Sunday, November 30, 2014

40 Year Itch : Don't You Think We Know It Has to Hurt

    Sounds like the Badfinger boys heard The Raspberries album Starting Over and said "You want to hear the ultimate power pop album? That's what we'll give you!" Beginning with the opening track, "Just a Chance" all the way through "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke", Wish You Were Here does - in fact- smoke. Consistently superb throughout. 

Unfortunately, Warner Brothers pulled the album from store shelves seven weeks later due to a lawsuit that would be yet sad chapter in Badfinger's star crossed story.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

40 Year Itch : On the Train to Grinder's Switch

    1974 was the year rock fans got two definitions of rednecks. From Randy Newman, we learned rednecks were no-necked oilmen from Texas, good ol' boys from Tennessee and college men from LSU (Went in dumb. Come out dumb too).  From Charlie Daniels ( who had played bass on Dylan's Nashville Skyline), we learned rednecks could also have long-hair, get stoned in the morning and drunk in the afternoon. 

     That sounded pretty good to a whole generation of us growing up and listening to southern rock by choice. Even in the Northeast, you couldn't help but hear the CDB, Marshall Tucker, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the FM radio. 

   On "The South's Gonna Do It Again",  Daniels goes through a roll call of Southern rock acts rising  up in the 1970's, including them "Tucker Boys" cooking' down in Caroline. The Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker Band toured together all the time. On November 29, 1974 Marshall Tucker Band released their third album, Where We Belong.


This double disc-er had two studio sides ( with the single "This Ol' Cowboy") and two live sides of epic jams, including a nearly 14-minute version of "24 Hours at a Time". Both songs mentioned feature the fiddle work of, who else, Charlie Daniels.

Friday, November 28, 2014

40 Year Itch : Beatles On Stage

It was good fun, but I wouldn't like to do it for a living.
-John Lennon

  On November 28, 1974 a nervous  John Lennon joined Elton John onstage at Madison Square Garden to pay off a bet he lost. After they recorded "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" that Summer,  Elton bet Lennon it would be the former Beatle's first #1 hit. Lennon agreed to appear on stage with Elton should he lose. And lose, he did. The song hit #1 in November 1974.

    They performed "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" and Elton's ten day old single,  "Lucy on the Sky With Diamonds", which Lennon had helped Elton John record under the pseudonym Dr Winston O'Boogie. The final song was another Beatles cover, " I Saw Her Standing There", introduced in this way by Lennon:

    I'd like to thank Elton and the boys for having me on tonight. We tried to think of a number to finish off with so I can get out of here and be sick, and we thought we'd do a number of an old, estranged fiancé of mine, called Paul. This is one I never sang, it's an old Beatle number, and we just about know it.

    This was the last time Lennon ever appeared in a major concert.


  A day earlier Lennon's "estranged fiancé" and his wife Linda appeared onstage with Rod Stewart to sing "Mine For Me",  a song he'd written for Stewart's most recent album Smiler.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

40 Year Itch: Heavy Metal Monkees

   On November 29, 1974 the soundtrack album Slade in Flame was released, right on the heels of its hit single "Far Far Away" reaching #2 in the UK. The cult film, called "the 'Citizen Kane' of rock musicals"  by BBC film critic Mark Kermode, would come out in January of 1975. It's the tale of a rock band dealing with the realities of the music business. Drummer Don Powell acted in  the movie despite his short term amnesia, a result of the car accident that killed his fiancé in the Summer of 1973:

   I'd do one line and then stop. Even in my long scene, when I talk to my boss under the bridge by the river, I just did a few lines, then they'd stop to chage camera angles then I'd do a few ones more. Furthermore, Patrick Connor, who played my boss, was very patient. If I forgot something, he just said :"Don't worry. We'll just go back and do it again. "He was very nice and helpful. A real gentleman. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

40 Year Itch : If Your Child Needs a Daddy

   Recorded in two takes, Billy Swan's farfisa-laden "I Can Help" is one of the catchiest and best selling singles of 1974, moving 5 million copies and helping Swan's album top the US country charts.  

