Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Every Time I Turn Around

During the week of October 15, 1977 L.T.D. 's "Back In Love Again" debuted on the Hot 100 Singles list at #88.  The funky disco tune sung by Jeffrey Osborne would peak at U.S. #4 and top the R and B charts for two weeks. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Angel of Darkness

Lynyrd Skynyrd : That Smell

On October 17, 2017, Lynyrd Skynyrd released Street Survivors, an eight song collection of Southern Rock that has been overshadowed by a fatal plane accident three days later that took the lives of singer Ronnie Van Zant,  newcomer guitarist Steve Gaines, his older sister and backing vocalist  Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray. The album would go Top 5 in the U.S. thanks to the singles "What's Your Name" (US#13) , "You Got That Right" (US#69) and heavy radio play for "That Smell".

Out of respect for family members of the dead, the cover of Street Survivors would be changed. 

From Robert Christgau's A review :

Some rock deaths are irrelevant, while others make a kind of sense because the artists involved so obviously long to transcend (or escape) their own mortality. But for Ronnie Van Zant, life and mortality were the same thing -- there was no way to embrace one without at least keeping company with the other. So it makes sense that "That Smell" is the smell of death, or that in "You Got That Right" Van Zant boasts that he'll never be found in an old folks' home. As with too many LPs by good road bands, each side here begins with two strong cuts and then winds down. The difference is that the two strong cuts are very strong and the weak ones gain presence with each listen. I'm not just being sentimental. I know road bands never make their best album the sixth time out, and I know Van Zant had his limits. But I mourn him not least because I suspect that he had more good music left in him than Bing and Elvis put together

From Brian Hiatt's ***1/2 review for Rolling Stone upon the release of the reissued 2008 CD which contained extra tracks. 

Three days after the release of Street Survivors in 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines died in a plane crash that severely injured the rest of the band members. 

But even without the added resonance of tragedy, the album's second track, "That Smell," would have stood out in the band's catalog. It bites the chord progression and the apocalyptic vibe of "All Along the Watchtower" for a tale of the "smell of death" that surrounds a character trapped in drug addiction (and a pretty heavy habit at that: The lyrics allude to coke, weed, alcohol and ludes). The swampy groove and Van Zant's bluesy, understated vocals -- listen to his offhandedly contemptuous delivery of the line "stuck a needle in your arm" -- manage to sustain the ominous mood even when the female backing singers harmonize on the phrase "Hell, yeah!" Early versions of "That Smell" (including a slower take that comes in at seven and a half minutes, thanks to epic, "Freebird"-worthy guitar duels) are the highlight of the bonus disc here, which includes a more stripped-down early version of the entire album. Street Survivors was the most meticulously crafted record of the original Skynyrd's eleven-year career and, as a result, their most consistent. Album opener and classic rock-radio staple "What's Your Name" is the second-greatest groupie song of all time (next to "Stray Cat Blues"), and the Allmans-esque "I Never Dreamed" is its flip side, a redneck-emo tale of lady-killer machismo thwarted by love: "I've had a thousand, maybe more/ But never one like you," Van Zant sings, as the lead guitars match him, lament for lament. Perhaps best of all is the band's raucously virtuosic take on Merle Haggard's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man," which overflows with gorgeous country riffs that sound like pure chicken-fried joy. And Van Zant's voice is rich and authentic enough to make you mourn the pure country album he never got to record.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Now I Got A Reason

On October 14, 1977 The Sex Pistols released "Holidays in the Sun". A #8 U.K. chart hit from the forthcoming album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, this would be the last single with John Lydon singing. Lydon says the song was based on a disappointing holiday in Jersey, followed by a visit to rainy Berlin where, at least, they were far away from London:

"Being in London at the time made us feel like we were trapped in a prison camp environment. There was hatred and constant threat of violence. The best thing we could do was to go set up in a prison camp somewhere else. Berlin and its decadence was a good idea. The song came about from that. I loved Berlin. I loved the wall and the insanity of the place. The communists looked in on the circus atmosphere of West Berlin, which never went to sleep, and that would be their impression of the West."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fun Is Second Best

On October 15, 1977 The Jam played CBGB's . Drummer Rik Butler doesn't have fond memories of the bar that became a cornerstone of the American punk and new wave scene:

