Thursday, November 23, 2017

Playground to the Rich

There are some people who believe the best album Iggy Pop released in 1977 had nothing to do with David Bowie. While The Idiot and Lust For Life get all the attention, there's a third album that was released by Bomp! in November of 1977. Kill City was recorded with ex-Stooge guitarist James Williamson in 1975 on weekends when Iggy was given permission to leave his mental hospital.where he was receiving treatment for his heroin addiction.

 Iggy's state of mind comes through on the title track: "Livin' here in Kill City / where debris meets the sea/It's a playground to the rich / it's a loaded gun to me" 

More raw than Raw Power, more Alice Cooper than punk rock. . The Wire included Kill City in their list of "100 Records That Set the World on Fire (While No One Was Listening)"

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

RIP David Cassidy

David Cassidy posed naked ( for photographer Annie Leibovitz) and revealed his drug use in the May 11th, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone. "The Business of David Cassidy" --which at that point included a Top Ten version of "Cherish" and a hit TV show called "The Partridge Family "-- would never be the same.

   It pissed off everybody that was really profiting from the business of David Cassidy. I had fan letters that came to me--and there were hundreds of thousands of them, literally-- in defense of me by fans of mine, that said, "Oh David, I know that you couldn't possibly have done this because I know that you would never have posed nude for photographs", And the fact was, I had, willingly done so, had thought about it. I scratched my head and thought, you know, this David Cassidy business has really gotten outta hand. 
~ David Cassidy

Just Like Rogers and Astaire

Chic's three album run of great disco albums started with the self-titled debut, released on November 22, 1977. The best known track is the U.S.Top 10 hit "Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah)", which features an uncredited Luther Vandross singing back up, but I prefer "Everybody Dance" probably because of the scene below in The Last Days of Disco.

Chic's creative forces were songwriters Bernie Edwards ( bass) and Nile Rodgers (guitar).  At one point they had hoped their rock fusion group Big Apple Band would become the black version of Kiss. When that didn't pan out, they teamed up with a pair of female vocalists, Alfa Anderson and Norma Jean Wright, and tried their hands at disco.

The debut is a bit of a mixed bag, a playful effort at sounding sophisticated by quoting old sayings like "Yowsah", adding a big band sound to "Strike Up The Band" and french lyrics like "Est-ce Que C'est Chic". There's even some quiet storm numbers like "Sao Paolo". At the time critics weren't impressed. 

When Niles moved his funky guitar up in the mix, Chic would find their most successful sound with the 1978 follow up C'est Chic featuring the #1 smash "Le Freak" and "I Want Your Love".

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Approaching In a Zoom

On November 21, 1977 Earth Wind and Fire released All 'n'All, the first album of theirs that I bought-by mistake thanks to the Columbia House Records and Tape club. I still consider it one of the best mistakes I made with Columbia House ( and a hell of a lot better than the Allman Brothers' Enlightened Rogues or Bad Company's Desolation Angels).

Even as a teenage novice music lover, I was taken by the complex, funky horns, the spaced out lyrics and the Brazilian music influences. It remains a favorite from 1977.

Joe McEwan of Rolling Stone wrote what seems like a mixed review but he would later put this on his ten best list

At their worst, Earth, Wind and Fire indulge in some of the most pretentious excesses in current black music. As on past Earth, Wind and Fire records, All 'n All is filled with leaded brotherhood platitudes, Star Trek sci-fi and stiffly poetic love songs. This sounds overwrought and depressing (and maybe it is). But there's a catch: I like the record, for like much current black music, All 'n All elicits a schizophrenic response. If the album represents some of the worst in black music, it also has more than its share of the best.

 Earth, Wind and Fire's prime mover, Maurice White, is a former Chess Records session drummer, and his rhythmic sense is one of the group's redeeming features. The rhythm tracks on All 'n All are often enough to savage the most convoluted and awkward lyrics. "Serpentine Fire," a song about the spinal life-center philosophy of many Eastern religions, is a simple tango spiced by a subtle funk base and the incessant clanging of a cowbell. Other songs incorporate snatches of supple James Brown bass lines, delicate Latin beats and hard, insistent funk vamps.