    The one time security guard at Elvis Presley's Graceland estate had written a Top 10 hit for Clyde McPhatter in 1962 called "Lover Please". He also backed up Kris Kristofferson's band as a bass player. Suddenly, with this song that harkens back to the roots of rock'n'roll while sounding as contemporary as Ringo's latest hit,  Billy Swan found himself squinting in the bright lights of The Midnight Special

   The album has a lot of filler and includes a morose cover of " Don't Be Cruel". For those who always thought this was a Ringo song, well, it WAS in 1980. For his 1975 album. Today, Elvis also covered "I Can Help".

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

40 Year Itch : Death of a Deep Soul

MONDAY NOVEMBER 25 The worst day of our lives. Naw (the Drakes’ housemaid) had looked in on Nick at 11.45, found him lying across the bed and called to Molly. She went in and found him dead. After desperate phone calls we got Ackroyd and, shortly after, an ambulance which was, of course, too late. Ackroyd had declared Nick to be dead and to have been so for some hours. The contents of a Tryptizol were missing. So ends in tragedy our three-year struggle.
-Diary entry by Nick's father Rodney Drake

   On November 25, 1974 singer-songwriter Nick Drake died of an overdose of prescription pills. at his parents' home.  He was 26 years old and had recorded three classic albums:  Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon. Drake had spent years battling depression, that "black dog" that followed him around .

Monday, November 24, 2014

40 Year Itch : The End of the Bash Street Kids

    The 2009 30th Anniversary version of Mott the Hoople Live finally makes up for one of CBS Records's biggest mistakes: refusing to release a double live album by the glam rock superstars. At the time, Mott the Hoople delivered one of the best rock concerts of its day: costumes, giant marionette puppets and staged fighting between singer Ian Hunter and guitarist Ariel Bender. Instead, in November of 1974, CBS shipped a single disc mishmash of Mott tracks taken out of context and apparently chosen to befuddle fans. 
     Worst of all, the album came out around the same time Ian Hunter announced he and the new touring guitarist, Mick Ronson, were leaving Mott.

   Yes, the live album had the two big "All" hits : "All the Way From Memphis" and "All the Young Dudes". But "Rest in Peace" and "Rosie" are both British B-side ballads and the rest of the songs were not exactly stand out tracks on their albums ( though I have a soft spot for "Sucker"). The best thing here, if you have 15 minutes to spare, is the "Rock and Roll Queen medley".

  It took 30 years but CBS made amends with a double CD accompanied by a 24 page booklet (with an essay by opening band Queen's Brian May). Finally you can hear the band that started a riot at The Hammersmith Odean and wowed American audiences on Broadway. Give a listen and find out why Mott the Hoople was one of the 70's best rock n roll bands.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Camel Wore a Nightie

   They said Beefheart was trying too hard to go mainstream on Clear Spot too. And that's my favorite of his albums.  Kate Bush called this one of her ten favorite albums of all time. So of course I wanted togive a listen to Bluejeans and Moonbeams, released in November of 1974. 
      Well, it's no Clear Spot but "Observatory Crest" especially, and maybe that very Beefheartian cover of J J Cale's "Same Old Blues",  make Bluejeans and Moonbeams at least worth checking out. Most fans, band mates and Van Vliet himself tried their best to forget Beefheart's self-described "horrible and vulgar" work for Virgin Records in 1974. (This was the year he exchanged all of his best musicians with the kind of people "who groove along pleasantly"). To top it off Beefheart claimed he never received a royalty check for Bluejeans or its predecessor Unconditionally Guaranteed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

40 Year Itch : Light the Faded Light

     There were two versions of Desolation Boulevard. The UK version, released in November of 1974, came out first and contained the original recording of their massive Glam rock hit "Fox On the Run"(UK#1/US#5). Yes, there were also two different versions of "Fox on the Run". The American version, released the following Summer, was a compilation of  the UK Desolation Boulevard and predecessor Sweet Fanny Adams and broke the band in the America just as the UK was losing interest. Unless you're a fan of very long drum solos ( "The Man With the Golden Arm"), get the US version. 

Can you think of another classic example where it would have made sense to combine two albums into one classic?

Friday, November 21, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Merry Band of How Are You's

   In November of 1974, Sparks followed up their surprise UK hit Kimono My House with Propaganda, their highest charting album in the US. After a band shake-up, and a failed attempt to recruit Brian May from Queen, the Mael brothers showed they hadn't lost a step...or become less weird.

  In 1982 Ron Mael told Trouser Press:

  [That] album was incredibly hard because there was a lot of pressure. Kimono was incredibly popular in England, and we were under the microscope. Anything we did was going to be judged. We went into the studio with a lot of songs, but a bit scared. We kept thinking about the Beatles and their constant rise. We tried to make Propaganda a little more complex than Kimono My House.

  Among the highlights are the UK #13 single "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth", the short a cappella over-dubbing exercise "Propaganda",   the poppish "Thanks But No Thanks" and Russell's favorite,  a twisted love song called  "Don't Leave Me Alone With Her".
   Most critics swooned but Propaganda failed to pull away American record buyers from their America, Bachman Turner Overdrive and Alice Cooper albums.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

40 Year Itch : We are the Central Shaft

   There are more ideas on this Brian Eno album than were needed to get a man on the moon. Released in November of 1974, Taking Tiger Mountain ( By Strategy) is Brian Eno's follow-up to the debut Here Come the Warm Jets. Both are absolutely essential.

  For this album, Eno put together a small band made up of Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera on guitar, two Winkies ( bassist Brian Turrington and drummer Freddie Smith), and with contributions from Phil Collins, Roxy Music's Andy Mackey and Robert Wyatt. He also teamed up with artist friend Peter Schmidt on Oblique Strategies. When facing decisions in the studio, Eno could flip a card and do what it said : "Abandon Normal Instruments" ( like the typewriter solo in "China My China"), "Listen to the Quiet Voice" ( like the title track perhaps), and most famously, "Honour thy Mistake as a Hidden Intention".

    Among the standout tracks are "Third Uncle", which begins with a Turrington bass riff and then launches into a tune with Manzanera and Eno both playing guitars at manic speed. Some have cited this as the birthplace of punk.  "The True Wheel" inspired the name of two bands, Eno's supergroup 801, and A Certain Ratio, while name checking Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers. Finally there's the lead off track, "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More", which reveals Eno's whimsical sense of humor despite the relatively recent memory of a Turkish Airlines disaster in Mrch of 1974.

   Also released this month was the album that would change Eno's life and music: Miles Davis's Get Up With It. Listen to the Duke Ellington tribute "He Loved Him Madly ( Pt 1)" and you will hear one of the main inspirations behind Eno's new age-y Another Green World.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

40 Year Itch : Kid's Play

     Harry Nilsson's The Point wasn't the only animated kids movie to emerge from the mind of a 1970's rocker. On the other side of the spectrum, there's former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover's tuneful The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Fest, released in November of 1974. Based on a book of early 19th Century verses that became wildly popular in the early 70's, the album is beloved by an entire generation of kids. Glover was asked to produce the soundtrack album and played just about every instrument. Make no mistake. This is children's record. But it features vocal performances by Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes.
   Glover always had kind words to say about Dio especially.
   “He was a very caring guy,” Glover said. “He was a hard-bitten, upstate New Yorker. He could be tough, and he could be cynical. He could be very funny. But his heart was pure. He loved what he did, and he always had respect for the fans. That means a lot to me.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

40 Year Itch : Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid

   On November 18, 1974 Genesis released the four-sided concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the band's last album with Peter Gabriel.

    The band had moved to rat-infested Headley Grange in rural Wales to write and rehearse the new material. Gabriel wasn't around for much of it. After the difficult birth of his first daughter, Anna-Marie, Gabriel decided to stay at home. 
     When Gabriel did show up he insisted on writing all the lyrics. Gabriel cites the bizarre Alejandro Jodorosky film , El Topo, as a source of inspiration:
  This was a rough, visceral, cowboy spiritual film and it was unique at the time. It had a really strong cult following and that was the blend that I was trying to put together in a way that would allow more people to try to travel with me.

