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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Et Maintenant Ils Pleurent

Final albums can be fascinating. Bowie's Black Star remains my favorite and most emotional listen of 2016 and Warren Zevon performing Dylan's "Knocking On Heaven's Door" on The Wind is an act of sheer courage. Well in 1977, the theatrical French singing legend Jacques Brel was down to one lung thanks to a 100 filterless cigarette a day habit. He knew he had terminal cancer when he entered the studio to record Brel a.k.a Les Marquises.

Brel's health was failing so much he could only manage three takes per song. If you think you're hearing a bad note, that's because you are. Tant pis pour toi! 

Brel had written many of the songs in the South Pacific where he had retired to sail around in his yacht. His home was in the French Indonesian Maquesas Islands.

To avoid giving interviews, Brel returned to the Marquesas Islands but in his home country of France, word of the new album spread. A million fans placed advanced orders for Les Marquises.

Brel lived for eleven more months. The only comment he ever publicly made about the album is that he hated the cover.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Big Bosom Lady With a Dutch Accent

In November of 1977 Rod Stewart released Foot Loose and Fancy Free, his eight solo album. And like every album since his masterful Every Picture Tells A Story, it follows a formula. Big rocker at the top ("Hot Legs") . A Motown cover (a lugubrious "You Keep Me Hangin' On), and some singles featuring acoustic guitars ("You're In My Heart", "I Was Only Joking"). The album sold well but nothing could prevent the inevitable disco album, Blondes Have More Fun, from following up.

Writing for Rolling Stone, critic Joe McEwan suggested Rod the Mod was a man out of his time.

There's something to be said for the New Wave rebellion against (to borrow a phrase from the not-so-young-himself Willy De Ville) "old meat." Even if this reaction is mostly confined to England, it seems very healthy. There are a lot of kids in England who don't care what kind of fashionably gauche trinkets decorate Rod Stewart's high-class, Hollywood home or what the exact terms (if any) of his separation from Britt Ekland will be. They do care that Stewart has lost touch with them, not only musically but culturally as well. And for Rod Stewart this dilemma seems particularly complex. After all, it wasn't too long ago that Stewart (who began his career idolizing Sam Cooke, David Ruffin and Ramblin' Jack Elliott) was digging graves for a living and feeling a little testy himself. 

 To his credit, Stewart decided not to take the easy way out this time. Instead of returning to Muscle Shoals and American sessionmen for a comfortable followup to A Night on the Town, Rod opted to form a band and cut an album of mostly rock and roll. Foot Loose and Fancy Free is the result. But there's just one problem: the record falls flat.

Part of the trouble is the band, which sounds stiff and not particularly inspired. Guitarists Gary Grainger and Billy Peek dredge up familiar "Brown Sugar" chords on "Born Loose" and "Hot Legs" (a hedonistic revel that might have worked five years ago but now sounds only lecherous and silly), and "You're Insane" tries to combine funk and reggae but dies because drummer Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge) just can't pull it off. The Faces rhythm section was creaky, too, but at least it made up for the lack of swing with an energetic, good-humored sloppiness. 

 Then there's the inclusion of a seven-and-a-half-minute version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (with, yes, the Vanilla Fudge arrangement), an odd lapse of taste for the normally scrupulous Stewart. A cover of Luther Ingram's "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right)" comes off much better. Where Ingram sounded forlorn, Stewart is damned positive he's making the right decision. And when he sings the hook in the third chorus, the pull of his voice is still capable of creating Herculean emotional drama. Finally, there are the separation songs, which are drenched with a bitterness the arrangements don't always bring out. It's hard to be discreet when the disintegration of your romance is fodder for every two-bit publication in the world. But Stewart doesn't even try. "You're in My Heart," the current single, is a cheeky, none-too-subtle put-down that deserves awkwardly tacked to a singsong narrative. The subdued "You Got a Nerve" is more straightforward and features this chilling couplet: "Oh what pleasure it gives me now/To know that you're bleeding inside." It's been a long year for Rod Stewart.

According to Greil Marcus, Graham Parker (who was pumping gas in England until two years ago) is quite content traveling between current U.S. tour dates on a bus -- a big improvement over the station wagon that carried Parker around last year. The press notes for the current Stewart tour advertise that his entourage will also be making the rounds by bus. But you can bet Graham Parker isn't lugging around 64,000 pounds of equipment, a seamstress, a masseuse, a tour photographer and a makeup "girl." As for Foot Loose and Fancy Free, it's sure hard to care much about "Hot Legs" with Elvis Costello and the Sex Pistols around. Even Rod Stewart can't get lost in this rock and roll. It's pretty vacant.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Music Loud and Women Warm

On November 15, 1977, a full month before the movie came out in theaters,  RSO Records released the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. The first side of the double album would be inescapable in the year that followed. I first heard the soundtrack at a dinner party given my some friends of my father and the woman who would become my second step mother. They were in the first giddy months of their affair, and she actually thought I'd want to dance in these people's living room. It was only the first time I would disappoint her and my father. 

Perhaps the same scene was happening in 15 million other living rooms?