What I remember most about CBGB's is the cramped dressing room and being visited by one of the Ramones.  I don't know which one it was as they all looked the same, same hair, same jeans and biker jackets. ..Patti Smith also popped in to say "hi"...I was disappointed with CBGB because it was quite small and not how I thought it would be. Everyone was raving about the club being the New York version of London's Marquee, but it was nothing like the Marquee....I remember reading graffiti and stickers on the wall around the club and there just seemed to be a mess everywhere. The toilets were to be avoided too, if you could manage it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Slaughter in the Air

On October 14, 1977, the day Bing Crosby died, David Bowie released "Heroes", the second installment of the Bowie/Eno/Visconti Berlin trilogy. This was the third Bowie album I ever owned, following ChangesOne and Aladdin Sane. I was 17 and at first I was put off by the disjointed, angular sounds (courtesy of Robert Fripp, Bowie and Eno) ,  the sinister undertones ( not just a reflection of the album cover) and almost an entire side of ambient experiments. 

How was I to know that I was listening to the future?

A few cool facts : Robert Fripp, who plays lead guitar on six songs, spent a total of six hours in the studio. Some of his tracks were laid down the first time he ever heard the songs.  

Bowie and Eno used Eno's Oblique Strategy cards, drawing inspiration from instructions. For the duet "Sense of Doubt", Eno's instruction was "Try to make everything as similar as possible", while Bowie's was "Emphasize differences". 

 Finally there are quite a few allusions to alcohol, the fuel with which Bowie replaced cocaine:  some songs are all set in bars while the narrator of "Blackout" has been drinking rotten wine. And then there's the line in the title track, "I drink all the time".

The album topped the NME Best Albums list that year, but since then Low has taken its place as the great Bowie album of 1977

From Rolling Stone critic Bart Testa :

Heroes is the second album in what we can now hope will be a series of David Bowie-Brian Eno collaborations, because this album answers the question of whether Bowie can be a real collaborator. Like his work with Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople and Iggy Pop, Low, Bowie's first album with Eno, seemed to be just another auteurist exploitation, this time of the Eno-Kraftwerk avant-garde. Heroes, though, prompts a much more enthusiastic reading of the collaboration, which here takes the form of a union of Bowie's dramatic instincts and Eno's unshakable sonic serenity. Even more importantly, Bowie shows himself for the first time as a willing, even anxious, student rather than a simple cribber. As rock's Zen master, Eno is fully prepared to show him the way. 

 Like Low, Heroes is divided into a cyclic instrumental side and a song-set side. "V-2 Schneider" is an ingeniously robotic recasting of Booker T. and the M.G.'s -- at once typical of Bowie's obsession with pop dance music and a spectacular instance of an Eno R + B "study" (a going concern of Eno's own records). "Sense of Doubt" lines up an ominously deep piano figure with Eno synthesizer washes, blending them into "Moss Garden," an exquisitely static cut featuring Bowie on koto, a Japanese string instrument. Low had no such moments of easy exchange; Bowie either submitted his voice as another instrument for Eno to play the part of art-rock keyboard player.

The most spectacular moments on this record occur on the vocal side's crazed rock and roll. Working inside the new style Bowie forged for Iggy Pop, "Beauty and the Beast" makes very weird but probable connections between the fairy tale, Iggy's angel-beast identity and Jean Cocteau's Surrealist Catholicism, a crucial source for Cocteau's film of the tale. 

 For the finale, Heroes explodes into a trilogy of dark prophecy: "Sons of the Silent Age," "Heroes" and "Black Out." It's a Diamond Dogs set that, this time, makes it into the back pages of Samuel Delaney's post-apocalypse fiction, pushed by a brilliant cerebral nova among the players. Bowie sings in a paradoxical (or is it schizo?) style at once unhinged and wholly self-controlled. With a chill, the listener can hear clearly through Bowie's compressed lyrics and the dense sound. 

 We'll have to wait to see if Bowie has found in the austere Eno a long-term collaborator who can draw out the substantial words and music that have lurked beneath the surface of Bowie's clever games for so long. But Eno clearly has effected a nearly miraculous change in Bowie already.

From the dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau who graded the album with a B+

When I first heart the Enofied instrumental textures on side two, as background music, they struck me as more complex than their counterparts on Low, and they are. Low now seems quite pop, slick and to the point even when the point is background noise; in fact, after I completed my comparison, I began to play it a lot. But what was interesting background on "Heroes" proved merely noteworthy as foreground, admirably rather than attractively ragged. Maybe after the next album I'll get the drift of this one.

And finally from Mark Bennett writing for 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:

Riding the wave he had found with Low, "Heroes" -- the second part of the so-called "Berlin trilogy" -- saw David Bowie continue his gradual reintroduction to humanity. Fresh from a liberating stint as keyboard player on Iggy Pop's Idiot tour, Bowie was now living with Iggy in West Berlin. Relatively drug-free, the pair immersed themselves in seedy Berlin nightlife, miraculously avoiding falling back into old habits. 

 "Heroes" gives the trilogy its decadent splendor, its dramatic, performance art-influenced black-and-white cover photograph, and the darkly evocative song titles clearly inspired Bowie's new home. Where Low mapped the internal landscape of Bowie's fractured psyche, "Heroes," like Iggy's The Idiot (1977) is all about Berlin, from the denizens of its nightclubs in "Blackout" to the gloomy Turkish immigrant quarter in "Neuk├Âln." 

 Featuring many of the musicians who had played on Low (producer Tony Visconti, collaborator Brian Eno, guitarist Carlos Alomar, and rhythm section George Davis and Dennis Davis) the album was recorded in the summer of 1977 at Hansa Studios, a former Gestapo ballroom near to the Berlin wall. Eno, Visconti, and Bowie distilled their location's powerful atmosphere in view of the Red Army guards at Checkpoint Charlie. 

 Like Low, "Heroes" mixed avant-garde pop songs with ambient instrumentals. Eno's influence is felt on the title track, a Velvets-like stomp taken somewhere different by Fripp's inspired, fluid guitar. Re-contextualized by its performance at 1985's Live Aid concert, the song's current existence as stadium fodder belies the emotional complexity of its pare

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Message to Millions

In October of 1977, Nils Lofgren released a double live album called Night After Night.  Recorded at Hammersmith Odeon, Apollo Theater in Glasgow and The Roxy in Los Angeles, the album captures the diminutive guitar giant at his best.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just Like Glue

In mid October 1977, Graham Parker and the Rumour released Stick To Me. Despite the cover, it's not a live album but a collection of songs hastily recorded after one of the worst production mishaps in rock history. The timing couldn't have been worse. Following Howlin' Wind and Heat Treatment, Stick To Me was one of the most anticipated albums since Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run.

Here's how Graham Parker describes the misadventure.

"...for "Stick to Me," we had an 80-piece string section playing. But the whole album had to be scrapped because the master tape was leaking oxide or something. The producer {Mutt Lange}, again, didn't seem to spot it. We saw this black stuff coming off the tapes but he didn't notice it. When we came to mix it, it was un-mixable. The hi-hat was leaking through all the tracks. It was a nightmare, because we had a tour coming up. In those days I had a manager, and managers are always saying, "We have to play in Sweden now," like that's the most important thing to do. So we re-made the record in a week with Nick Lowe. It's not what I wanted at all. It's a very intense, grungy-sounding record, but I kind of like it now for that reason. I think people are trying to get that sound now, and have been since the late '80s, when we finally got rid of that Phil Collins drum sound and got real again. If a band made a record like that now, it would be hailed as a great low-fi record. But in those days, of course, the American press panned it. They thought I should sound like Boston or Journey or something. They thought I should have a slicker sound. But they had a point."

The Rolling Stone review by Dave Marsh blames Nick Lowe ( who basically came in to rescue the day) for the muddy production but advises fans to stick around.

It is painful enough to be disappointed in this record for the things that are Graham Parker's fault. It is completely unnecessary, however, to again suffer through such an amateurish technical presentation, which veils a great and potentially essential rock talent. If Parker's advisers are devoted to him, they'll get him to a professional recordist, but quick. Graham Parker's talent begs him to conquer the world and spin it on one finger — and he could do it, too. But Stick to Me is only what the title implies — a holding action. Anyone who's heard Parker will hang around, but you'll pardon our impatience: this boy's time is now.

A U.K. Top 20 album, Stick to Me peaked at #125 in the Billboard charts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mice Trying to Sing

On October 11, 1977 Kansas released Point of No Return. Their highest charting album ( at #4) , it would sell four million copies thanks to the single "Dust In The Wind", a finger picking exercise Kerry Livgren turned into a Top 10 hit.  At my high school's talent show, two squeaky voiced girls bravely played the song. The guy next to me sang the chorus "Mice Trying to Sing, all we are is Mice Trying to Sing". 

I have never hears the song the same way since.