       The album follows the adventures of a Puerto Rican punk named Rael who encounters God knows what in an effort to rescue his brother John. People are still pondering the plot lines and deep inner meaning of the lyrics. This recent article in The Quietus features one of the best attempts I've read. There's also this New Yorker effort which dubs Lamb the "Ulysses" of concept albums

    Musically, the tunes are mostly memorable and more concise. No side long epics here. The crowd pleaser "In the Cage" is one of two songs that exceed the 8-minute mark. Highlights for me are "Cuckoo Cocoon", "Carpet Crawlers" and "Counting Out Time", but readers know I'm a pop guy. I can't imagine ever knowing this album the way I know the White Album and Quadrophenia, but it would be far more enjoyable than plowing through the double and triple albums of contemporaries like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Again, I'm a pop guy.

     Genesis played the entire album 102 times on the subsequent tour which made them stars in the US. Early on, Gabriel let the rest of the band know he'd be leaving Genesis at the end of the tour. Sadly, there's practically no film of the tour which involved lavish costumes like the Slipperman, a naked monster with inflatable genitalia and covered in lumps.

40 years later, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway remains one of the highlights of the progressive rock era. It's made all kind of Top 10 Lists including a Rolling Stone Readers Poll asking What's Your Favorite Prog Rock Album of all Time. The list:

1. Dream Theater Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory ( the band put the poll on their website) 
2. Rush 2112
3. Yes Close to the Edge
4. Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon
5. Genesis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Monday, November 17, 2014

40 Year Itch: Linda Ronstadt Hits Gold

     Heart Like A Wheel, released in November of 1974, is the first #1 album for Linda Ronstadt , a multi-platinum hit that stayed on the charts for a year. With Peter Asher producing and Andrew Gold arranging, Linda found a winning blueprint for every 70's album to come.

     Here, you'll find a mix of new songs and well chosen oldies that hit that "country crossover" sweet spot. The #2 hit "When Will I Be Loved" was written by Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.

   "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" was written and recorded by a Ronstadt mainstay, Buddy Holly. The Dan Penn/Chip Moman tune,"Dark End of the Street",  was a hit for James Carr and recorded by the Flying Burrito Brothers. Linda also recorded Hank Williams's "I Can't Help It ( If I'm Still in Love With You" as a Grammy winning duet with Emmylou Harris.

  But of course her biggest hit is "You're No Good", a cover of a minor 1963 hit for Betty Everett. Below you can hear Andrew Gold telling drummer Mike Botts about spending all night recording the George Harrison-esque middle section of the hit.
   When Linda first heard what he'd done, she didn't like it.
"What the hell is all this Beatle stuff all over this track?" she asked Gold. 
Eventually, with Asher's insistence, she accepted the arrangement.

Among the newer tracks is the lovely title cut by Anna McGarrigle, who would release a debut album with sister Kate in 1975.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

40 Year Itch : Live for Today, Gone Tomorrow, That's Me

 Pink Floyd’s British Winter Tour '74, was a short concert tour by Pink Floyd during the winter of 1974 in the United Kingdom. Noted for introducing the public to "You Gotta Be Crazy" ( better known as "Dogs" on 1977's Animals), the tour featured the band doing pretty much what it did throughout the Dark Side of the Moon tour, performing while perfectly synced up films were shown on a huge screen behind them. Improvisation was impossible.  If the band seemed a bit remote, it may have been because both Waters and Mason's marriages had broke up earlier in the year.

       The 16th November show was recorded by BBC Radio One and later broadcast on the Alan Freeman Show on 11 January 1975, minus the encore. This recording is included in the Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here box sets, except for "Echoes" which remains unreleased. For the BBC broadcast, the line "I've been mad for fucking years" was removed from "Speak To Me".

    After the British tour, Pink Floyd entered the studio in January of 1975 to begin recording sessions for Wish You Were Here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

40 Year Itch : Ollie Hardy Should Have Had More Sense

   On November 15, 1974 the rockin' Paul McCartney and Wings single ,"Junior's Farm", was racing up the charts, jumping 16 spots from 59 to 43 on its way to #3 in the US. Both "Junior's Farm", and its country-flavored B-side "Sally G", were recorded that Summer in Nashville. To read more about the band's time in Nashville ( and why a security guard thought McCartney was taking unwarranted risks) go here.

The band was filmed rehearsing "Junior's Farm" at Abbey Road Studios in August for One Hand Clapping, a TV show that was never aired. Take 16 was especially good.

Sounds just like a Steve Miller Band tune which is why it's so perfect Miller recorded a cover version for  The Art of McCartney tribute lp.

Friday, November 14, 2014

40 Year Itch : Toujours. L'Amour, Toujours

    No discussion of Country Life can be complete without talking about the cover of Roxy Music's fourth album, released November 15, 1974. So, let's just begin there. Depicted are two German fans, Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald, wearing little in the way of clothes and placing their hands and fingers in suggestive places. Bryan Ferry met them in Portugal and even got their help with some German lyrics for "Bitter-Sweet". They were happy to pose topless.

   "I knew that pictures of pretty girls had been used to sell cars, soap and just about everything else," says Bryan Ferry. "So why not rock music?"  

  The album cover probably helped Roxy Music break into the US Top 40, but it presented the Atco label with a headache. Many retailers refuted to stock the album. In response, Atco took out this full page ad in Billboard Magazine:

As the copy says :

   The album cover was banned in Spain and South Africa. Trades refused to reproduce it in ads. Rack jobbers refused to rack it. Stores refused to stock it. Mark Fenwick, Roxy Music's manager, was perplexed. "I don't understand it," he was heard to say, "They love it at home. Why, it's even won a graphics award!"

   The label's first "cop-out" was to offer Country Life with an opaque green shrink wrap. But customers were peeling off the wrap to see what was causing all the fuss. So Atco followed up with the most innocuous cover possible: a shot of some branches.

   The ad describes the tunes on Roxy Music's album as "experimental, far-reaching, progressive. madcap rock'n'roll". The three singles ("Out of the Blue", "All I Want Is You" and "The Thrill of It All"  ) all expand on the erotic themes and art rock sounds of Stranded, leading Rolling Stone to refer to both albums as marking "the zenith of contemporary British art rock".

  Yes, this is one of the essential albums to own from 1974, even if Side Two is a bit of a letdown. It would finish #9 in the NME poll of the year's best albums while the Village Voice's critic's poll of 1975 would rank the album #7.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Sgt Pepper Rock Spectacle

On November 14, 1974, the stage play, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band On the Road, made its stage debut at the Beacon Theater with John Lennon and May Pang in attendance. There would be 66 performances in all. Robert Stigwood produced both the play and the famous, only somewhat related  movie flop starring the Bee Gees. 

After the show, the Lennon couple appeared at the Hippopotamus Club where they mingled with Ronnie Spector and Mick and Bianca Jagger. Although there was a lot of talk about a cast album, poor reviews doomed the musical which has been, for the most part, forgotten. 

Among the people to see the show was David Bowie whose assistant contributed this entry to "David Bowie's Diary" in Mirabelle Magazine:

       I've just gone to see the most amazing show! You may have heard something about it - it's called 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' - and I must say it's one of the most bizarre shows I've ever seen, besides mine, of course! All the characters from all the old Beatles' songs come to life right before your very eyes! Strawberry Fields is a really pretty girl with a fabulous voice; Mr. Kite is a glitter rock star; Rita, the meter maid, turns out to be a man. The costumes and sets are just spectacular - and everyone in the show is super talented. It's one of the biggest hits in New York these days and soon the whole show will go on the road. It's even set to go to Japan, so it looks like it may come your way, too!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

40 Year Itch : Wyatt Ear in the Atomic Age

   On paper it sounded like a great idea: team up Philly's blue-eyed soul sensations Hall and Oates  ("She's Gone") with Philly hit maker ("Hello, It's Me", Something/Anything and that soul medley on A Wizard, A True Star) Todd Rundgren producing. I'm sure Atlantic Records was salivating at the thought of a pop classic.  
    That's not exactly what they got.

