What was the world at large listening to during 1975? Dylan, of course. Springsteen, or course. Me, too. I had a mixtape made up mostly of just the two of them. I played it during one of my senior class trips, which tried the patience of a classmate, who wanted to put on “Disco Tex and His Sex-o-lettes”. He’d have his revenge in a year or two.
But what was the year like? It’s hard to objectively say since so much seemed to happen to me. There was heartbreak, high school graduation, getting a driver’s license. I guess the normal stuff associated with turning 18.
Some memories: It’s January, and I’m trying to study for the regents, but the radio plays “Blood on the Tracks” all the way through. It’s the first time I’m hearing it. Then June, at the beach during another class trip, I hear “Born to Run” for the first time. Then hearing Springsteen live from the Bottom Line. Buying “The Basement Tapes”. Yeah, they pretty much owned the year.
But there were other records, too, and many that would become my all time favorites:
Well, there’s Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night”, but I already go on about that record far too much.
Then there’s “Siren”, by Roxy Music, where Bryan Ferry seemed to get the last laugh on Brian Eno, by making this not very weird pop record. It’s a great expression of his romanticism, and doesn't skimp on guitar either. “Love is the Drug“ is the "hit" but there are plenty of others that are just as good.
But, of course, Brian Eno is doing just fine, and “Another Green World” is another all time favorite. It's just too difficult to explain.
"Katy Lied" is probably my favorite Steely Dan album. It's got “Doctor Wu”, “Any World I'm Welcome To” and several other very emotional songs from a band that would normally be snickering.
“The Basement Tapes” by Bob Dylan and the Band, is probably the most consistent double album ever made. I can still listen to it all the way through without stopping. A lot of people just don't get it, but it's the perfect distillation of Dylan and Band at one time. So what if the sound is lousy? Just pretend you're listening to it on your old Victrola.
And here are a few records that I missed at the time, but I’ve been trying to make it up to ever since:
Newly minted respected author and photographer Patti Smith could actually get her first album “Horses” played on the radio back then, even though her band were proto-punks, and she wasn’t the greatest singer. In a normal year, she would have been called on all the hype she got, but remember this was the year of the Boss on the cover of Time and Newsweek. She risked looking ridiculous waxing poetic about “boney maroni”. But if you ask me, she holds up better than Genesis.
I couldn’t say if “Natty Dread” is Bob Marley’s best album or not, but it seems to be as good a place to start as any. The production is warm and intimate. It’s rousing and soothing at the same time. “Lively Up Yourself” is just wonderful.
Nils Lofgren had a few lives before becoming an E streeter, one as the leader of the band Grin, who I'll have to sample before I die. Then there was a short stint with Crazy Horse, and doing sessions with people like Neil Young. But he was also a solo artist. He's put out several records, but I've been told that his first is the keeper, and I believe it.
Nils runs through some high strung pop and rock. He's a really sharp guitarist with his own distinctive style. His songwriting is very tight, too. Highlights include “Back It Up”, Carole King's “Going Back”, and “Keith (yes that Keith) Don't Go”. To Toronto, that is, where our favorite rock and roller was in a bit of a spot with the police. My brother hates this record.
The Ramones first album might seem like a gaunlet being thrown down, but it's more of a beer can being squirted in your face. The suds get in your ears so the great production values ($6,000 worth!) are somewhat muffled. No sensitive singer, no guitar solos, can you blame me for hating them on principal? Plus, there was so much other great music going on that I didn’t realize that it was all dying. So I didn't get around to even trying them out until 1979.
Dolly Parton managed to put together another “Best of”, and it’d only been five years since the last one. This one’s just as good, too. Beautiful voice, great songwriting.
If you knew nothing of New Orleans – and I didn’t at the time – you could look at the cover of the “Wild Tchoupitoulas” and feel like you were getting Native American music. As it turns out, you’re merely seeing the band decked out in ceremonial garb for Mardi Gras. And the music inside is as simple and fun as any you’re likely to hear. This is a great place to start to learn about New Orleans music. Not for snobs, though.
Which narrative do you believe about Keith Jarrett? The one that says he's hardly a jazz musician at all? Or that he completely clears his mind of any musical thoughts before a concert, and does pure improvisation? “The Koln Concert” is a great way to make up your mind. Sixty five minute of just Keith playing his piano. The sound is amazing.
Whatever else it was, 1975 was also the beginning of the end for what would later be known as classic rock. Anything else that was good was being forced further out onto the fringes, only to come back and haunt good old rock and roll for years to come.
And like I said, although it isn’t thought of as a great year for music, I still considered it one of the best. But I’m open to the possibility that for once life made music better rather than the other way around.