Rolling Stone's John Swenson was among the critics who dismissed the album :

Like the inflated balloon that whisked Dorothy and Toto into Oz, Kansas continues its heady ascent into the free space provided by the ever-expanding art-rock market. The key to success for this group is that it plays the same kind of music as Yes and Genesis, but its members are average mid-westerners instead of inaccessible British pop stars. This finally paid off with Kansas' fourth album, Leftoverture, which produced the band's first single, "Carry on Wayward Son."

Understandably, the followup tries to duplicate the hit formula: the songs are shorter, the hooks more condensed, the general sound more hard-rock oriented than since the first Kansas album. It seems to work, although the added songs only serve to stretch overextended lyric ideas even thinner. The pompous sentiment expressed in virtually all Kansas songs is a wan and ridiculous rehash of the bargain-basement exoticism employed by the British art-rock crowd. The band's strength is in the purposefulness of its ensemble playing, because there isn't a virtuoso soloist on board. Keyboardist Steve Walsh's Keith Emerson/Rick Wakeman imitations provide most of the single-line excitement, and his capsule presentation of the first Emerson, Lake and Palmer album, "The Spider," almost gets to the point where it sounds like there's something going on. But the whole thing is unsettling -- I have a feeling we're not in rock and roll.

From Billboard's review :

This six-man rock outfit that broke through with its last LP Leftoverture, a top five album, and hit single "Carry On, Wayward Son," follow up with a much tighter and consistent effort. The instrumental interludes and backing showcases the talents of each member. The generous use of percussion, strings, organ, synthesizer and vibes all fuse together to create a well-conceived, sophisticated, almost surrealistic, rock work. Tempos change from high energy rockers in the manner of "Wayward Son" to lyrical ballads to some lushly orchestrated instrumentals. The vocals remain tight throughout and a bit more disciplined. Best cuts: "Point Of Know Return," "Hopelessly Human," "Dust In The Wind," "Portrait (He Knew)," "Nobody's Home."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Put Expression In Your Eyes

In October of 1977, Joan Armatrading released her fourth album, Show Some Emotion.  Like her self-titled breakthrough, this was produced by Glyn Johns who found a strong set of musicians to support Armatrading on tracks like "Show Some Emotion", "Kissin' And a Huggin'" and fan favorite "Willow".  The first time I was ever surrounded by an audience waving lighters, Armatrading was on stage singing "Willow".

From Robert Christgau's B+ review

OK, I'm convinced. Sometimes funny, always real, and never ever pretentious, she proves that a big, husky voice needn't turn you into a self-important fool. So why don't I have anything more specific to say about this record? Because most of the meaning of the ordinary-plus lyrics is conveyed by stance and nuance.

Show Some Emotion peaked at #6 in the U.K. charts and #52 in the Billboard charts.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Ain't No Loser

In October of 1977 The Dead Boys released their debut album Young Loud and Snotty, one of the best punk albums ever recorded in America. These Cleveland natives ( featuring Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz of the seminal proto-punk band Rocket From the Tombs) moved to New York where CBGB's owner Hilly Kristal began managing them. Inspired by The Stooges and The New York Dolls, The Dead Boys played raucous shows full of hijinks, singer Stiv Bators turing up Iggy's act to 11. Their set lists were made up of covers, originals and more than a few songs from Rocket From the Tombs, including "Sonic Reducer" which contains the anthemic lines 

I don't need anyone
Don't need no mom and dad
Don't need no pretty face
 Don't need no human race
I got some news for you
Don't even need you too

From Robert Christgau's B rated review:

Despite Stiv Bators's mewl, which can get almost as annoying as Geddy Lee's falsetto, this is mostly well-crafted junk, tough and tuneful and in one case--the definitively deafening "Sonic Reducer"--positively anthemic. But the charm of good junk has always been its innocence, and if these fellows are innocent they're pretty perverse about it--emotional incompetents out of their depth. Alternate title (stolen from Mary Harron): Take My Life--Please

Reunited for a 40th anniversary tour, Cheetah Chrome told Blabbermouth the Genya Raven produced album wasn't supoposed to be released the way it was:

"The original album was actually a demo," Chrome says. "None of us had been in a studio before, and we figured we would go back in and do it right, but the label said no. It has stood up, but forty years later, we can do a 'What if?' What would it have sounded like if we could have gone back in? So that's what this is about. It's not better. It's just different." 

