Saturday, October 8, 2016

My 70s Show, Part Two

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring and revisiting the early 1970s. I turned thirteen in 1970 and feel like I missed a lot of what was going on at the time.

Alas, 1970 was also the first year of “I Wish Things Were As Good As They Were in the Sixties”. After all, we were aware of “the sixties” as a concept even during the sixties themselves. So, along comes 1970, and what could possibly send you the message that the sixties were not only literally over, but also symbolically over than the news that the Beatles broke up?

The only thing that made the summer of 1970 bearable was the Woodstock Soundtrack. But everyone wondered what was next, and had the troubling feeling it couldn’t possibly be as good. Except for the Led Zeppelin fans, who already thought they were better than the Beatles. )I swear. Ask my childhood friends Joe and Mike.)

The trouble was if you just assumed things were going to be bad you were bound to miss a lot. And a problem with the sixties was that you could point to five or ten key artists who made 75% of the great records. With the seventies, the quality was more evenly spread, which made it harder to find, let alone agree on.

So it was no wonder we started breaking up into our little groups of taste like glam, Southern rock, singer-songwriter, heavy metal, etc. And black artists? Forget about it. They were exiled to AM radio.

And yet, there are probably a lot more great albums made in the seventies than the sixties, at least if you leave out jazz.  Let’s face it, good pop albums didn’t really start getting made until 1964, and then only by the Beatles, Stones and Dylan. Everyone else didn’t get into the swing of things until about 1966, which may be my all time favorite year for music (67-69 wasn’t too shabby, either, as I recall).

By 1974, I knew there were great things out there because by then I had a job, and spent all the money on collecting albums. First, there were the key sixties albums I needed to catch up with, like Blonde on Blonde but mostly it was seventies music. I was no longer looking for the “next Beatles”. I was just looking for good music wherever I could find it.

And now, when I’m feeling I’m not connecting with new music, I can always go back to the sixties and seventies for some relief. The sixties for brilliant meteors scraping the summer sky and the seventies for bright and cool autumn sunshine.

And it’s been working out pretty well, with the Kinks, Fairport Convention and Roxy Music. I had some making up to do since it was the British stuff I tended to miss at the time.  But, hey, why not an American artist?

Leon Russell (1970)

You remember Leon, don’t you?

Friends with Joe Cocker, highlight of the Bangla Desh concert, co-writer of “Superstar”, member/leader of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, which overlapped with the  Delaney/Bonnie/Clapton nexus that together made about a dozen albums together at the time, including this one.

He was also up to his ass in sixties studio work and the maker of many hit singles in the seventies.

And a great piano player. Elton John was/is a huge fan.

Leon’s got that grating voice and extreme Southern drawl. We all liked it then, but I like it somewhat less now. Ahh, another great thing about the early seventies was that you could get away with a lot. Now as I get closer to my early seventies, not so much.

This is not even his first record, but it’s his first record where he’s billed as the solo artist.

And it boasts some great tunes.  “Delta Lady” (almost as good as the punchier Joe Cocker version), “Humming Bird” (one of my favorites) , “A Song for You” (covered by everybody), “Roll Away the Stone” (quite humorous).

I just wish it boasted more. If it did, I’d rank it amongst the greatest albums of the seventies. Alas. no. Leon could write some great ones but maybe not enough for one full album at any given time.

And the key, with revisiting early seventies albums is getting beyond the better-known cuts and seeing how the rest of the record holds up. And in this Leon is hit or miss. And it’s not that these other songs aren’t good. They’re well executed, but just don’t rise above a generic seventies sound. Except for that organ on “Hummingbird”, which sounds great.

The playing is real tight. And why not? He’s got half the Stones, half the Beatles, and an assortment of rock n roll all-stars helping him out.

But unlike, say, Lola, which boasts several excellent songs I hadn’t heard before, there’s nothing here like that.

So while he probably deserved an A- at the time of release, the years have taken their toll on it.

My recommendation? Look for one of the extensive compilations and catch all of his highlights. If that isn’t enough for you, then come back to this one.

Mind you, I'm not disappointed. "Less than great" comes with the territory. And "pretty damned good" is all over the place.



No comments: