefully manipulated isolation from its audience, with no pretense of embracing it. What underlies Steely Dan's music -- and may, with this album, be showing its limitations -- is its extreme intellectual self-consciousness, both in music and lyrics. Given the nature of these times, this may be precisely the quality that makes Walter Becker and Donald Fagen the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Your Eyes in the Morning Sun

On September 24, 1977 The Bee Gees first single from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, "How Deep Is Your Love", debuted on the U.S. pop charts at #83. This would be the single that would finally knock off Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life"  from the top of the U.S.charts. 40 years later, I still never change the dial when this tune gets played on the radio.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hitchin Up Her Short Skirt

 Boomtown Rats: the band's name says it all. Parasites amid prosperity, rodents on the make in the sewers of power, a great band name from an era of great band names. As much as Clash or Damned or Sex Pistols - or Stranglers, Buzzcocks and Lurkers - the name forever tags the band as part of the class of '77, when the barbarians finally arrived at the gates of an increasingly stratified and stultifying Rock City.
-Charles Shaar Murray, from the liner notes of the remastered CD.

In September of 1977 The Boomtown Rats released their self-titled debut album. Despite Bob Geldof's sneery vocals, the Rats owed more to the Rolling Stones than to anything the punks were up to. Something Geldof addresses in this interview:

Geldof says the purpose of new wave bands like the Boomtown Rats is to re-energize the music scene following what he describes as a blank generation between 1969 and 1975. Forget Pink Floyd, Geldof says it wasn't  until the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, Dr Feelgood and Graham Parker came along that rock got interesting again.  Saint Bob figured The Boomtown Rats were somewhere in between the punkers and the pub rockers.

"Mary in the 4th Form" was the U.K. 15 single in the long tradition of tributes to young girls in uniforms like The Yardbirds' "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", The Mindbender' "Schoolgirl", and The Police "Don't Stand So Close to Me" . 

"Joey's On the Street Again" is less punk than an Irish take on Springsteen . True Rat fans adore the deep cut  "I Can Make It If You Can". The album peaked at #18 in the U.K. album charts,