Tuesday, August 22, 2017

You Take the High Road

In August of 1977, Dennis Wilson released his first and only solo album, the critically-acclaimed Pacific Ocean Blue.  

Over the years its status has grown, but right out of the gate Rolling Stone critic Billy Altman had nothing but praise :

Although Dennis Wilson never wrote many of the Beach Boys' songs, his few compositions over the years have been consistently memorable. Prior to his solo debut (the first by any of the original Beach Boys), he was most noticeable on Sunflower, where he just about stole the show with such standouts as "Forever," "Slip On Through" and "Get to Know the Woman." Still, Sunflower came out seven years ago, leaving one with guarded feelings about what a Dennis Wilson solo album would sound like. The news, as delivered by Pacific Ocean Blue, is more than just good. This is a truly wonderful and touching album.

 Wilson's style, both in terms of singing and songwriting, is unique. His voice somehow manages to be both rough and fragile at the same time, making his vocals strangely powerful and moving. As a songwriter, his strong suit is the ballad, and though the tunes are often little more than fragments, they have a way of taking hold of your emotions. "Farewell My Friend" and "Thoughts of You" demonstrate the intensity of Wilson's songs, although both avoid the verse/chorus/bridge structure of most pop songs. And even on such uptempo numbers as the title track and "Friday Night," there's a sensitivity and vulnerability that is almost irresistible.

 To his credit, Wilson did not gather a carload of familiar names to make it through this project -- none of the other original Beach Boys appears here.*Nor did he attempt to mimic the Beach Boys' sound. Yes, there are certain Beach Boy touches here and there, especially in the complex vocal arrangements: "Thoughts of You" has a passage that seems right out of Surf's Up, and "You and I" could easily have been part of Friends. But on the whole, Pacific Ocean Blue is a distinctly personal statement and reveals Dennis Wilson to be a talented and gifted performer in his own right.

*Some of the other Beach Boys actually did contribute. Carl helped write "River Song" and Mike Love helped with the title cut. Carl, Bruce Johnston and Ricky Fataar also played on one or more songs.

In his autobiography I Am Brian Wilson, Dennis's big brother wrote about the album:

  After Dennis died, people used to ask me all the time what I thought about his solo record, Pacific Ocean Blue. I have said that I never heard it, that I won't listen to it, that it's too many sad memories and too much for me. That's sort of true, but not really.  I know the music on it. I was around for much of the time in the mid-70's when Dennis was cutting the record. I loved what he was doing. My favorite song that he ever made was on it. I don't know for sure what he ended up calling it, but there was a part that went "No more lonely nights/I'll never make the headlines." Is it called "You and I"? I love that cut. But I haven't ever put the record on and listened through it the way I have with other records, or the way that other people have with that records. If I want to know what Dennis's soul sounded like, I can just remember the songs - "What's Wrong," "Dreamer," "Farewell My Friend," "End of the Show." They tell the whole story of how sad and beautiful his life was, how the beauty tried to grow but the sadness kept it in.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Breath of Fresh Air

On August 21, 1977 Jean Michel Jarre's year old "Oxygene, Part IV" entered the U.K. charts at #22 during a summer the Brits were enthralled with spacey synthesizer songs ( like "Magic Fly" by Space and "Fanfare For the Common Man" By Emerson, Lake and Palmer). Jarre's single would peak at #$ and help the frenchman sell 15 million copies. In 1978 Jarre married the actress Charlotte Rampling.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Digging For a Lousy Dime

Guest Post By Donald John Trump :

I want to APPLAUD the very talented Alan Parsons Project for this song. It was great! We love you Alan. Thank you.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Well Known Groover

In August of 1977, EMI signed Tom Robinson Band, waiting until Ray Davies released the "prince of the punks" from his Konk recording contract under the agreement that Davies would get 10% of everything Robinson earned over the next two years. Robinson and Davies did not part under the best of circumstances. In "Prince of the Punks", Davies snarls "He acts working class but it's all bologna/He's really middle class and he's just a phony/He acts tough but it's just a front,/He's the prince of the punks. "

It was a heady time for Robinson who would soon have a UK#5 hit called "2-4-6-8 Motorway"

"Within nine months we'd made the transition from signing on at Medina Road dole office to Top of the Pops, Radio One, EMI Records and the giddy heights of the front cover of the New Musical Express".

But there's still some drama awaiting EMI and Robinson who wanted his next single to be the year old "Glad To Be Gay". Was the world ready?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Row Fisherman Row

Bob Marley and the Wailers' Exodus may be the best known of the reggae albums to come out of 1977, but Heart of the Congos may be the most beloved. Produced by Lee Perry and featuring the falsetto vocals of Cedric Myton and the tenor tones of Roydel Johnson, Heart of the Congos has finally been recognized as a roots rock masterpiece. The songs are spiritual and mystical and they run twice as long as typical reggae tunes so you may find yourself drifting off into dub-land as they wash over you.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Sad Affliction

In the Summer of '77, The London punk band named after England's emergency telephone number released their self-financed debut single "I'm Alive b/w Quite Disappointing". "I'm Alive" remains one of '77's most memorable singles and led to the band's signing with United Artists Records right after The Buzzcocks. Nick Cash sings a bit too much like Pete Shelley. For one reason or another , 999 would remain a second tier punk band. Perhaps because they didn't bring any thing new to the genre...and suspiciously played too well.  Imagine how things might have turned out, if 999 agreed to let Chrissie Hynde join the band.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Death of the Memphis Monarch

On August 16, 1977 Elvis Presley, the king of rock'n' roll, died. The stunning news swept around the world where he was worshipped by millions of fans.

I was a 13 year old boy riding with a family friend who was negotiating the streets of San Francisco when we heard about the king's death on the radio. She had to pull over. Her eyes filling with tears. 

He had so many fans and yet , after turning "forty and fat", Elvis distanced himself from almost everyone in his life. He died alone in a bathroom in his 23-room mansion, 14-acre estate in Memphis, Tennessee, called Graceland, and is buried there along with his parents and grandmother. 

I visited on winter day in 1995 when I stopped in Memphis on the way to a new job in Colorado. There are messages from fans on the stone wall outside Graceland. His gravesite adorned with flowers year round and I even caught a photo of a man who still dresses like Elvis.

By then I was enough of a fan to know what I liked about Elvis : his comeback albums Elvis Is Back! (1961) and From Elvis in Memphis (1969); his gospel album His Hand in Mine (1960) and everything that makes up The Sun Sessions. At his best, Elvis was an incredibly inventive singer, charming, good looking, sexy, and soulful. 

Of course he was not at his best in 1977. On stage he was sweating profusely, his prematurely white hair dyed shoe polish black, carrying around several pounds of waste that he couldn't defecate without pain, That's why he died on the toilet in the middle of the night. 

On the tenth anniversary of Elvis's death , I wandered the streets of Charleston, South Carolina asking people for their memories. "He loved his mama," one lady said. "Elvis loved his mama".