Susin Shapiro wrote the review for Rolling Stone, which still stand up to day

While the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever is generally uninteresting, the Bee Gees are an exception. The brothers Gibb not only have the best falsettos in the business, but also the keenest sense of disco's potential for transcendence.

 The Bee Gees have everything going for them: lyrics that don't insult, a band that can open up and utilize each and every electric and/or acoustic possibility without sounding overproduced, great harmonies, superb dance music. Indeed, "You Should Be Dancing" comes as close to disco perfection as anything I've heard, save perhaps Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Bad Luck" and Labelle's "Lady Marmalade." The Bee Gees are very busy on Saturday Night Fever. They perform six of their own songs (four new, two old) and wrote the record's only other worthwhile track, "If I Can't Have You," sung by Yvonne Elliman, who sounds authentically resonant enough to give it the necessary poignancy.

Generally, however, this double album is irritating when it's supposed to be exciting, funny when it's supposed to be dramatic. "Night on Disco Mountain," adapted by David Shire (who did most of the scoring) from Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, is but one example of high hilarity, while K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Tavares and MFSB are better represented by their own LPs. 

 Though Saturday Night Fever is more dross than gloss, it winds up being saved by the grace of the Bee Gees. God bless 'em.

From Billboard:

An all-star lineup, spearheaded by the Bee Gees, join forces on this two-record soundtrack from the forthcoming flick starring John Travolta. The Bee Gees perform on six tunes including its fast-rising "How Deep Is Your Love" while penning five new ones, one performed by Yvonne Elliman. The other contributors are Tavares, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, the Trammps, Kool and the Gang, Walter Murphy, Ralph McDonald, M.F.S.B. and David Shire. The music contains something for everyone, from disco to soft jazzy instrumentals to out and out boogie to ballads and rockers. Singularly, the Bee Gees are the standouts and nucleus, yet collectively this album is filled with bundles of talent. Best cuts: "How Deep Is Your Love," "Staying Alive," "If I Can't Have You," "More Than A Woman," "Night Fever," "Boogie Shoes."

Our pal Robert Christgau gave the soundtrack a B+ review.

So you've seen the movie -- pretty good movie, right? -- and decided that this is the disco album that you're going to try. Well, I can't blame you. The Bee Gees side is pop music at a new peak of irresistible silliness, with the former Beatle clones singing like mechanical mice with an unnatural sense of rhythm. And the album climaxes on a par-tee even non-discoids can get into, beginning with the best of David Shire's "additional music," then switching almost imperceptibly to something tolerable by MFSB and revving into all 10:52 of the Trammps' magnificent "Disco Inferno." But I find the other two sides unlistenable, mostly because the rest of Shire's additions are real soundtrack-quality stuff -- he even discofies Moussorgsky without making a joke of it (compare Walter Murphy on side two). And there's one more problem. While you're deciding to buy this record, so is everyone you know. You're gonna get really sick of it. Maybe you should Surprise Your Friends and seek out Casablanca's Get Down and Boogie instead.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Rebel's Last Stand

It was actually in July of 1977 that Steve Harley released the double live album, Face To Face, the day after he announced he was breaking up the band. The recordings came from eight-date UK tour in December 1976.  Harley told Record Mirror he was excited about the shows: 

"We did eight concerts and every night was great. I'm not just saying that. Jimmy had left to join Rod Stewart's band and Jo Partridge brought new energy. It was our fourth major tour and the fans were on my side from the word go. They're a great audience. It was the best concert tour I've done in my life. I've never enjoyed playing so much in my career."

Audience participation plays a big role especially in the final cut, Harley's UK #1 smash hit "Make Me Smile ( Come Up And See Me)" . As the band leaves the stage the audience sings the chorus to "Tumbling Down".

Geoff Barton of Sounds says the album gets better as you get deeper into the trackss.

"Although his career at the moment appears to be at its 'lowest ebb', Harley can still fill halls to capacity. I count several Rebel concerts to be amongst the most emotional and enjoyable I've ever seen. Side one gets off to a slow start, non-atmospheric and yawn-prompting, Cockney Rebel sounding curiously leaden. Side two suffers from the same kind of problems. By contrast, side three and four are magnificent, compulsive. The involvement builds and builds until, towards the end, everyone sings along in fine football chorus tradition. Highly charged, sincere, spine-tingling stuff. The latter half of "Face To Face" is quite magical, strikes a deep emotional chord. And I can't think of many albums that do that, can you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Past Painted Deserts

On November 13, 1977 "Mull of Kintyre" entered the U.K. charts at #48. It was recorded August 9 1977, during a break from London Town. "Mull of Kintyre"was named after the Scottish peninsula where McCartney has owned a farm since 1966.

"I certainly loved Scotland enough, so I came up with a song about where we were living: an area called Mull of Kintyre," McCartney said. " It was a love song really, about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was traveling away and wanting to get back there ."

McCartney recorded the guitars outside and brought in the Campbeltown Pipe Band to ply bagpipes. The single would hit #1 over Christmas on its way to selling a record two million copies, the biggest selling hit single until Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?".

