Monday, December 3, 2012
Robert Palmer was one of those guys who dressed a little too nice, smiled a little too wide, and had women just a little too pretty hanging on his arm. Between him and Daryl Hall, they cornered the market on "hipster" before that word was in the buzz-of-the-month club. But despite his impeccable taste - or maybe because of it - Robert Palmer made some great records.
I hold that his early work, for Island, was his best. From 1974 to about 1980 (well before Power Station and "Simply Irresistable" came in and mucked up his career), Robert Palmer albums could be counted on to deliver precision-crafted white soul that kept you moving and grooving nearly automatically. "Double Fun", Palmer's 4th Lp, was notable for the awesome "Every Kinda People", a song that got radio play but should have been bigger; if not for the easy groove and Marvin Gaye vibe, then for the perceptive lyrics about rollin' with the flow. There's also the awesome "You're Going To Get What's Coming", the obvious shoulda-been-a-hit closer. Jamaican rhythms abound throughout, giving "Double Fun" an easy loping party feel from beginning to end.
If you were a fan of the "Addicted To Love"-era Palmer, this album might not suit your taste. On the other hand, it might open your eyes and ears to the work of an artist who knew how to woo an audience well before the video era.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
They cranked out 7 albums in the next seven years, dabbling in anti-war protest songs and psychedelia along the way. Some of their stuff was way out - the 4th side of "Freedom Suite", wherein Eddie Brigati was given free reign for a side-filling drum solo, was a bit hard to take no matter what you might've been smoking. But they made great music right up to the end, when Eddie and bassist Gene Cornish left the group to leave Felix and Eddie to soldier on by themselves.
This 2-disc Rhino collection is one in their classic tradition, which means it not only collects more than 40 songs, but includes a well-researched and thoroughly annotated 30-odd-page booklet. Totally worth having if you can find one, as it documents some of the best blue-eyed soul the Sixties had to offer, including all the hits and then some. I'll bet that some of the later tracks, like "See" and "Glory Glory" will bring back memories you'd forgotten; if not, they'll turn you on to some great music you missed.
- Rare 1967 Atlantic Records promo film for "Groovin'"
- The Young Rascals do "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" on Hullabaloo, 1965
- The reunited group interviewed on Regis and Kathie Lee, 1988
- Felix Cavaliere and The M.G.s' Steve Cropper made a killer album called "Nudge It Up A Notch" for a rejuvenated Stax Records in 2008. You should hear it.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
They've had their ups and downs, for sure. For every "20/20", there was an "M.I.U. Album". And for every "Caroline, No" there was a "Kokomo." Not that "Kokomo" was a bad song... but it was a Mike Love song, and Love's writing, no matter its merits, has always paled in comparison to the master, Brian Wilson.
Wilson's return is the big story here. Brian hadn't really recorded with the group since about 1979, during the "L.A. Light Album" sessions. His breakdown and retreat from life has been well-documented elsewhere, so I won't go into hit here; suffice to say it took Brian quite a long time to come back to the world, but when he did, it was with a vengeance. He's release half a dozen solo albums in the last 10 years, each progressively better than the last, but his return to the Beach Boys (who, themselves, haven't recorded since 1992's disastrous "Summer In Paradise") marks the completion of a long, long journey.
Having Brian back means a return to the lush, intricate, layered harmonies that marked the group's classic days. But while the sound is rooted in the 60s, the material definitely isn't - you can't go 40 years and be unaffected on the far end. So while the guys sound like the surfers of old, the subjects of their songs are decidedly different. Instead of pursuing love, they're saving it. Instead of exploring, they're remembering. Older and wiser, indeed. Brian Marks also returns, an original band member who missed the big time but got to be part of the band after waiting 50 years.
Brian's songs are the killers here. The nostalgic title track is, naturally, the one Capitol led with; "Spring Vacation" is much in the same vein, an autobiographical look at the group's reunion that's singalong ear candy. But the killer is the gorgeous, soaring "Shelter", worth the price of admission all by itself. "Strange World' is Brian's take on what he found when he emerged from his 30-year cocoon, and "Daybreak Over The Ocean" is Mike Love's shining moment in the sun - just the right touch of longing and peaceful contentment to complement his distinctive vocals.
Is "That's Why God Made The Radio" a perfect album? No. But, in 2012, it's about as perfect a slice of Sixties sunshine pop as we're going to get. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
- "That's Why God Made The Radio" official music video
- Listen to "Shelter" on YouTube
- Brian Wilson's personal website
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The programs were anywhere from a half-hour to an hour long, and contained no commercials except those for the branch of the Service they were produced for. For years, KHJ's Robert W. Morgan hosted "Robert W. Morgan For Today's Army"; the Navy had a show called "Navy Hoedown" hosted by a rotating cast of Country artists like Bobby Bare and Mickey Gilley; and the Air Force had Wolfman Jack. (I don't recall the Marines having a show, but it could just be faulty memory.)
