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Archive for the ‘1970s’ Category

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?

In 1970s, 1973, British bands, Led Zeppelin, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock on August 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm

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Earlier this week, my 20-sided dice told me to listen to Led Zeppelin’s classic 1973 album, Houses of the Holy. I listened to it several times. I will now report my findings.

I have no specific memories of March 1973. Just hazy impressions.

I was in second grade at a smallish Catholic school in southeastern Pennsylvania. Each morning, I’d eat breakfast while I listened to powerhouse AM Philadelphia radio station WFIL on the radio. After I’d leave my house to walk to school, I would turn around at two or three specific spots to wave to Mom, standing inside the front door. Eventually, of course, there was no looking back, and I’d make the short trek to school.

My second grade teacher had a name that to this day I probably wouldn’t be able to spell. I am sure there was a basic second grade routine, but the details are lost to me now. Friday mornings, all the kids from first through eighth grade would walk in two neat rows over to the church for Mass. Our First Holy Communion would be happening in May, so it’s a safe bet that we were practicing for that.

In short, my life in March 1973 was about as different from that of Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert “Don’t Call Me Bob” Plant’s life that year as you can possibly imagine.

In fact, it might sound improbable, but I think I was unaware of the existence of Led Zeppelin in 1973, despite their lofty status as Rock Gods. I certainly liked music, and my tastes were gradually being formed, but no one was guiding me toward the kind of heaviness that Zeppelin represented. I can safely say that I had no idea that Led Zeppelin had released their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, in the spring of my second grade year.

Despite this, Robert Plant and I did share one common interest in 1973: spinning tales of the endless journeys of thousands of adventurers on some kind of mystical quest.

When school ended each day, I would wait for the old man crossing guard to part the traffic on Concord Road and I’d head down the long catwalk back into our neighborhood. As I walked, I’d often gaze at the ground and imagine that it was the terrain for some kind of epic journey being taken by massive groups of explorers or soldiers, facing danger at every turn. On rainy days, water streaming down the street would become mighty rivers on which imaginary sailors took endless, perilous journeys. Some survived, some did not, but the journey/battle/quest went on forever. At least in my mind. Each afternoon on my way home from school, I’d pick up the story where I’d left off the day before.

Though I certainly hadn’t heard the song, I was essentially acting out “No Quarter,” a dark story song from Houses of the Holy. It’s a mysterious song about a shadowy group of (presumably) men who are facing a raging snow storm and the “winds of Thor,” as they walk “side by side with death,” while “the devil mocks their every step.” The point of the march? To “carry news that must get through” and to “build a dream for me and you.”

I don’t know precisely what Plant was getting at with those lyrics, but hearing them now reminds me of those tales I’d make up during those walks home from school so long ago. Tales that existed completely in my head for more than 40 years, until I mentioned them to my wife Donna last night.

Of course, I guess Robert Plant and I both have Homer to thank for putting these kinds of stories in our heads. And in the head of any kid who ever grew up anywhere over the last few millennia.

I missed out on Houses of the Holy in 1973. When I think of the music from March 1973 that might have resonated with me, I find that it’s the soul songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 from late March of that year that feel the most foundational to my musical tastes. In short, the songs by the Spinners, Stylistics, O’Jays and so many more are the ones that I was probably hearing the most those mornings on WFIL, and they’re the ones that sank deep into me. Bands like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd–whose Dark Side of the Moon was also released in March 1973 and whose popularity has arguably eclipsed that of Houses of the Holy–would have to wait for me to catch up to them.

But I did catch up eventually. I’m sure that I had heard all eight songs from Houses of the Holy on rock stations like WMMR by the time drummer John Bonham’s death brought Zeppelin to an untimely end in 1980. I got over my fear of “heavy” music and began to dive into Zeppelin’s albums, first by borrowing them from my high school classmate Dave, and then by buying them one by one for about $5.00 at my local Listening Booth record store.

And so it was that about 10 years after its release, I heard Houses of the Holy for the first time. I don’t remember the first time I listened to it, beginning to end, but I was likely amazed at how I’d already heard every song from the LP on ‘MMR. Houses of the Holy was just that damn important to the burgeoning “classic rock” culture of the early 1980s.