The song would later be covered by Glen Campbell.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hot to Go Like Jimmy O

On November 12, 1977 XTC opened for Blondie who were back for their second tour of the U.K, with a new bass player. The English musician Nigel Harrison replaced the departing Gary Valentine ( like Frank Infante too late to make the cover of the following album Plastic Letters). Harrison would co-write some memorable songs for Blondie including "On Way or Another" and "Union City Blue".

  THere's actually a webpage dedicated to the gig. XTC is described at the time as a "fast rising" "cross between The Clash and Roxy Music and seem to have the writing power to come right through the centre of the field and stay in front".

The video below--shot a week later in Amsterdam-- gives a sense of Blondie's life on and off the stage.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Mist Leaves No Scar

On November 11, 1977 Leonard Cohen released the Phil Spector produced Death of a Ladies Man, often considered the worst album of Cohen's career. The kindest review probably came from Rolling Stone's Paul Nelson who described the record as "either greatly flawed or great and flawed--and I'm betting on the latter".

Despite having the feel of Dion's Spector produced Born To Be With You, a now certifiable great album, Death of a Ladies Man comes across as a producer/artist mismatch. After all Cohen's songs work best with the least musical adornment. Here, he literally gets plowed under by a wall of sound. Cohen says he was singing live in a room with twenty five musicians-- including two drummers, three bassists and six guitars.

Something Cohen would agree with in later years:

It was one of those periods when my chops were impaired, and I wasn't in the right kind of condition to resist Phil's very strong influence on and eventual takeover of the record. There were lots of guns around in the studio and lots of liquor, a somewhat dangerous atmosphere. He had bodyguards who were heavily armed also. He liked guns - I liked guns too but I generally don't carry one, and it's hard to ignore a .45 lying on the console. When I was working with him alone, it was very agreeable, but the more people in the room, the wilder Phil would get. I couldn't help but admire the extravagance of his performance, but at the time couldn't really hold my own.

That said I've become a little obsessed with the opening track.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Not Even Curiosity


In November of 1977, Wire released a three song EP, previewing one of the very best albums of the year.

“Mannequin” is the clearest example on Pink Flag of Wire’s penchant for pitting the tone of the lyrics against the sound of the music. The words are aggressively negative. ‘“Mannequin’ was a very direct put-down of a friend’s boyfriend, somebody quite vicious,” explains Lewis: “You’re a waste of space, no natural grace, you’re so bloody thin.” And it doesn’t get any better: “You’re an energy void, a black hole to avoid, no style, no heart.” Despite expending this vitriol, the speaker amusingly assures his subject that the motivation for this depiction is “not animosity.” Lewis remembers the target of his spleen: “The person wouldn’t possibly have dreamt it could have been about him. That’s the kind of individual you’re dealing with here.” 

 Excerpt From: Neate, Wilson. “Wire's Pink Flag.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Wave

In this November 1977 release, Bob Marley name checked The Clash, The Damned , The Jam and Dr Feelgood on the B side to his hit "Jamming". "Punky Reggae Party" was produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry.

(Marley) saw the importance of the punk movement. When the Clash played their White Riot tour dates at London’s Rainbow Theatre, Bob Marley stood in the wings, watching. With Lee Perry producing, and Aswad, a young London reggae group, as backing musicians, that summer Bob recorded ‘Punky Reggae Party’; this became the definitive celebration of the punk-reggae fusion that was taking place in 1977, the year when the two sevens clashed – ‘Two Sevens Clash’ was the title of a big-selling Jamaican hit by the vocal trio Culture, in which they celebrated in song this pivotal time of change, long predicted by numerologists.”

 Excerpt From: Chris Salewicz. “Bob Marley.”

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Life Has Its Problems

In the week of November 8, 1977 the U.S./French disco band Santa Esmeralda entered the Hot 100 Billboard chart at #93 with their cover of The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". The cover version would top the disco charts but peak at #15 on the U.S. pop charts, the same high water mark that the Animals original version hit.

In his B rated review of the album, Robert Christgau wrote

 I know people who think a flamencoized fifteen-minute disco version of an Eric Burdon song is some sort of sacrilege, but I just hum along. Sacrilege? Eric Burdon? Doesn't anybody remember "San Franciscan Nights"?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

It's All Right

On the week of November 7, 1977 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers made their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 singles list with "Breakdown" entering at #90. It would peak at #40 in February of 1978 but remain a classic radio staple for decades to follow. Petty said he wrote "Breakdown" the same week he wrote "American Girl". It was a good week. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cellophane Shrink-Wrapped

On November 6, 1977 the new Elvis Costello single, "Watching the Detectives", entered the U.K. charts at #33. It would peak at #15 and be Costello's last single for Stiff Records.

In his memoir, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, Elvis Costello writes that he came up with the song after listening to The Clash debut.

“I’d written the song in my front room in Whitton, fueled by nothing stronger than a jar of instant coffee after listening repeatedly to the first album by The Clash for what I told people was thirty-six hours, but was definitely all the way through one completely sleepless, caffeinated night. I was trying to work out why the flimsy but furious sound of this record, with its siren guitars and square, dry drumming, could come across as so powerful. I was trying to gather up the words that the singer sprayed out, sounding hoarse and sometimes as if he were wearing an ill-fitting boxer’s gum-shield....

The song begins with the drums rolling in the style of Culture's "Two Sevens Clash" before settling into its mellow reggae rhythm.

 “After we cut “Watching the Detectives” as a trio, the newly recruited Steve Nason—as he was still known—came in to add spooky little organ figures and as big a piano sound as the dilapidated upright in Pathway could render. I had the idea of a shocking, accelerating figure falling between the words “Shoot, shoot, shoot,” like the sort of things Bernard Herrmann would write for low strings while a woman was being chased up a flight of stairs. I don’t recall if I mentioned the name Bernard Herrmann, I might have just said, “Hitchcock,” but Steve seemed to understand me, and he made the idea into music.

 I persuaded Nick Lowe to join me at the microphone during the third verse for the first of many apparently bizarre background vocal ideas, this one sounding like something from The Twilight Zone”.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Who Are These Weirdies?

"We were absolutely antithetical to rock'n'roll at that point. We really didn't care if anybody liked it, or if we sold any records. Mark Perry of Sniffin' Glue famously said, 'Learn three chords now form a band'. I said 'Learn none at all'. To play chords was to plug into the tradition at some level."
-Genesis P-Orridge, vocalist to Mojo

On November 4, 1977 industrial rock pioneers Throbbing Gristle released The Second Annual Report, a disturbing collection of psychopathic slurring embedded in dense, improvised synthesized sounds. Throbbing Gristle's success led the band to create their own Industrial Records label from which they issued music by bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA.

Keith Baldock was the unwitting music journalist who wrote an early review of the band:

One may have asked in passing : “Who are these weirdies?” I still don’t know who they are, or why they should have attracted such publicity, and I went out of my way to see them perform at the Nag’s Head pub in High Wycombe on Friday. 

 Well, I say perform because just at the moment I seem to be lost for words to describe what went on.

 I make no apology for saying I am a lover of heavy, noisy. Jarring, ear-splitting music. I’m young and strong and I can take it. 

 But I had a job to keep my pint in my stomach as I listened to the muck which was Throbbing Gristle’s claim to fame.

 An ape with his hands severed can thump just as violently on a bass guitar as Genesis did. I thought that was bad, but then he picked up his electrified violin and suddenly the place was full of agonised cats. 

 I can’t be sure that he was trying to sing, and I couldn’t make out every word he screamed into the microphone, but it sounded like I should have ignored the man and gone home. 

 Our photographer gave up early. I wish I’d followed him. 

 But I waited, and watched dumbfounded as Cosey Fanni Tutti bared both her chest and her ignorance of music, and Genesis poured artificial blood over his head then spat it onto the stage. 

 At least he did stop playing for a while — but only to shout obscenities at the audience and to throw a table across the hall. 

 Then he invited half a dozen youngsters from the catcalling and jeering audience onto the stage, and he handed them the instruments. They sounded better than Throbbing Gristle, even though they couldn’t play a note. 

 Those youngsters paid 75p to go into the hail to listen to the stomach churning travesty of music which Throbbing Gristle was oozing into the Nag’s Head. 

 The landlord, Mick Fitzgibbon, told me that the youngsters were about ready to throw Genesis P. Orridge, plus his equipment, bodily through the door.
 “I’ll never have them back here,” he said. “The kids were threatening to punch the promoter, and I don’t blame them.”

 However Gig Reserves, the promoters want to make amends to customers of theNag’s Head. They promise that next weekend’s band, Phil Ram, is good, and not to be missed. I think I’ll go along to make sure.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Rhythm On My Bubble Gum

On November 4, 1977 The Ramones released Rocket to Russia, their final studio album as the original quartet. (Drummer Tommy Ramone would become a producer who would eventually add The Replacements's Tim to his resume). To many critics, Rocket to Russia was one of The Ramones's finest moments, polishing up their debut album sound. I'd rate it just a step behind the debut because I have to patience for covers ( "Do You Wanna Dance", "Surfin Bird") from a band that could write such great tunes. 

From Robert Christgau's A rated review:

Having revealed how much you can take out and still have rock and roll, they now explore how much you can put back in and still have Ramones. Not that they've returned so very much -- a few relatively obvious melodies, a few relatively obvious vocals. But that's enough. Yes, folks, there's something for everyone on this ready-made punk-rock classic. Stoopidity, both celebrated and satirized. Love (thwarted) and social protest (they would seem to oppose DDT). Inspired revivals (the Trashmen) and banal cover versions (Bette Midler and Cass Elliott beat them to "Do You Wanna Dance?"). And, for their record company and the ears of the world, an actual potential hit. If "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" was the most significant number eighty-four record in history, what will "Rockaway Beach" do for number twenty? (Did I hear five?)

From Dave Marsh raving in Rolling Stone :

Rocket to Russia is the best American rock and roll of the year and possibly the funniest rock album ever made. Not that the Ramones are a joke -- they're more worthwhile than almost anything that's more self-conscious because they exist in a pure and totally active state. 