The Wolf hosted these half-hour shows throughout the 70s, lending a touch of his howling madness to the Top 40 hits that were current at the time. Each box had 2 Lps, containing a total of 4 shows. This particular set hails from 1976, and features Wolf introducing songs like "Afternoon Delight" and "Heavy Makes You Happy", interspersed with hip Air Force spots selling the advantages of learning computer technology by joining the flyboys.
These are great time capsules. Thousands of them were pressed over the years and sent to radio stations around the country (your tax dollars at work!); if you find one at a swap meet, buy it and drift back in time for a couple of hours, courtesy of Uncle Sam. And if you don't want to keep it, send it to me - I'll gladly cover the postage ;)
Thursday, November 8, 2012
This 6-Lp set (or CDs, if you prefer) was released in 1988 as a 25-year retrospective on Clapton's prolific career. It's a pretty great effort, and covers his stints with several different record companies, working with many different groups. The first side is dedicated to Yardbirds material; the second side is John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Lp #2 covers Cream and Blind Faith; disc #3 and half of #4 is dedicated to Derek & The Dominos. After that, the material seques to Eric's 1970 solo Lp, throwing in amazing live versions of familiar tracks, alternate cuts, 45-only A- and B-sides, and ending with a live acoustic version of "After Midnight" that smoulders along until you, not it, finally catch fire.
It took me about 5 days to listen to this set straight through. It's a great collection. I've owned it on CD and vinyl, and I prefer the vinyl - it's one of the most sonically beautiful pressings that PolyGram ever did. There is not a tick, pop, bubble or imperfection anywhere on it.
It's not easy to cram 25 years worth of music into one cohesive retrospective, but this is an excellent collection that will pay you back, whether you're a Clapton fanatic or just starting to dig in. I wonder if there will ever be a companion piece -- after all, it's now been another nearly 25 years since this set was issued. But I urge you to seek it out, especially if you've got a good turntable.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
A few years back, this thing called DVD-Audio made the scene, along with SACD and DTS CDs. Never heard of any of them? Well, you're probably not alone. But here's the deal: you know how the DVDs and Blu-Ray movies you buy have multiple audio channels? 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound. They let you hear all that cool movie surround audio from your home theater system.
Well, some bright guys at the record companies thought "what if we could listen to music in 5.1, too?" And so Sony, Warner Brothers, Universal and other set about putting 5.1 music onto CDs and DVDs. And it really does sound amazing! Until you've heard Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" in 5.1 surround, you haven't lived.
Unfortunately, they did a bad job of marketing these discs. No one cared. And they stopped making them (for the most part). But every now and then, a new one sneaks out.
That's what makes this Skynyrd comp special: It's in 5.1 surround. In fact, it's a 3-disc set: a stereo greatest hits, the 5.1 DVD-Audio disc, and a video DVD of Skynyrd performances on BBC's "Old Grey Whistle Test" programme (UK spelling for my Brit friends).
Here's the thing: It's only available at Wal-Mart, and in limited quantities. So if you want to get it, do it now. The price is right: Only $11.99.
There's a lot that's great about this disc. First, it's Skynyrd, in Surround! Hearing "Curtis Loew" and "Gimme Three Steps" in 5.1 Advanced Resolution audio is pretty danged amazing. And the remix was done by the legendary Elliot Scheiner, the guy who did Surround Sound mastering for Roy Orbison and Porcupine Tree, among others. It's quality stuff.
The downside is that only 10 tracks are on the 5.1 disc, and "Sweet Home Alabama" is not among them. (Word in the multichannel audio underground is that this surround set was part of a more comprehensive remix project begun in 2008 when 5.1 Surround was in full flower at Universal Music, so we're just lucky that this music made it out into the wild.)
Anyway, be on the lookout. If you've got a home stereo, and you're a Skynyrd fan, find a copy and play it loud. It's great stuff.
Friday, November 2, 2012
At the time, the band had already gone through some major changes, with the departure of Randy Bachman and his brother to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and the band was down to 5 guys at this point. Although widely panned by critics at the time, it was still a much better album than, say #10, from the year before, or Power In The Music from a year later. In fact, it sounds more like a Burton Cummings solo album than any of the Guess Who records that came before, with Cummings front-and-center on the vocals, and his piano moved into the spotlight as well. (Burton himself might just have regarded this as a warm-up, as his amazing solo debut came in 1976, just two years later.)
