Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lost On Some Horizon

On February 17, 1978 a teenage Kate Bush released her debut album, The Kick Inside. Kate Bush began writing songs when she was 10 or 11. Pink Floyd's David Gilmour discovered Bush who, at age 15, had already written the future UK#6 hit "Man With the Child in His Eyes". He put up the money for Bush to make a demo and passed a tape to EMI record execs.

The Kick Inside is the debut of a remarkable, other worldly performer with enormous talent, imagination and vocal range. She may, in fact, have been held back by studio musicians with backgrounds in respectable bands like Cockney Rebel and Alan Parson Project.  This has been quite the eye opener for me, having only owned Hounds of Love. I've had a nice time getting familiar with this album. 

From Creem Magazine:

Mary Hopkin meets Emily Bronte, Laura Nyro discovers reggae, Joan Armatrading masquerades as Joni Mitchell -- comparisons with other vocalists are inevitable, but Kate Bush won't be stuck with them for long. Bush is an original; she bends oblique imagery into harmony with frank questions, skitters in and out of character roles and often pairs a munchkin falsetto with charmingly shameless Iyrics.

The chorus of "Feel It" is more erotic than any of Rod Stewart's crude suggestions or Donna Summers' pathetic panting; the mounting tension and banshee vocal on "Wuthering Heights" is more effective than all those freaky teenage death-love songs of the '60s combined.

Kate's singing is decidedly delicately unsettling; her musicians are careful not to tromp their fullbodied arrangements over it. Sometimes her phrasing has the sophistication of a jazz singer's, her delivery joyfully percussive; sometimes Bush's childish enunciation slides into lullaby. She's artificially sweet and nearly punk with "James and the Cold Gun" elated but tremulous an "Kite." A misplaced accent or awkward line occasionally betray her control of her gifts, but they should disappear with time.

Bush's talent for soul-baring would be frightening were it not so ingenuous; she writes from a well of fantasy and feeling with a patina of experience, her concerns universal and womanly -- not the usual wilted kitten yearning or last-rave bathos. She embraces love, sex, creativity and freedom as experience, with all the emotional complications they entail and successfully pulls off a witchingly sly celebration of the menarche and women's intuition ("Strange Phenomena").

With a voice so eerie it's difficult to imagine Kate Bush as a popular taste but then she's already proved quite palatable in England. Sometimes strange is wonderful.

A review from Stereo Review that calls "Wuthering Heights" one of two clunkers on a pro-sex album :

A lot of people are not going to like what they hear Kate Bush saying in her new album THE KICK INSIDE, about being a woman in the Seventies. And perhaps even more are going to object to the way she says it, for in many of her songs she treads on a territory (sex-as-sex-as-sex) long held to be a male preserve. She does so with the same brisk authority and self-possession that has characterized at least some British women since the days of Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragist-extraordinaire, and for this reason she will surely offend a great many men.

But probably as many women will be equally upset by Kate Bush's candor and honesty, though for a much different reason, the gallingly accurate one given by Germaine Greer in her book "The Female Eunuch". Greer says that as far as women's rights and equality are concerned, they are an accomplished fact, that indeed for the last fifty years the cage has been open, but the bird has refused to fly out. Bush's frankness and sense of what a female friend of calls "gut nooky" will hardly endear her to those women who still cling to the perch while making complaining Tweetie-Pie denials of their own sexuality.

What is different, however, about Kate Bush -- and what makes her songs important -- is not agitprop but excellence. With such songs as "Room For The Life", "Feel It", or "L'Amour Looks Something Like You", listeners know that they are in the presence of a real person, a real woman who lives in the here-and-now dealing with life as it is being lived, not as it is supposed to be lived in the perfume ads. Bush's females are fully as hungry as males are -- not in the angry, doomed, and rather dreary way of the romantic-gone-wrong of LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, but simply as healthy, alive human beings with sensual and sexual appetites to satisfy. And they are as guiltless about expressing their hunger as most males have been for years.

Consider this from "Feel It": "Feel your warm hand walking around/ I won't pull away, my passion always wins/ So keep on a-moving in, keep on a-tuning in/ Synchronize rhythmn now..." Or this from "L'Amour": "I'm dying for you just to touch me/ And feel all the energy rushing right up-a-me/ L'Amour looks something like you." Bush performs these songs with a direct sincerity in an appealing, rather quavery, high-pitched voice that communicates not lubricity but the joy of satisfactory love-making. What we have here is not the eye-rolling lewdness of Xaviera Hollander (the greatest management consultant of modern times), the kinkiness of a Pauline Reage, or even the brittle comedy of sexual manners of an Erica Jong, but a human being telling about one aspect of her humanity.

There is a great deal more to Kate Bush and her album than matters sexual, however, and aside from two clinkers -- "Wuthering Heights", a weary rehash about "cruel Heathcliff", and "James And The Cold Gun", a song about 007 [not!] that seems as deliberately nonsensical as the plots of some of the Bond films -- all her songs have a lively sense of truth-telling about them. In the lovely "The Man With The Child In His Eyes", the protagonist confesses. "And here I am again my girl/ Wondering what on earth I'm doing here/ Maybe he doesn't love me/ I just took a trip on my love for him." Probably the strongest song in the album is "Room For The Life", which in one way is a call to those still-caged Tweetie-Pies and in another is a simple statement of the perils of freedom, liberation, and independence in the life of any Seventies woman: "Night after night in the quiet house/ Plaiting her hair by the fire, woman/ With no lover to free her desire/ How long do you think she can stick it out/ How long do you think before she'll go out, woman/ Hey get up on your feet and go get it now/ Like it or not we keep bouncing back/ Because we're woman."