The tour had to go on without singer Stiv Bators who was killed  in 1990 when a taxi hit him in Paris.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

To Telepath Messages

On October 8, 1977 The Carpenters entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts with their whacked out cover of Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". Although it begins with the sounds of radio DJ taking a request from an alien caller, the songs is performed with a great deal of earnestness and 160 musicians. Star Wars had been the #1 movie of the year and Close Encounters of a Third Kind would hit movie theaters in a month so a song supposedly written for "World Contact Day" couldn't have been timed better. It topped the Irish charts and went top 10 in the U.K. and Canada while stalling at US#62.

Here's what Richard Carpenter said about the song;

"I heard this song on Canadian group Klaatu's debut album and couldn't resist recording it. (Lyrics such as these don't come along every day!) Peter Knight penned the creative orchestration to my arrangement. In addition to the guitar work, (longstanding Carpenters guitarist) Tony Peluso reprises his role as a befuddled D.J. This performance must be fairly convincing for following its release, we received numerous letters wanting to know when in fact, World Contact Day was scheduled."

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Someone Waits Behind the Door

On October 7, 1977 Ultravox released the double A side single "Rockwrok"/ "Hiroshima Mon Amour". Both are featured on the band's second album Ha! Ha! Ha!, also released in October. By this point, John Foxx and bandmates felt that the "young savages" who had churned out punk rock had pretty much run their course. Ultravox were looking for a new direction and leader John Foxx was very interested in the ways men, romance and machines interacted. 

With the help of a TR77 rhythm machine, Foxx began writing a new song called "Hiroshima Mon Amour", also the title of a restrained New Wave movie. Foxx came to a conclusion that would change the course of music for every synth pop band that followed...and there would be a lot of them .

He explained his thinking in an  interview:

I realised the real impact of emotion is not being dramatic, but when it’s withheld. When you sense someone is withholding emotion. When they don’t want to display it, it's much more moving than displaying it.

"Hiroshima" stands out on the album because of its restraint. Most of the songs still sound like they were created in the intersection where glam rock meets punk. Some Ultraviox fans say its the best album they ever made. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Cucumbers Ripe And Rude

In October of 1977, Devo released their B Stiff EP, a collection singles released by the ban on Stiff Records. Four sides would be re-recorded for the Brian Eno produced  Q. Are We Not Men? A. We Are Devo. ( Also the cover which show golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez would be re-worked to disguise the model). In fact, it was during this recording that Devo recorded "Be Stiff", a song that would become a sort of an anthem for the label. 

Written as a satire about uptight people, the single could spend one week at #71 on the U.K. charts. It was also performed by a variety of artists on the Stiff Tour including Lene Lovich, Mickey Jupp, Wreckless Eric, Rachel Sweet, Jona Lewie and the Be Stiff Ensemble (led by Lene Lovich). At the end of each show, they would all play "Be Stiff" together. In 1982 Toni Basil  recorded her own version of the song.

We would soon be hearing a lot more from Devo whose live show had Eno and David Bowie fighting over who would eventually get to produce the debut album. Below , watch what is reportedly the first time Devo performed "Gut Feeling" on stage.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Burns My Fingers

On October 7, 1977 art rockers XTC released their debut EP, 3D. In their herky jerky, agit-pop years XTC and especially vocalist Andy Partridge could grate on the same ears that admired the oblique tunefulness and intelligence of the early songs. "Science Friction" and "She's So Square" are both Partridge tunes while "Dance Band" is a Colin Moulding song. So much nervous tension!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Where Did We Go Wrong?

On October 3, 1977 Electric Light Orchestra released the double album Out of the Blue. Someone gave me a cassette version of this album in high school and I have to admit I didn't listen to it very much. It's possible I never flipped it over because , years later, I was surprised to find out that my favorite ELO tune, "Mr Blue Sky", was on it. Seventeen songs --with a running time of 70 minutes -- is a lot to work your way though. 

They were all written by Jeff Lynne, who socked himself away in a Swiss chalet for three weeks.

"For the first four days, I couldn't get a thing, I just looked at all that equipment and thought, What a funny job I have",  he told Mojo Magazine. "Mr Blue Sky" took a week to finish. Lynne remembers pounding the chord sequence  for nine hours in a row one day.

From Billy Altman's dismissive review for Rolling Stone :

Here are just a few of the fun facts to be picked up from the inner-sleeve credits on Out of the Blue, ELO's double-LP set: Jeff Lynne's Marshall amps are custom-made be Tony Frank; all ELO road cases are made by Anvil; no less than fourteen utilized in the creation of this work; engineer Mack "slaved over a hot mixer for 1127 hours." Here's my favorite, though: Bev Bevan uses Slingerland "Bev Bevan" drumsticks. One could say that ELO is more than a bit smitten with itself.