In addition to "Wolfman", "Star Baby" was a highlight, one of those "should've been a hit" moments that inexplicably didn't get airplay... probably because no one was taking the Guess Who seriously by this time. It's not the Guess Who album I'd direct folks to who'd never heard them before, but it's a great period piece and if you love "American Woman", you'll love this too.
For further investigation:
Thursday, November 1, 2012
To be fair, "Let Me Be There" was a much better song than Tammy's ("Kids Say The Darndest Things") or Dottie's ("Country Sunshine"), but there was a feeling that the crossover nature of the song, which hit huge with Top 40 audiences and signalled Olivia's breakthrough hit, tainted the jury pool, so to speak. It might be possible.
I put this album on thinking that, as with so many "light rock" artists I disdained during the 70s (Gordon Lightfoot, Dan Fogelberg, Karla Bonoff), I would feel a rush of appreciation -- Good Lord! How could I have been so blind to the obvious musical talent, the mastery of the material? But sometimes, a stone is just a stone, no matter how many years of wind and wave polish it. "Let Me Be There" compiles almost a side's worth of tracks from Olivia's Uni debut Lp ("If Not For You," 1972), including the hit Dylan cover, and throws in another side's worth of MOR covers from the early 70s.
I made the mistake of listening to Side 2 first, and let me tell you, hearing Olivia warble her way through John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was like eating uncooked Jell-O. This is followed by a cover of the old Merrilee Rush hit, "Angel Of The Morning," but there's nothing new to add, and it's crunchy-sweet too. Then there's a Lightfoot cover. Urrrgh.
Flipping over to Side 1 was a bit better, with the title track at the top and "If Not For You" at the end, but then there's Olivia trying her best to interpret "Me And Bobby McGee" -- just imagine that, if you will. Janis she ain't and try as she might, she sounds like she was smiling the whole way through. And to add insult to injury, MCA chose another clinker from her first Lp, a horrid syrupy rendition of "Banks Of The Ohio" that is enough to put a zombie off his brain souffle.
The only surprise here is a truly stunning cover of Lesley Duncan's "Love Song", off of Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection" album. It's so good, in fact, that I'm convinced it would have been a radio hit if the bonehead A&R doofuses at MCA had had the smarts to release it. (There's a reason MCA is referred to in the industry as "Music Cemetary of America".)
So, yeah, some things don't get better with age. Lightfoot has. Wendy Waldman has. Even, God help me, Johnny Mathis has (or at least I've finally learned to appreciate him). But not this album -- sorry. (Although the photo on the cover is stunning.)
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
- Linda sings "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" on the Johnny Cash Show, 1970. This appears to be sung live to the record's backing track.
- Duetting with the great Bobby Darin on "Long, Long Time". Bobby plays acoustic guitar. Her vocals are such a note-for-note match to the record that I thought this was lip-synced at first, but after the first verse, it's obvious that Bobby's backing crew is playing live.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
If you're an oldies radio listener, you're probably familiar with Day's one huge hit, "Rockin' Robin," which was covered by Michael Jackson in the early 70s, and maybe "Buzz Buzz Buzz" by the Hollywood Flames, for which Day was the lead singer. These songs dated from 1958 and 1957, respectively. But there's more to the story than those two songs, and this excellent Rhino Lp from 1984 collects 14 fairly rare sides from the late 1950s, most of which were on small R&B labels and long out of print.
What the album showcases is a real, true pioneer in the fusion of rock 'n roll and R&B, a crossover artist who just couldn't catch a break, as his songs were covered by others for huge hits (Phil Spector-produced Thurston Harris covered his "Little Bitty Pretty One," for instance, and the Dave Clark Five hit with his "Over And Over" in 1965), but his own recordings went unnoticed.
Day had one last hit, as half of Bob and Earl, who recorded "Harlem Shuffle" in the mid-Sixties for Bell; the other half of Bob and Earl was none other than Barry White.
These are incredibly catchy songs; if you can find this Lp, it's worth picking up. There's an excellent CD put out by Varese Sarabande as well, which collects singles from a bit broader time period; it's also out of priint.
You gotta salute the pioneers when you find 'em, especially the ones that don't get the respect they deserve.
- See Bobby lip-sync to "Rockin' Robin" in 1958 in this clip from AFRTS (Armed Services Radio Television Service
Friday, October 26, 2012
This is a fantastic record with some really great Timothy B. Schmitt songs. It holds up well after all this time... Worth seeking out.