 Rocket shows substantial progress in the group's sound -- it has opened up so that hints of Beach Boys harmonies float among the power chords, kind of like moving with the Who from My Generation to Happy Jack. Certainly, there is nothing resembling the lock step of the first two albums holding them back. The guitars still riff relentlessly, but they are freer within the murky sound, and the songs give them much more to work with. It is some kind of tribute to suggest that the least effective songs on the album are the oldies, "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Surfin' Bird." And if this is a hilarious album, it is also astute: "We're a Happy Family" and "Why Is It Always This Way" are extremely funny just to the extent that the situations are horribly typical. 

 Despite the title, the Ramones aren't about escape. Reductionist aggression never is -- conquest is more like it. And if you're alienated by it, that's because you're supposed to be. The Ramones explore the dirty truths that pop music and rock designed to "entertain" have to cover up. This is truly the land of "No Fun" -- none asked for, none given. Just action, constant and unyielding, pleasant or miserable. 

 Most contemporary music -- yeah, even the New Wave stuff -- asks why we've slowed down or complains about the fact. The Ramones consider this irrelevant. The question they pose is more interesting: why can't you keep up? I dare you to try.

From Billboard Magazine :

The Ramones' most straight forward and primitively basic of all rock deliveries magically contain an implied and endearing sense of melody. The group's third album, together with its slight but elemental tongue-in-cheekiness and themes of rebellion, escape and the nuances of American life, offers an outlet for both thoughtful and invigorating release. The same formula rigidly holds throughout and a sharper focus illuminates most of the 14 songs for special individual appeal. Best cuts: "Rockaway Beach," "I Don't Care," "Teenage Lobotomy."

Friday, November 3, 2017

If It Ain't Stiff

In the first week of November, 1977 the five bands who made up the Live Stiffs Tour wrapped up their campaign. The bands were  Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric and The New Rockets, Nick Lowe's Last Chicken in the Shop, and Larry Wallis's Psychedelic Rowdies. Like the famous Motown tours of the Sixties, these new wave heroes rotated the line ups and played on each other's stages. Ian Dury even played drums during Wreckless Eric's sets. The shows ended with the entire bands ( including three drummers) coming out and jamming to Dury's current hit, "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll". All available on Stiff Live if you can find it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Oh No There Goes Tokyo

In November of 1977 Blue Oyster Cult released Spectres, probably the last album from their classic period. 

Robert Christgau gave the album a B , writing:

Although Sandy Pearlman used to say the Cult's audience couldn't tolerate any suggestion that the band's laser-and-leathers fooforaw was funny, their parodic side has become progressively more overt. What do today's Cultists think of "Godzilla" ("Oh no there goes Tokyo") or the beerhall intro to "Golden Age of Leather"? I bet some of 'em like laughing at laser-and-leathers, and good. I also bet some of 'em are so zonked they wouldn't get it if John Belushi emceed, and to, er, hell with them.

From Rolling Stone's John Milward:

The Blue Oyster Cult has always been plagued by image problems of its own creation. By taking heaving metal to its literary extreme, the Cult made itself an in-joke to intellectual rockers and the consummate heavy-guitar band to the teenage underbelly. If anything gave the Cult a cogent image, it was the group's recorded sound -- dense and spacey with sledgehammer rhythms that sounded as if they were being beamed in from an orbiting satellite. But by the time it recorded its live album, the Cult was in a bind: its popularity had plateaued and its audience was almost exclusively composed of guitar-hungry, get-down kids. Which is cool -- the Cult is nothing if not guitar-heavy, get-down kids -- but ultimately limiting.

 It's not surprising then that the two riff rockers on Spectres, the crucial followup to last year's breakthrough, Agents of Fortune, direct themselves toward that heavy-metal paradox. "Godzilla" encapsulates the Cult's stylistic attitude: the conceit of the tune must inevitably be larger than its execution. On its first album, the Cult sang about "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll," and the theme is the same here: Godzilla rips apart Tokyo with the same monstrous bravado of the riffing guitars that destroyed the kids. In this case, though, the idea is more attractive than the song. 

"R.U. Ready 2 Rock" finds the Cult confronting its audience. "I ain't gonna catch those get-down blues," they sing over a thudding beat that dissolves into a bridge and finds them boasting, "I only live to be born again." This give-and-take with the audience forms the initial framework of Spectres, but the meat of the album is something else altogether. Spectres is the Blue Oyster Cult's love album, both literally romantic and allegorical, and the band's view of such liaisons is as dynamic as its relationship with its audience. 

 At the conclusion of "R.U. Ready 2 Rock," the band pulls out the stops on a boogie beat after singer Eric Bloom finds his mythical lover. This ambiguous "you" (is it his audience or a lover?) is carried over into "Goin' through the Motions," a sturdy rocker cowritten by Ian Hunter and Bloom. Depicting the love games played on one-night stands with appropriate sarcasm, the tune deftly culls a line from the Cult's first album standard, "Stairway to the Stars": "I'll even sign it, 'love to you.' again," and the attitude of an arrogant rock star becomes the same as that of a snobbish lover. 