    Instead they got a Hall and Oates eager to experiment with their sound and a producer who was knee deep in nut-so prog rock with his band Utopia. The result is War Babies, an album that nearly destroyed the duo's career. It also happens to be one of the most interesting listens of 1974. Those outtasight guitar solos are Todd and the backing band throughout is Utopia.

  "We wanted to cut loose from what we called the gingerbread'" said Hall, "the people who had seen us doing acoustic stuff in the folk clubs, who though that we were just these nice, safe folkie guys. Certain people in our initial fan base got violently upset about that album. We lost a lot of them, but I think that the fans we gained later, who carried us across, realized that we were innovators. I think that has characterized our creative direction ever since then."

  War Babies would be the final Hall and Oates album for Atlantic.

  Says Rundgren "So what? I didn't care what the label wanted. We weren't even pondering what they wanted, or their expectations, which I suppose was the issue. In those days, it was supposed to the era of freedom of the artist, and I think Hall and Oates took advantage of that. The label had other things in mind."

A month earlier, Todd Rundgren's Utopia released their first album. If you can sit through more than two minutes of this album, you're a bigger rock n roll fan than I. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

40 Year Itch : Pigs Will Fly And The Earth Will Fry

On November 11, 1974, four days before the UK release of his new album Goodnight Vienna, Ringo Starr releases the Top 10 single "Only You", a Platters cover with John Lennon playing guitar ( and providing guide vocals) and Harry Nilsson singing those smooth multi-tracked harmony lines.

   The album pretty much follows the formula that made Ringo such a huge success. Richard Perry is again producing. The album opens with a John Lennon tune, the title track which means "We're getting out of here!" No other Beatles contribute this time around though. The other hits were Hoyt Axton's "No No Song" and its B-side "Snookeroo", written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and featuring Elton John on piano.


  The album cover's reference to The Day the Earth Stood Still and the presence of the robot Klaatu would inspire a Beatlesque Canadian band to call itself Klaatu in 1976, fueling rumors they were actually the Beatles. A million albums would sell before the truth was known.

Monday, November 10, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Dark Hoarse Tour

    In November of 1974, George Harrison became the first former Beatle to tour North America. Beatle fans got to hear George perform "Something ", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun" and Lennon's "In My Life" with the lyrical change "In my life, I love God more..."
   The tour got off to a rocky start when, the night before his first show, in Vancouver, the hard partying George lost his voice. He'd never recover fully despite gargling a "secret mixture of honey, vinegar and warm water" recommended to him by Eric Clapton and Barbra Streisand. ( see the video below at 1:00 in)

   George also insisted on handing over the spotlight to Ravi Shankar and other classical Indian musicians. For what must have seemed far too long to many concertgoersAs one reviewer put it "Tragically, Shankar's beautiful music was wasted on a noisy minority of meatheads".
   All of which led to George's often grumpy appearance onstage. From the stage in LA, he croaked "I don't know how it feels down there, but from up here you seem pretty dead!"
    Who knows what those shows might have been like without Billy Preston's vocal and emotional support? While overnight reviews from newspaper critics were mostly positive, Rolling Stone called the tour "disastrous", an adjective critic Jim Miller also used to describe Harrison's new Dark Horse album. That, perhaps unfairly, is the way history remembers the tour. Harrison wouldn't tour again until Clapton forced him to play some shows in Japan. Seventeen years later in 1991.

One fun footnote : drummer Jim Keltner asked George for a Mercedes 450SL in lieu of payment for the tour. This would inspire one of his better songs "It's What You Value".

Sunday, November 9, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Voice is in the Water

   Meaning can only really lead away from the music. It's the sound of the words that matters more than their meaning...As soon as music creates feelings that can be named by words, it's no loger important to make music 
                            -Can guitarist Michael Karoli

 Soon Over Babaluma, released in November of 1974,  is Can's first album since the departure of vocalist Damo Suzuki.  Other members of the band try to fill in at the mike, and there are moments that will hold the attention of listeners, but we have journeyed beyond the essential Can albums after this point.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

40 Year Itch: Keith Moon Drum Solo

On the November 8, 1974 episode of Midnight Special, Keith Moon performs a manic drum solo on a transparent kit that includes goldfish on the floor tom to his left. After all , even drummers get hungry.