 One could say it, and one would be right, though self-absorption is not any grounds for attacking a rock band; it's almost impossible to think of a band or an artist that isn't mainly ego. When one crosses over into self-indulgence, however, it's a different story completely. I didn't read the credits until after I had waded through the four sides of this totally uninteresting and horrifyingly sterile package. What I heard was a meticulously produced and performed set of songs, with subtle nods to the Beach Boys ("Across the Border" has a melodic passage identical to "Heroes and Villains"), the Bee Gees ("Starlight" and "Steppin' Out" both feature Jeff Lynne as Robin Gibb) and, of course, the Beatles (clearly Lynne's biggest influence). And without any noticeable passion or emotion. All method and no madness: perfectly hollow and bland rock Muzak. Solos are virtually nonexistent, which makes perfect sense because an individual statement by any one instrument would set the ELO ship jaggedly off course by injecting some heart into the proceedings. Group commander Jeff Lynne obviously is consumed by his vision of the totality of the ELO sound, floating slowly through the void.

Most ELO fans, I think, will read the credits before they listen to the records, and to them all I can say is, forewarned if forearmed. Entertainment without pretense is fine, but if you're going to imply that what you're giving us is something special, Captain Lynne, you had better make sure that we're reserving seats for an adventure, and not just a walking tour of the industrial works.

From Billboard's review ( note "Mr Blue Sky" absent from list of best cuts) :

This versatile group's first double pocket LP with 17 cuts all tracked at Munich's Musicland Studios may be its quintessential statement. While the music is certainly an extension of its well identified fusion of rock and amplified classical elements it manages to go one step beyond without being overproduced. All kinds of special effects such as echo and delay devices and the speech altering Vocoder are employed in the mix of high energy rockers and lush, ethereal ballads which make it a truly spectacular, multi-track extravaganza. Mind boggling possibilities for both AM and FM programming. Best cuts: "Turn To Stone," "It's Over," "Night In The City," "Jungle," "Sweet Is The Night," "Wild West Hero," "Standin' In The Rain," "Summer And Lightning."

From Jim Harrington's review in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Jeff Lynne is a man with serious ambitions. That much was clear from the start, when he and two other ex-members of pre-ELO psychedelic pop outfit The Move announced that they would now pick up where The Beatles had left off with "I Am The Walrus." But even by Lynne's standards, Out Of The Blue was a daringly ambitious project -- a galaxy-spanning double platter that melded spacey art rock, Beatlesque pop, and sleek orchestral arrangements.

Despite its length, ...Blue does not contain much filler. It kicks off with a trio of tunes that rank among ELO's finest -- the giddy "Turn To Stone" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman" that bookended the meticulously produced "It's Over," a track that hints at what Lynne would later accomplish with George Harrison. The album draws inspiration from both Berry and Beethoven as it moves through rockers such as "Birmingham Blues" and the symphonic side-long "Concerto For A Rainy Day," which climaxes with "Mr. Blue Sky." The cinematic "Wild West Hero," complete with its McCartney-like refrain, brings the album to a triumphant close

Released at the height of disco, Out Of The Blue was seen by some as a futuristic fish out of water. (The trippy spaceship cover was illustrator Shusei Nagaoka's expansive development of the UFO-shaped logo from the band's previous LP, A New World Record.) Nonetheless, it quickly became a platinum-selling hit and launched the band on one of the most ambitious world tours of the 1970s.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

With The Aid Of Delusion

On October 3, 1977 Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers released their legendary album,  L.A.M.F. (Like A Mother Fucker). Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan were both ex New York Dolls, who brought most of the songs, the street cred, and $125 a day heroin habits to the band. 

In late 1976 The Heartbreakers the band was invited by former Dolls manager Malcolm McLaren to join the Anarchy tour with The Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash. On the day they arrived, The Sex Pistols made their infamous appearance on Bill Grundy's show

The tour was mostly cancelled but The Heartbreakers got enough notice to sign a record deal with Track Records.  First came the singles. "Chinese Rocks" b/w "Born To Lose" sold 20,000 copies it its first week of release. "All By Myself" was covered by the Undertones in their 1977 gigs. "One Track Mind" is a re-write of Richard Hell's "Love Comes in Spurts", though to be fair Heartbreaker Walter Lure wrote the original guitar line.