Beyond the forenamed riffers that open each side, the Cult's music is more subtly crafted than ever before, continuing in the sleek, textured vein that provided the highlights of Agents of Fortune. "I Love the Night," which bends the tale of Dracula into a perverse love story, features the dense guitar orchestration of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." "Nosferatu" boasts the same heady complexion, with vocal harmonies and Allen Lanier's rolling piano providing a properly celestial backdrop for the romantic epic. The words are hard to catch -- I'm told it's about another bloodsucker -- but "only a woman can break his spell" sticks out like an Adam's apple.

 Lanier's "Searching for Celine," his only composition on the album, is the Cult's best new song. Combining riffing verses with a jet-stream chorus, it also contains the album's ultimate romantic image: "Love is like a gun/And in the hands of someone like you, it kills/But oh, what a thrill!" Its sister song, "Celestial the Queen," one of two songs cowritten by New York rocker Helen Wheels, is another standout, with a seamless rock sound that recalls the Who's Quadrophenia. It is this smooth integration of styles that has allowed the Cult to transform the boogie beast into a more progressive but no less combustible animal. 

 "Fireworks" boasts all the qualities of the Cult's new approach, combining multiple layers of guitars with harmonic vocal sweetening. The Cult has always prided itself on being a New York band, but it has been the addition of folk-rock vocal harmonies to its already riveting heavy-metal attack that has enabled the group to produce an album as stunningly consistent as Spectres. The band still remains anonymous behind the slick sheen of the recording studio, and the voices, too, eschew personality for the sake of fitting into the cerebral context. But the Cult's creative combination of styles has pioneered a new genre of MOR heavy metal. Hard as nails but as sweet as cream, Spectres shows the Blue Oyster Cult to be the Fleetwood Mac of heavy metal.

Billboard's reviewer writes;
The band plays rock as hard as anybody, but moments when an unexpected bit of harmony or a piano interlude breaks in , they shine as brightly as the band's visual laser effects. The band makes an effort at poetic or at least "heavy" lyrics though you have to send away 50 cents for a copy of the lyric sheet.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The World's Alright With Me

In the first week of November 1977, Bill Withers ascended the US album charts with Menagerie, his sixth studio album. Withers has always come across as the good friend trying to cheer up his listeners. The first two songs are exceptional. The lead track is the feel-good hit "Lovely Day" ( #1 in France, #7 in the U.K., #30 in the US). The second track is the sublime quiet storm  "I Want To Spend the Night With You". Both were featured in Withers's 1980 greatest hits album which I bought in high school.  Former pro football player Michael Strahan would crank "Lovely Day"  in the dressing room before Live! With Kelly and Michael. Withers has also entered the disco age with "She Wants to ( Get on Down)". This would be his second gold album following Still Bill.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morning Glory

In October of 1977 Earth Wind and Fire released the single "Serpentine Fire", a #1 R and B hit for seven weeks and a #13 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

Maurice White explained the idea behind "Serpentine Fire":

 "The Kundalini principle has to do with the fluid in the spine. After 29 days, if used properly, it can be converted into a higher consciousness of energy, which means you can step up or step down, it's your choice. It's called a serpent, because if you tipped the spine out of the body and looked at it, it would look like a serpent - and the fluid is the fire in the spine." He adds, "Nobody knows what I'm talking about, but a lot of kids go out and look it up and immediately it expands their consciousness."

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Latest Craze

On October 28, 1977 The Adverts followed up their single "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" with "Safety In Numbers".  Though self-labeled "one chord wonders" at the birth of punk, the Adverts were getting better and more disdainful of the whole movement. As more neophytes embraced the punk movement, T.V. Smith dismissed the scene with the lines "Here we all are in the latest craze/ Stick with the crowd/ hope it's not a passing phase/ It's the latest thing to be nowhere"

.Michael Dempsey was the band's producer. He beat up a music journalist who have The Adverts a bad review and two years after the band broke up he died after falling off a ladder trying to change a lightbulb while drunk.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

In Love With Janie Jones

On October 29, 1977 two of the year's breakthough bands, The Clash and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, performed at the Apollo in Manchester. Cameras caught the Clash in action and I can't imagine a band more exciting to see in that day. 

Among the songs The Clash played was Janie Jones, the subject of a Caroline Coon story in Sounds Magazine earlier that month:

 DURING THE hot summer of 1976, a No. 31 bus jolts through Notting Hill Gate. On the top deck is Mick Jones, humming a riff. He is pleased. The riff sounds great and a song shapes up as the bus rumbles on. Then, as Mick's eyes flicker over his fellow passengers, two words jump out of the columns of an evening newspaper and, like typographical guerrillas, invade his thoughts. Janie Jones!

 Until that moment Mick had been composing an unspecific rocker about the little guy who gets ground down by dead-end, nine to five office routine. Unexpectedly, and quite spontaneously, Janie Jones sent the song headlong into another dimension.

