Sunday, February 26, 2012

Secret History: 1976

If you ask me about 1975, I can tell you a hundred different great things that happened (and some that didn’t, since I put the Ramones, Eno and the Wild Tchapatoulas there instead of here where they belonged). When you ask me about 1976 I’m likely to give you a blank stare.

It was kind of a crappy year. Punk hadn’t quite exploded yet, Steely Dan and Dylan had peaked the year before, and singer songwriters were getting positively annoying.

So where did that leave us?

Rock and Roll:

Well, there was Graham Parker. Jaybee Sister One is a big fan who by now could run circles around me regarding Parker's later career. My preference is for his earliest stuff, which somehow got mixed up with/lost amongst punk. He also lost a close election that year for Angriest Young Man to Elvis Costello.

It's too bad because he's not a punk at all. He comes out of the English pub rock tradition and has an approach very similar to Bruce Springsteen. His first record, Howlin Wind is a bit more soulful, with horns being pretty prominent. His second, Heat Treatment pushed the guitar and organ up front. The production is clearer too, so even though it's only got ten songs, I prefer it to Howlin’ Wind. But both are great.

Jonathan Richman has had a long strange career, but The Modern Lovers is where it all starts. This is the one with “Roadrunner”, one of the all time great rock and roll songs. Also, he rhymes Picasso with asshole. You won't find that in a Rhyming Dictionary.


I'd like to say that Have Moicy! by Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Fredericks and the Clamtones (whew!) is simply a bunch of great songs. But I'd be a liar if I left out all the twists and turns, like Peter Stampfel's funny voice and the human digestive tract as subject matter. But I’ll take it over The Pretender any day. I made a point of buying this record when some idiot radio DJ criticized Robert Christgau’s “Best of the 70s” choices, singling this out because she never heard of it. This same idiot DJ (Carol Miller, actually) is still playing the same lame classic rock songs, doing her part to make sure you never hear anything interesting ever again.

Don't hate Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle just because every critic on earth loves them. You really can't blame them because their first record is one of the great singer-songwriter records of the decade. Take that James Taylor, Jackson Browne, etc.

Almost as good is Warren Zevon’s first record - another in the ongoing Chronicles of Albums Jaybee's Brother hated. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” is a great rock and roll song (and a ding to the abovementioned singer-songwriters to boot) done a disservice by Linda Rondstadt. The real version is here.


David Bowie was always at least one step everyone (and two ahead of me) but on Station to Station he makes it easy to like him. No obvious androgyny to make male teens like me uncomfortable. No fey/fake soul music. Just pop. “TVC15” is one of his best ever.

Guilty Pleasure:

Turnstiles is probably my favorite Billy Joel record. He’s not quite a superstar yet, but he’s coming back home anyway. It’s easy to hate the guy, and sometimes I do. I prefer guitars to pianos and strings, but below all that bs, I think his heart’s in the right place. And for a time he was the greatest pop melodist since Paul McCartney.

Wait'll Next Year:

So, my faulty memory makes it kind of a sucky year. My fact checking proves that it wasn’t so bad. But hold onto your hats. The times, as they say, were a-changin’.

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