 White's production virtues don't end there, though. The lyrics of "Fantasy" ("Come to see, victory, in the land called fantasy") may be hard to swallow, but the music is as close to elegance as any funk song has come. Voices and a light touch of strings suddenly appear over a choppy, propulsive track, swell and swoop, only to disappear at the snap of a finger and pop up moments later for an exciting, powerful finale. White also utilizes an odd instrumental mix that gives equal emphasis to percussion (except the bass drum, which is usually played down), bass, rhythm guitars and stabbing, staccato horn bursts. The result is light but substantial, and it's become a model for many other bands.

Escapism and fantasy are prominent in the lyrics of many soft-soul groups, but usually (intentionally or otherwise) they're used humorously, or at least with tongue in cheek. At times, Earth, Wind and Fire is also capable of such fluffy warmth; in fact, torchy love ballads sung by Verdine White, Maurice's brother, have become a recent trademark. Verdine often sounds like a straining Eddie Kendricks and here, on "I'll Write a Song for You," which is distressingly close to MOR, he has the type of lush romantic vehicle that one wishes Kendricks still employed.

 But that warmth isn't always felt, and despite the musical gloss, much of Earth, Wind and Fire's escapism seems unintentionally obsessive and desperate. It's easy to be seduced by the artfulness and grace of Earth, Wind and Fire's music and accept it for its craftsmanship and listenability. On that level, the group is challenging and fun. It's also easy to by cynical about a line like, "Jupiter, come from the galaxy/I want to meet you, to make you free," which seems as potentially dishonest and escapist as shooting dope.

 There's a strange contrast to be drawn between All 'n All and Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On. Riot was druggy, down and honest. All 'n All is flashy, bright and fanciful. Sly saw what he didn't want to see. The Earth, Wind and Fire album is like looking at yourself in the mirror and finding that nothing is there. Maybe that's what makes All 'n All so compelling -- and scary.

Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ writing:

Focusing soulful horns, high-tension harmonies, and rhythms and textures from many lands into a first side that cooks throughout. Only one element is lacking. Still, unsympathetic as I am to the lyrics about conquering the universe on wings of thought, they make me want to shake my fundament anyway. 

  And from Tom Moon's 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die :

Easily the most intense three minutes ever committed to tape by '70s hitmakers Earth Wind & Fire is "Sing a Song," the tightly wound but never fully erupting essay in funk lavishness that was a hit single from the band's 1975 album Gratitude. Next on the list might by "Reasons," the ballad showcase for the skyscraping falsetto of vocalist Philip Bailey from That's the Way of the World, which was also released in '75. In the time-compressed shorthand of pop, those are the must-have moments.

 But they're not the whole story. At the time of these successes, the Memphis-based band, led by drummer, producer, and part-time mystic Maurice White, was attempting to move beyond singles. All 'n' All, which came out in 1977, was EWF's first and best attempt at developing a wholly satisfying album experience, a cycle in which every song mattered. The unifying thread was Brazilian rhythm. "We'd been hanging out for a month in Argentina and Brazil, especially "Rio," White recalled in the liner notes. "Man, we heard stuff that blew our minds, opened our heads up wide. I wanted some of it in our music." After studying the progressive funk of Banda Black Rio and the arty songs of Milton Nascimento, White and his core group wrote pieces that embraced undulating samba and chants heard at Carnival, and integrated elements of Brazilian rhythm into the EWF lockstep funk. The wordless focal "Runnin'" with is ba-bee-da-boo-whees, turned up on jazz radio, and several album tracks, including the jittery "Jupiter," were easily catchy enough to follow the high-gloss "Serpentine Fire" onto the radio.

 White connected the tunes with a series of interludes built on the African thumb piano known as kalimba and street percussion; one, "Brazilian Rhyme," was based on a Nascimento song. Though brief, these pieces unified the album, and gave it a cosmopolitan sound that, like the music that inspired it, opened heads heads up wide.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A New Day's Dawn

In November of 1977, the British songwriter John Martyn released One World. Next to 1973's Solid Air, it may be his most cherished album. NME called it "mean, moody and magnificent". 

What you would never guess from listening to this man's soft voice and the experience of having his beautiful music wash over you is that Martyn was incredibly tempestuous. By 1977, following the death of friends Nick Drake and Paul Kossoff, Martyn was fully engulfed in his heroin addiction and heavy drinking lifestyle.