Nobody's said it better than that in quite a while -- not even Katherine Hepburn, who was asked a few years ago if she missed having a home life because of the demands of her career and replied, "Well, we can't have it all, can we?" Kate Bush seems to know and to believe and, most important, to communicate that what women can have, if they are honest with themselves, is quite enough. You've come a long way, Emmeline baby!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Doo Be Do

In February of 1978, Blondie's "Denis" entered the U.K. Top 50 where it would climb all the way up  to Number 2, prevented from hitting the toppermost of the poppermost by Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights". "Denis" is actually a cover version of the 1963 Randy and the Rainbows Top 10 hit "Denise". Blondie keeps the Buddy Holly-ish sound but adds some of Debbie Harry's "pidgen french" lines.

There was something about the way the former Playboy bunny squinted at the camera and played with her microphone that made boys throughout Europe mad for Harry. The song, from the forthcoming Plastic Letters, hit #1 in Belgium and the Netherlands but never charted in the band's native US of A.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Faith And Meekness

On February 17, 1978  The Adverts released debut album, recorded at Abbey Road Studios with John Leckie (Magazine's Real Life, The Stone Roses debut, Radiohead's The Bends) producing. Having made their mark in 1977 with the U.K. Top 10 hit "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" and other singles, Tghe Adverts' album seemed a bit late to take full advantage of their punk success and would only briefly visit the UK Top Forty. 

CDs of the original album collect all the singles including "Gary Gilmore's Eyes", "Bored Teenagers" and "Safety in Numbers". It's  jam packed with fast and furious tunes sung in a Glam rock style by T.V. Smith. And  of course there is the bass player, Gaye Advert, whose look was copied everywhere.

As decades have passed, the album has risen in critical prominence, making both 1001 Albums You Must Hear ("More than 20 years on, it now sounds much fresher, less aggressive, and more soulful than many of its lauded contemporaries") and The Mojo Collection (Red Sea...became the Great Lost Punk Album") 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The TV Screen Is Calling Me

In February of 1978 Gary Numan's punk band,  Tubeway Army, released their  debut single. "That's Too Real" would be followed by "Bombers", another angry single in the Summer. Then, when the band went into the studio to record their first album, Numan discovered synthesizers.

Before Synthesizers

After Synthesizers

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My Camel Looks So Tired

On February 13, 1978 Squeeze released their debut album. It wasn't just produced by John Cale. It was hijacked by John Cale, who apparently wanted the band to make a punk-rock concept album about body building. So out went the material  by songwriters who would soon be compared to Lennon and McCartney. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook has to come up with new material on the spot. It's a great story but the resulting album isn't really anything to get excited about.

The boys have figured out a good way to respond to questions about Cale whose band, the Velvet Underground released an album that gave Squeeze its name. Here's Difford in New Times:

John Cale really was...not very talkative when we made a record with him. I was kind of there asking questions and probing him...but he wasn't very talkative. He would point in a direction and we would go, but he didn't make much small talk at the time. But just to be in the room as someone as famous as him at that time in my life was enough. I've got all his solo records, and still play them. I adore his eccentricity. 

I read something in Mojo Magazine that suggests he wasn't at his most lucid or productive time during the making of that record. Is that fair? 

 He was a bit off-pieced. But it didn't really matter. It was just great having them. Sometimes people can be in the room and just change the order of events just because they are there. Sometimes when people have been flying and they have jet lag, I get jet lag too just from being in the room with them. It just shows how powerful human personality can be really.

The band produced the U.K. Top 20 single "Take Me I'm Yours" themselves. Good call. Featuring Tilbrook singing high and Difford low, it's the best signifier of things to come, as opposed to "Bang Bang", a song they would most likely rather forget.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sitting In This Cell

On February 12, 1978 the English punk band Sham 69 played London's Roundhouse, a week before releasing their debut album, the U.K #25 half studio/half live hit Tell Us The Truth. Sham 69 may not have seemed as smart as The Jam or The Sex Pistols but that was kind of the point. They played punk tunes that often ended in football stadium style chants because that's what the kids wanted. Sham 69 would release two albums in 1978. And for anyone who doubted the band's intellect, the second one, That's Life, would be a concept album about a day in the life of a punk rocker.

In case you're wondering how a singer makes sure he's heard over a punk rock band, Jimmy Pursey is singing into two mics. The video is also notable because there is no sign of the violence that would marr most of their live shows. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Cloud of Sparrows

On  February 11, 1978 Nina Hagen Band, featuring the eccentric vocalist with an operatic howl, released their debut album, a European smash. Born in Communist Germany, Hagen renounced her citizenship after her dissident stepfather was exiled. She visited London, worked with The Slits, and discovered punk... or it it "Pank"?  With fellow Germans, she recorded this album for CBS.

"Naturträne" (Tear of Nature) is the stand out track to these ears. Hagen's range is extraordinary. Listen to the notes she hits at the end of the song.  You also get the sense that she may be a bit of a strange person to spend a day with.

Her career would see her demonstrating masturbation techniques on Austrian TV, singing about a UFO she witnessed in Florida and New York discos,  and marrying a teenage fan .

All of that was to come. Here we get Nina Hagen at the beginning of her career, performing a cover of The Tubes "White Punks on Dope", no less.