Sunday, August 21, 2011

Secret History: 1973

Like the Big Bang, the explosion of music in the sixties hurled huge chunks of brilliance through space.  As time went on, they were no longer the size of stars, but rather that of planets and asteroids.  The great music was there, just not in your face.  It was more spread out and harder to find. But it was there.  I swear.

But we were arguing about it more.  We didn’t all like the same things anymore.  Or rather, we were starting to dislike stuff, instead of just being indifferent to it.

And speaking of arguments, it's a bit embarrassing for me to write anything about the New York Dolls for a couple of reasons.  One is that I hated them on principle at the time.  I was a big Allman Brothers fan.  The Allmans weren't exactly fashion plates, which suited me fine, as I was of the belief that my music heroes, unlike the super-heroes in the comics (link) I loved, should not have uniforms or costumes.  Music was all.  Everything else was a distraction, especially a bunch of guys dressed as women.  David Bowie was a macho man in comparison, and I didn’t like him, either.

But now the other reason to be embarrassed about expressing an opinion about them is that I might overcompensate and go to the other extreme, in the urge to make up for past wrongs.  I don’t want to do that.  I’d look like an idiot.  And you know, that never happens.

But screw that.  I'm here to repent.  The first New York Dolls album is simply one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever.  It's loud, brash, noisy and yes, trashy.  In other words, it’s everything rock ‘n roll should be.  It took a couple of years for me to really take it in.  At first listen, it's just a lot of clatter.  But when you find yourself loving the fourth song on side two, you know you've got a record that goes deep.

John Prine may have been overcompensating, too.  On his third album, “Sweet Revenge”, he moves away from the stripped-down-to-practically-nothing sound of “Diamonds in the Rough”, gracefully avoiding “pretty”, and ends up with what might be his best record.  Funny, rocking and sometimes beautiful.

I always found that reggae sounded best when it was hot as hell outside and you were sitting by some water, getting high.  Since my house doesn’t face a body of water, and my kids have no interest in seeing me high (I think it would ruin it for them), I don’t get much opportunity to experience this optimal setting.  That’s where the soundtrack to The Harder They Come comes in.  It’s a perfect introduction to reggae, and if you’re lucky like me, you’ll get the anniversary edition which contains a bonus disc of other hits from Jamaica (“I Can See Clearly Now”, “The Israelite”) at the time.

Countdown To EcstasyThere were no big AM hits on “Countdown to Ecstasy”, Steely Dan’s second album, (unless you count “My Old School” or “Show Biz Kids”).  But, in a lot of ways, it’s the quintessential SD album.  Fans love “Razor Boy”, “The Boston Rag”, and “Boddissatva”.  The guitars are working overtime here.  And not too jazzy.  Yet.

AquashowElliot Murphy made one of the all-time “Records That Annoyed Jaybee's Brother” with “Aquashow”, and I still can’t figure out why.  We've got the guitars and organs to give you that “Blonde on Blonde” feel.  The subject is a bit more Velvet Underground, though.  Okay, Elliot doesn't have the greatest voice, kind of a high pitched whine actually, but everything else coalesces into a great rock and roll record.

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.And then there’s Bruce.  The Boss.  Whose “Greetings from Asbury Park” kinda gets lost amongst his other records.  I can still recite every word to “Blinded by the Light”. (His is still the best version. The Hold Steady were probably conceived while this song was playing), “For You” and “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City”, especially the wordy bridges.  I know you love “Spirit in the Night” and “Growing Up”.  But I love “The Angel” and “Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street?”  Maybe my second favorite Springsteen album.

O Lucky Man! (LP Version)Back when weird movies were just beginning to entice me to into the city, “Oh, Lucky Man!” had the added attraction of the having the band playing not only on the soundtrack but right in the middle of the action.  Alan Price used to be in the Animals, playing that great organ on “House of the Rising Sun”.  (You can also catch him hanging with Bob Dylan in “Don't Look Back”.  How cool is that?)  Here he gives a slightly skimpy eight songs to this strange film, but they're all winners.

Valley Hi/Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats YouThere are a number of attractions on “Valley Hi” by Ian Matthews.  One is his covers of early Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson and Mike Nesmith songs.  The other is his pretty voice.  He also does the version of “Seven Bridges Road” that the Eagles stole for their totally useless live album.  But anyway, this is pretty as heck.

BlondelIf you can handle Valley Hi, you’re ready for “Blondel” by the Amazing Blondel.  But be warned, the inside cover shows a guy sitting in his bare feet.  It’s that kind of record, and a prime example of mid-seventies English folk music with a pop gloss.  Depending on your point of view, this is either a beautiful masterpiece, as I thought at the time, or something that should come with a warning label for diabetics.  I’m betting you’ll like it.

ByrdsThe Byrds briefly reunited for an eponymous and much maligned album.  It does suffer in comparison to their earlier albums.  For some weird reason they do two Neil Young songs - one a great version of “See the Sky About to Rain”.  Chris Hillman and Gene Clark add the melody.  Roger must have needed the cash.  Not bad.  Really.

Journey's End/I'll Be ThereMatthew Fisher is the guy who wrote the organ melody on “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, and it took him over forty years to get the royalties for it.  And he spends most of “Journey's End” - his first solo record – feeling sorry for himself about it.  He's got the whiny voice to match, too.  But he writes nice melodies so it all goes down nicely.  It was truly made for sensitive sixteen year old boys like me, who hung our in out rooms listening to music like this, instead of going out and having a good time.

And maybe that was the problem.  When I look at 1973, I see a lot of music suited for isolation, and not much for community.  What did we agree on?  Maybe “Innervisions”, but not much else. 

And that lame metaphor I started with?  All I can say is that it’s easy to see the stars at night.  But you need a telescope for the other stuff.

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