 The Strummer/Jones writing team has a masterful knack of picking images which rub home the Clash's pointed view. Driven along by sounds like a prophesy of the clamour demolition men will make when they start tearing down tower blocks, their songs are direct and eloquent testimonials to 'ordinary life' and street level oppression. Despite critical sour grapes from some quarters, the band remain committed to emotive lines like "Making tea for the B.B.C", "Being too long on the dole" or "drowning in a sea of T.V." But despite classics like '1977' or 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais' they have yet to evoke the drab lot of the ordinary person more vividly than when, in 'Janie Jones', an office worker is juxtaposed against a rich man's sex symbol....

... Mick wrote 'Janie Jones' three years after Janie herself hit the headlines and, like the rest of the band and countless fans who now grafitti her name across their t-shirts, he knew almost nothing about her. 

 Janie slipped into mythology as The Queen of Vice, the epitome of decadence in high places and surburban tittillation via the Old Bailey and the News Of The World. Instinctively however, Mick knew she was very different from cliched sex symbol/objects like Monroe and Bardot. Enough had filtered through between the media lines for him to realise that she had experienced a personal tragedy played out in political terms. Her name evokes precisely those elements of establishment hypocrisy, class discrimination and double standards which are the Clash's raison d'etre. It amuses Mick to think that Janie's ex-"friends" and peers of the realm are among those calling for a ban on "Obscene!" punk rock.

 In fact, Mick had stumbled across (for want of a better description) another heroine of our times. Janie is in good company. Other names in the Clash pantheon include Anna Mendelson, Leila Kaled and Bernadette Devlin. (No nubiles there! The Stranglers, as usual, have a particularly one-sided view of life.)

 Even so, Mick didn't write ABOUT Janie. "Her name just got slotted in," he says. "But when it did, the song evolved into something that wasn't really meant in the first place. The energy of the song got directed to her."

 As it happened, when the Clash first stormed through the trimphant "woooh's" of the song in question, Janie Jones herself was on her knees scrubbing floors in H.M Prison, Holloway.

 In May 1973 she was sent to jail for seven years for running a call girl system. 

 "I knew too much about too many people and of course, I took the piss out of the Judge in court all the time..." says Janie, trying to give some rationale to her very severe sentence.

 You would have thought four years in Holloway and Style prisons had left some obvious mark on Janie. But no. When she opened the door of her bijou Kensington house, I was surpised. She is thirty-eight, but what few lines there are on her face curl upwards giving the impression not only of youth and laughter but irripressible good fun too. And resilience. No wonder tired business men and superstars found her such good company. 

 While her companion/bouncer Denise (anex-prison warden) mates tea, Janie curls up on the white demask sofa in her gentile sitting room. She talks about her trial as if she had been staring opposite Brian Rix in a Whitehall farce. 

 "The prosecuting council says to me 'you've had a secretary for seven years and you're married. I put it to you Miss Jones that you're bi-sexual!'

 "I said 'no I'm not. I'm tri-sexual. I'll try anything once'. You see, all the way through I was just cracking jokes.

 "The prosecutor said 'all the stars came over to your show business parties and they brought their girlfriends. If they had sex in your bedroom you'd know about it wouldn't you?' And I said 'not really. Unless it was anything unusual'.

 "And the Judge boomed 'what do you mean UNUSUAL!?' And I replied 'Ah well, my Lord, if they had sex swinging from the chandelier I'd probably know about it'. And he said 'wouldn't that worry you'. And I said 'No, I wouldn't be worried about the sex, but I'd be worried about the chandelier'. And the whole court burst out laughing. You see, every time I said something like that it was a couple more years down. Judge King Hamilton (who presided over the Gay News Trial) is completely puritanical – the you-shouldn't-have-sex-before-marriage type." 

 Did she expect to be sent to prison? "Not in a million years. Never that. I couldn't believe it when he said seven years. SEVEN YEARS. I thought he was joking. The judge thought I was terribly wicked. He said 'of all the women I've ever tried, you are the most evil. I thought one woman was really evil, but you leave that woman in the shade'. Well, then I started laughing. It was completely sick. I called him a hypocritical bastard and he demanded an apology. But I refused and they had to drag me from the court". 

 Should prostitution be legalised? "Of course. I don't think what I did was a crime. I knew call girls who wanted to make money so I introduced them to men. And I got seven years for that". 

 Janie was born in Durham, the daughter of a coalminer. He died fifteen years ago of phneumacosis. She liked her parents and still has a steady warm relationship with her mother. "But when I saw all the poverty in the north, I thought 'no, this is not for me. I've got to get out of it'." Her father put up mild resistance and before she finally settled in London she worked for a time as a nurse in a Bedfordshire mental hospital. 

 Her first real show biz engagement was at the Windmill Theatre, Soho. The girls there were troupers in the good old theatrical sense of the word. They danced through five shows a day, smiling and flashing flesh into a sea of leering male faces. The Windmill had the girls under exclusive contract, but Janie, always enterprising, felt restricted. The Cabaret Club was conveniently close and soon Janie was starring in her own show there as well. Her younger sister joined her and for a while they did a double act. Naturally, rich and titled groupies would chat her up but, since she was already well looked after by "The Colonel" – a sugar daddy who bought her the house in Kensington – Janie passed most of them off to other girls in the show. 