Track asked staff producer Speedy Keen ( who wrote "Something in the Air" as a member of Thunderclap Newman) to speedily record an album with The Heartbreakers.  And this is where things begin to go wrong.

The album was recorded in two studios in several weeks, but it took six months to mix the album in five different studios. It never sounded anything better than muddy. By the time the album came out, nobody wanted to deal with the drug addicts in the Heartbreakers. Want to know why? Just watch Thunders in the clip below.

Many years and many mixes later, there finally is a version of L.A.M.F. that sounds right by combining mixes from London, Japan and Italy. This is the pure sound of a band living and dying for the sake of sex drugs and rock and roll. Punk's Exile on Main Street.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Gone Are The Dark Clouds

In October of 1977, Ray Charles released one of his finest albums, True To Life, his first since returning to Atlantic Records. Best of all is his version of the 1972  Johnny Nash hit "I Can See Clearly Now". 

The critics raved about the album, including Robert Christgau who wrote :

Charles hasn't sung with such consistent care in years. Not that he's given up his jocund audacity--two of the best cuts here are a miraculous recasting of "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and a Bobby Charles song first recorded by, fancy that, Joe Cocker. But even on the throwaways he seems to remember the difference between goofing and goofing off. The first side is as listenable as any Charles I know, and I've learned to enjoy myself through the schmaltz of "Be My Love" and get to the easy stuff on side two. Now if only he'd let those Beatle ballads be.

Ray Charles was described as "the only true genius in the music business" by Frank Sinatra. Get a load of that genius from Charles, still making great music at the age of 47. To help promote the album, Charles would be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in November of 1977.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Soldiers Sailors Stuntmen Jailers

In October of 1977, Sparks released its second album for Columbia Records, the humorously named Introducing Sparks. It's quite possible that the entire album is one big inside joke, making fun of the vapid L.A. session player pop that had helped artists like Alan O'Day, Andrew Gold and Shaun Cassidy score hits in 1977.

 Either that or the Mael Brothers really were hoping to sell out, ( only allowing their true selves to emerge in its Eastern European stomp "Goofing Off" and the Beach Boys parody "Over The Summer").

In either case even Sparks fans usually try to disregard the album. That's probably not fair, The more time I spend with Introducing Sparks, the more I like it.

Here's what the dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau , wrote in his B graded review:

On its five albums for Bearsville and Island, this skillful brother act compounded personal hatefulness with a deliberately tense and uninviting take on pop-rock. But with their Columbia debut, Big Beat, they began to loosen up, and here one cut actually makes surf music history, in the tending-to-hyperconsciousness section. This is tuneful, funny, even open. But the fear of women and the stubborn, spoiled-teenager cynicism is still there, and it's still hateful.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

In The Naughty, Naked Nude

We end a look back at one of the greatest months in rock history with yet another monumental work of art. On September 30, 1977 Ian Dury released his debut album New Boots And Panties!!, a collection of profane and profound tunes with some seriously funky backing by a band led by keyboard player Chaz Jankel. You could get tired of Dury's bawdy lyrics and Cockney rhyming slang and still find yourself looking forward to the next track because of the fresh sound of the record.

With sales of 300,000 this was the best selling album of Dury's career and the first big selling album for Stiff Records. 

The critics immediately praised the album, including Roy Carr of NME who wrote:

.. it's impossible to bag Ian Dury, except to say that he has taken the essence of the Cockney music hall and utilised rock as a contemporary means of expression. On occasions, Ray Davies has dallied with a similar approach, but Dury has none of the self-conscious pretentions that Davies exposed in his flawed Flash Harry caricature. Ian Dury feels no need to adopt a transatlantic voice to comply with his subject matter, preferring to deliver ribald and bittersweet monologues in the tone of voice he was born with ... Whether or not you buy New Boots and Panties at least make hearing the album a priority. It's your loss if you pass.

Robert Christgau gave the album an A - grade writing :

Dury is a pub rock survivor, as tough and homely as a dandelion, as English as music halls, billingsgate, and Gene Vincent. The tenacious wit and accuracy of his lyrics betray how uncommon he believes his blockheaded protagonists really are, and his music rocks out in the traditional blues-based grooves without kissing the past's ass. Tender, furious, sexy, eccentric, surprising.