   One World was an opportunity to return to what he did best. At Island Records founder Chris Blackwell's Berkshire home, Martyn made a mesmerizing album with the help of Stevie Winwood and friends who helped on Solid Air.

When people talk about One World, they inevitably bring up the nearly nine minute closing track "Small Hours". It was recorded outside, near a lake, with Martyn improvising with his guitar and echoplex. The unmistakable sounds of birds ( Loons? Geese?)  can be heard. There's some percussion. Some organ from Winwood and Martyn singing " Keep on loving while your love is strong, Keep on loving 'til your love is gone away".

One of 1977's transcendent moments.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sleepy Head Kid Sister

On November 19, 1977 the other side of the new Wings "Mull of Kintyre" single entered Billboard's Hot 100 single chart at #83. It's a bit of a racy rocker from Macca who wrote the  lyrics about taking drugs and a sister who runs a "full body out call massage parlor" while vacationing in Hawaii. The single would peak at #33 in the US which ignored the UK phenom on the other side.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Standards Rule OK

On November 18, 1977 The Jam released their second album, This is the Modern World, just six months following their debut. The main inspirations remain The Kinks and The Who. ("Standards" uses an updated riff from "I Can't Explain"). The difficult second album? Not really. It's actually just more of the youth explosion that made the reality of In The City so hot!

Mick Farren wrote this review for NME :

So this is the modern world. I´m glad they told me. For an instant I´d thought I´d been transported back to 1965 ... He doesn´t need me to tell him (Weller) that The Jam are playing excellent, streamlined rock and roll. He also won´t want me to point out that the production by Vic Smith and Chris Parry is well on the thin side, that some of the riffs don´t stand up to the amount of repetition that they are subjected to and that after a couple of tracks the vocals do lean towards the monotonous ... What The Jam have in common with the rest of the British new wave is a kind of sullen gut level nihilism ... I doubt anything I could say would add to or detract from its obvious status as a hot item, buy wise. So roll the commercials.

From Chas de Wally writing for Sounds:

And people were trying to tell me that this was a lousy album and The Jam were all washed up ... It´s one of the best albums I´ve ever heard in a long time ... Admittedly Paul Weller´s voice still leaves a lot to be desired ... Not everything here owes a debt to The Who ... The Jam capture the essence of transistor radio rock. Bright and naive. Timeless. Brilliant ... Weller is a dry and impassive observer ... In some cases you might even call him genuinely and humanely perceptive ... The Jam are streets ahead of their rivals ... The Jam are young and brave ... Still as real and ingenious as it possible to be in the rock business ... As a live band they are quite one of the best ... It still isn´t their masterpiece.

And from Chris Bazier writing for Melody Maker :

The Who´s influence is marked on both the construction of the songs and the instrumental style ... much of the record suffers precisely because it´s typical Jam -- ´Standards´, ´Here Comes The Weekend´, ´In The Street Today´ and ´Modern World´ are all adequate but thoroughly ordinary and don´t represent any development ... Some of the songs are lyrically weak ... ´Standards´ seems to ridicule the kind of Tory attitude Weller once espoused , which is fine but the attack is too glib and exaggerated ... Existence does have its highs and it´s when Paul Weller is glorying in it that he seems to write his best ... The Jam spiriting us towards the second psychedelic age? ... Paul Weller should mature into one of our best songwriters, provided he keeps his mind open... This album only hints at what The Jam are capable of.

Finally there's Barry Cain from Record Mirror

Forget the sixties. Forget comparisons. Forget Jam, The Who, Beatles, The Kinks. Forget the naive neurosis of the plagiarists. The Jam are here. And now ... "This Is The Modern World" reflects a definite PROGRESSION (remember that?) a definite identity mould ... here Weller is making an obvious attempt at creating a Jam SOUND. He succeeds. Brilliantly. It is in fact a ceremonial uncovering of the post-pubescent metropolitan veil -- moth eaten but nonetheless sacrosanct ... The name of the game is simplicity ... It´s not that Weller is softening, it´s just that he´s learning ... His cracked pavement voice has often been a cause for concern in certain circles which I could never understand. It´s perfect for his songs ... he sings like he looks. Freddie Garrity could never say that.