 In 1966 she recorded a song, written by her sister, called 'Witches Brew' and it went to No. 7 in the chart. She married Long John Baldrey's friend, song writer Christian Dee and together they went into business promoting his songs, her records and a few groups. Later she found out that her husband was "a crank" (he's now serving ten years in a German jail for attempted murder) but for a while life was very glamorous. If Janie wasn't exactly knocking Shirley Bassey off her cabaret pedestal, her hospitality was much in demand. 

 Her house had become a meeting place and hot-bed of extra marital activity for the sporting elite of showbusiness.

 "It was a kind of private club where they wouldn't be disturbed," explains Janie. "I held parties every two weeks and everybody who was anybody and their friends came. They had a fantastic time. People said they were the greatest parties in London." 

 The good times lasted for about five years until Janie, probably to dodge various clouds looming on the horizon, and certainly because a Japanese millionaire had taken her under his wing, left London for Hollywood. 

 She set up as a P.R. on premises just vacated by Ronald Reagan (ex-film star and ex-Governor of California) and she'd ferry between the office and her exclusive Hollywood Hills home in a Cadillac. Very nice. 

 TWO YEARS later the phone rang and an old "titled friend" was on the line in hysterics.

 "Janie, your parties are on the front page of the News Of The World," he gurgled. "If you don't come back to London on the next plane I'll have a heart attack. It can't come out that I like girls dressed up as school girls with teddy bears. It can't! I'll give you £10,000 to fight the News Of The World and to tell them that the prostitutes are lying." 

 Janie came back to London. But, far from winding down their enquiries, Janie's stand against the News Of The World only made them more determined to run their expose to the limit. You can read about it in Janie's autobiography, suffice to say that central to the whole luric story were allegations of payola involving BBC disc jockeys. 

 It was alleged that Janie got DJ's to play records in exchange for feminine (or male) favours. Eventually the Beeb made their own enquiries and the people involved got a clean bill of health. But Janie wasn't off the hook. She was charged with running a call girl racket and the police got four girls, in return for total immunity and anonymity (the first time this ever was allowed), to act as prosecuting witnesses. They were know in court as Miss A, B, C and D. The titled gentleman was called Mr. Y. 

 'Well', thought Janie, 'if that lot are going to be protected, then all my friends will be too'. Not one of the stars who came to her parties were mentioned by name but, the list was so long that the Clerk of the Court had to go through the alphabet twice – Mr. F, Mr G,Mr. AA2, Mr.BB2 etc... 

 If the trial had its funny side, then Janie makes prison sound like a visit to Butlins.

 "I had to make the best of it. I had to see the funny side of it. If you don't have a sense of humour...Well, I would have committed suicide over and over again. I was in there so I thought I'd see how the system worked. Then I helped the other prisoners do something about it, the legal way. We wrote hundreds of petitions to the Home Office about this and that. Which is perhaps why they kept me in longer. They saw all the petitions and they thought 'she fights the system all the time and she's not conforming. We'll keep her in till she stops'. But I didn't stop." 

 "I'd see girls going mental and cracking up. The physical hardship is bad. But prison is really only and completely mental torture." 

"On the other hand I think you do have to suffer hardships before you can be a good artist. You've got to go through hard times before you can go on a stage and know that every word you sing means something. And I think that will come out in my singing now." 

Janie was released suddenly on May the 2nd. She left Holloway Prison in a battered old mini to escape the hordes of press and TV cameras. On her way up North to her mother's she turned on the car radio – and nearly jumped out of her seat. 'Janie Jones' was blaring over the airwaves. Coincidentally, the Clash album had been released the same week. 

 "They timed it beautifully," Janie laughs. "I'd just got through the prison gates and I heard that. It was incredible." 

 To-day she has an affectionate admiration for the Clash and she was looking forward to meeting them. We motored up to their rehearsal studio after the interview. 

 Janie taps her feet as the band polish up the numbers they'll play on tour. For Mick and Joe, however, singing about someone and meeting them in person are two very different levels of intimacy. They are both shy and nervous. It's the wordly Paul Simonon who takes charge. 

 "Let's go over to the pub," he suggests to everyone's relief. 

 After a round of drinks the ice is broken and Janie has the band bug-eyed with her racy stories. 

 "She's great," says Mick later, regretting even more that 'Janie Jones' was not the Clash's second single. 

 When 'Remote Control' was released instead, Mick and Joe reacted by writing their latest epic, 'Complete Control'. Now they are planning to write a song for Janie. 'Vice Is Nice' is the working title. Let's hope Janie will be free to sing it when she goes on the road next year. 

 You see, there is a slight hitch for her future plans. Not content to send her to prison for seven years, the Judge also fined her £16,000 – £12,000 court costs and £4,000 for the prosecution – with another year inside if she can't pay. 

 Where are all her rich friends now? Commuting between their landed estates and the House of Lords, perhaps? Or flashing from stage spotlights into their limousines and more show biz parties and paid-for fun? A woman's lot is not always a happy one