Friday, November 7, 2014

40 Year Itch : Moët et Chandon In Her Pretty Cabinet

   Writing this blog is a sonic journey for me. All the time I find myself explaining to other music fans that I don't know what's going on these days because, musically, I live in 1974. You might be listening to the radio. I'm listening to albums from 1974.  On some days, that means listening to something the world has thankfully forgotten. But on other days I get to hear great albums I hadn't bothered to discover.  Sheer Heart Attack, released November 7, 1974, is one of those albums. 

      Of course I knew "Killer Queen", Freddie Mercury's UK#2/US#12 single that broke the band on both sides of the Atlantic. It's the first Queen song that truly sounds like Queen. That's really the exciting thing about listening to Sheer Heart Attack. You get to hear a great band discover it's one of a kind, elaborately layered sound,  especially vocals ("Lap of the Gods"). "Killer Queen" alone has 12 overdubs of electric guitar and two overdubs of bass. Of the hit single, guitarist Brian May says:

   'Killer Queen' was the turning point. It was the song that best summed up our kind of music, and a big hit, and we desperately needed it as a mark of something successful happening for us... I was always very happy with this song. The whole record was made in a very craftsman-like manner. I still enjoy listening to it because there's a lot to listen to, but it never gets cluttered. There's always space for all the little ideas to come through. And of course, I like the solo, with that three-part section, where each part has its own voice

      The album came out just eight months after Queen II.  May came down with a case of hepatitis , ending the band's US tour with Mott the Hoople. Then May was hospitalized with an ulcer as recording began for Sheer Heart Attack. The rest of the band recorded without him, leaving room for guitar solos. When he recovered, May went into the studio for two weeks of intense recordings. The results speak for themselves.

    Sheer Heart Attack is a great argument for not buying greatest hits albums. You might have discovered "Killer Queen" , "Now I'm Here" and "Stone Cold Crazy" on one of the compilations, but you would have missed such glorious deep cuts as bassist John Deacon's "Misfire" and drummer Roger Taylor's "Tenement Funster". Two songs that add entire dimensions to this classic album.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

40 Year Itch : Headhunters in Germany

    In 1974, on tour with the band that made Head Hunters a massive hit on both eye Jazz and Soul charts, Herbie Hancock was getting the kind of reaction for audiences he'd never before seen.

 First of all, there were more people than ever. And they came to dance. They weren't necessarily jazz fans. They wanted to hear the songs the way they sounded on the album.

In his autobiography Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, Hancock says not everybody loved the new sound :

   As Head Hunters climbed higher on the charts, some critics really started acting negatively to it. The tone of this review , by Lee Underwood, was typical of the worse ones:

   Mr Communicate-With-A-Wider-Audience, Herbie Hancock, opened to a full house recently, again,  pleasing the funkers while disappointing the more cerebrally oriented jazz connoisseurs . At its worst,  Hancock's music is commercial trash; at its best, it is almost as schizoid as Frank Zappa's offerings.

  Hancock has always said Head Hunters was a jazz-funk experiment and its popularity surprised everyone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

40 Year Itch : Arthur Lee's Comeback album

[Out of Print]

   In November of 1974, RSO Records released Love's Reel to Real. It is actually Arthur Lee's third solo album and, by far, his most interesting. Backed up by superb studio musicians, Lee reignites his Memphis soul roots, sounding not unlike Otis Redding in places and Sly Stone in others. 

    The album, was recorded at the Record Plant down the hallway from John Lennon.  Despite receiving a $100,000 advance, Lee stayed sober throughout the sessions which included a cover of the William DeVaughn hit "Be Thankful for What You Got" and new versions of "Singing Cowboy" and "Everybody's Gotta Live". But the highlights are the powerhouse shots of soul like opener "Time is Like a River". Forever changed!