New Boots and Panties!! was ranked at number 2 in the NME writers' list of the albums of the year for 1977 and at number 7 by the writers of Sounds. All recent releases contain "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll", though the original pressings did not.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Some are Silk and Some are Leather

On September 30, 1977 Billy Joel released his breakthrough album, The Stranger. A homesick lad in boarding school with a penny to spare, I was one of the three million people who joined the Columbia House Record and Tape club. It was the Springs of 1978 and I made the album containing one of my dad's favorite songs, one of my free selections. So this album and I have a lot of history together.

There's a good deal of variety among the tracks: rockers, ballads, and the closest thing Joel has come to making his own "Bohemian Rhapsody",  "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant."

From Ira Mayer writing for Rolling Stone :

This is the first Billy Joel album in some time that has significantly expanded his repertoire. While Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles had occasional moments, the bulk of Joel's most memorable material was on Cold Spring Harbor -- despite its severe technical flaws -- and Piano Man, which gave him his only major success. This time, while such songs as "Movin' Out" and "Just the Way You Are" are forced and overly simplistic, the imagery and melodies of The Stranger more often than not work. 

 Together with producer Phil Ramone, Joel has achieved a fluid sound occasionally sparked by a light soul touch. It is a markedly different effect than his pound-it-out-to-the-back-rows concert flash, although the title song, "Only The Good Die Young" and "Get It Right the First Time" will adapt to that approach as readily as, say, such a Joel signature piece as "Captain Jack." 

"She's Always A Woman," which sounds misleadingly tender, is the key to the difference between The Stranger and Joel's other LPs. We don't expect subtlety or understatement from him and, indeed, his lyrics can be as smartassed as ever. But Ramone's emphasis on sound definitely lessens the impact of the sarcasm, which in the long run may help boost Joel's career immeasurably. In the meantime, old fans will have to listen more carefully than usual.

From Robert Christgau who gave the album a grade of B-:

Having concealed his egotism in metaphor as a young songpoet, Joel achieved success when he uncloseted the spoiled brat behind those bulging eyes. But here the brat appears only once, in the nominally metaphorical guise of "the stranger." The rest of Billy has more or less grown up. He's now as likeable as your once-rebellious and still-tolerant uncle who has the quirk of believing that OPEC was designed to ruin his air-conditioning business

From Claire Stuchber writing for 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die :

The Stranger was the third album from the 28-year-old Billy Joel, who had just begun making a living from his music, having played in piano bars throughout high school in New York to supplement the income of his single mother. Whilst he had already achieved headline status with 1974's Streetlife Serenade, The Stranger was Joel's first album to hit number one on the charts and remained Columbia Records' biggest selling album until 1985. It also prompted his biggest tour yet, playing 54 shows to the United States and Europe in the fall of 1977. 

 The nine-track-long album produced four singles; "Just The Way You Are" that provided his first two Grammy Awards in 1978, "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" with its teen rebellion message and car sounds included, the gentler "She's Always A Woman," and the infectious "Only The Good Die Young." Whilst the lyrics are poetic and clever, the album has a youthful appeal and Joel's gift for storytelling is particularly poignant on the astonishing "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant."

 Musically diverse, Joel's dynamic songwriting is further dramatized in the title track's quiet piano introduction before rocking out in the middle section incorporating a barrage of electric guitars, concluding with the haunting sound of whistling. An amazing 24 people played various parts on the recording. The album is reasonably warm in tone, but slightly eerie in its execution, further exemplified by the stark black-and-white image of a bare-footed, suit-and-tie wearing Joel, sitting on a bed looking at a mask with boxing gloves hanging in the background.

Finally from Hamish Champ's The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s:

The Stranger delivered on the promise of earlier albums such as Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles to become Billy Joel's breakthrough album. Pairing him for the first time with producer Phil Ramone, the nine-track set offered at times a slicker, more commercial version of what had come before.

 The album's double Grammy-winning ballad "Just The Way You Are" gave Billy Joel his first million-selling, Top 10 single, even though he had to be convinced by Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow that it was even worthy of inclusion on The Stranger. The song has since been covered by more than 200 artists. "Movin' Out" and "She's Always a Woman" from the album also became Top 40 hits in their own right, as did "Only The Good Die Young," despite a ban by Catholic radio stations which deemed it anti-Catholic. "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," a characteristic Joel observation on New York life, was the result of combining three different songs. 

 Penned entirely by its artist, The Stranger went on to become Columbia's all-time second biggest seller behind Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, although was kept from ever reaching Number One by the success of the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. As of 2004, The Stranger was the #12 best-selling album of the 70s.