   To support the album , RSO sent Arthur Lee out on tour with Eric Clapton who was enjoying egg success with 461 Ocean Boulevard. But Lee never trusted anybody but himself. His manager Skip Taylor tells Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love author John Einarson how Lee managed to torpedo his comeback with one sentence:

The first show we did was in England, with me standing in the wings, right beside Robert Stigwood...Arthur went out to open the [Clapton] show and got a standing ovation from the entire audience.  And the he said "Yeah, I'm back, but things aren't a whole lot different than they were. Now, I'm just a slave to a new owner, Robert Stigwood. " And there I was with Stigwood. He grabbed me by the shoulder and said "Let's go in the back, right now". He said to me "We'll buy you out of the deal and I never war to see that man again". 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

40 Year Itch : Leader of the Boot Boys


   With Nightlife, their fourth studio album, Irish rockers Thin Lizzy introduced the twin guitar attack of American Scott Gorham and Scotsman Brian Robertson. "Scott and Roll" went over big in the UK clubs but the album, produced by Ron Nevison ( who had worked on The Who's Quadrophenia and the Bad Company debut as engineer), failed to get the kind of reviews and sales that would propel the band's career forward.

    To this day Gorham blames Nevison for what  he describes as "limp background music". It's not really that bad if you like your rock'n'roll subdued. "Showdown" is a should have been hit and it;s been pointed out that "Philomena" is the most rocking song ever written about missing someone's mom. Still, the album failed to chart even after the bad toured the US with Bachman Turner Overdrive and Bob Seger.

      But before you count out Thin Lizzy,  keep in mind the driving force behind the band. Phil Lynott was determined to find rock 'n roll glory and the band's hard rocking sound would gel by 1976's remarkable Jailbreak.

Monday, November 3, 2014

40 Year Itch : Tracy and Daisy, They May Be Crazy,


    On November 3, 1974 ABBA lip-synced "Honey Honey" and their most recent single "So Long" on the Austrian TV show Spotlight. Björn, dressed in what appears to be pajamas, seems especially into the music, while Benny seems to be laughing at himself.

     Of the bubblegum-style music, Björn later said that "If you look at the singles we released straight after Waterloo, we were trying to be more like the Sweet, a semi-glam rock group, which was stupid because we were always a pop group."

    Later in the month, ABBA began a European Tour that was less successful than they hoped. World domination was still a year or two away.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Return of a Man Named Neil

In November of 1974, Neil Sedaka released Sedaka's Back on Elton John's Rocket label. The album is actually a compilation of new songs and a few from previous albums including those made at Strawberry Studios with 10cc. The album cracked the Top 30 thanks especially to "Laughter in the Rain, a #1 hit in the US. 

In one year Sedaka says he went from making $50,000 a year to $6 million. The comeback was firmed up by the 1975 #1 hit "Bad Blood" in which Elton sang back-up.  Other artists found big hits on Sedaka's Back. The Carpenters covered "Solitaire" and The Captain and Tennille took "Love Will Keep Us Together" to #1.

   While "Laughter in the Rain" was almost surely recorded with LA session musicians, it isn't clear who performed on the Sedaka tunes. My ears, long associated to listening to 10cc, would bet the humorously  macabre track "Little Brother" has 10cc on backing vocals.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

40 Year Itch : Wir Fahren Auf Der Autobahn

   With the addition of a Moog , Kraftwerk recorded their breakthrough album Autobahn, released November 1, 1974. The highlight, of course, is the hypnotic 22 minute title track which evokes a smooth , speedy ride on the famous German highway. That's why I like to play the track on my morning commute. It's called irony, people! 
     Kraftwerk knew all about irony. The Autobahn was constructed while Hitler was in power and ,even in the 1970's, was one of the things some Germans would use as an example when they made the ridiculous argument that not everything Hitler did was bad.
   With this hit album,  Kraftwerk's Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider added percussionists Wolfgang Flur and Karl Battos. The clean-shaven foursome would tour the US and become the biggest band in the electronic scene.