I don’t know that Houses of the Holy was universally acclaimed at the time of its release, but I think it holds up well. It’s a diverse album, ranging from raging Zep stompers like “Dancing Days,” “Over The Hills and Far Away,” and “The Ocean” to the ethereal “The Rain Song,” still one of the most gorgeous songs Plant has ever sung (and dig those mellotron-generated strings!). Plus, you get a goofy reggae tribute, “D’yer Mak’er” and the James Brown parody, “The Crunge,” both rare displays of a Zeppelin sense of humor. Where is that confounded bridge, anyway?

During my college years, I was falling in love with all kinds of new music, but I wound up burrowing deeper into the classic rock canon as well. More than a few times, Houses of the Holy would be the soundtrack to college dorm backgammon matches. Yes, indeed, I knew how to party.

Houses of the Holy and I sometimes spend years apart, but every now and then I rediscover it and listen to it for days or weeks on end. This is what happened after I met an online friend named Tommy back around 2008 or thereabout. He was a big Zeppelin fan, and he reignited my love for Houses of the Holy. I never met Tommy in real life and he is now sadly gone. But I feel his presence, along with the presence of those still here–Rick and Greg from college, Dave and Joe from high school–with whom I’ve shared the mighty Houses of the Holy through the years. And even the presence of seven-year-old me, telling myself the story of “No Quarter,” as I walked home from school, long before I’d ever heard of “No Quarter,” Houses of the Holy, or even Led Zeppelin itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RRR002: Dynamic Sound! 22 Original Hits! 22 Original Songs!

In 1970s, 1970s soul, 1974, compilations, family, K-tel, record collecting, records, Rich's House of Vinyl on April 6, 2016 at 4:28 am

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The thing is, whenever I get excited about reviving this sweet music blog o’ mine, I always go into it with wildly unrealistic expectations. Sure, I can randomly choose a record from my collection, listen to it, digest it and write something coherent about it every single day of my life. That’s exactly what I did with my previous entry, Foreigner’s 4.

But it’s crazytalk to think that I can do this every day. So, what happens is that once I haven’t done it for a day or two, I give up on the enterprise or I start over, vowing that this time, I’ll get it right.

Not this time though. I’m dispensing with both of those options. This time, I’m just going to change the rules. It’s my blog, my rules, right?

New rules: whenever I have a stray 45 minutes or so, more than likely late at night, I’ll roll those 20-sided dice, pick that random record, and write about it while listening to it. Then I’ll post the results and get on with my life.

This is what I am doing right now. Listening to K-tel’s collection, Dynamic Sound 22 Original Hits 22 Original Stars, and using the skills I’ve honed over the 37 years since I took Mrs. Peters’ typing class to bang out some fresh thoughts about the record.

K-tel albums loom large in my childhood memories but the plain fact is that I only owned about 10 K-tel/Ronco/Adam-VIII compilation albums among the dozens of such records that were released during my childhood, which happened at the height of the K-tel era.

Dynamic Sound is not one of the records that I owned back in the day, but it was released the same year — 1974 — as K-tel’s Dynamite, a compilation that I did own as a kid. Dynamite has proven to be hugely influential in my music appreciation development. Nearly every song on Dynamite led me down genre paths that I’ve been following ever since. But had I owned Dynamic Sound rather that Dynamite in ’74, it would have had the same effect on me.

Looking back, it’s obvious that K-tel albums were cheesily-packaged, aggressively-marketed (particularly on television) behemoths to be cherished by no one over the age of 15. In short, K-tel and its like-minded competition were cranking out the NOW That’s What I Call Music collections of the era.

Cramming 20 or more songs on a single flimsy slab of vinyl was probably just another way of maximizing profits, but the genius side effect of this was filling the ears of impressionable young listeners with the likes of James Brown, Tom T. Hall, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Chi-Lites all at the same time.

And, it ought to go without saying, the DeFranco Family. Can’t forget the DeFranco Family!

Seriously, check out the playlist of Dynamic Sound:

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The beauty of a K-tel record like Dynamic Sound is in how what was once ever-so-briefly an utterly contemporary snapshot of the current pop music scene, from rock to pop to country to funk, is now a succinct time capsule of a relatively short era — just a few months in 1974 — in music history.

For someone like me — a music fan/record collector who was growing up at the height of K-telmania — it is this time capsule aspect that is most fascinating. I love how a song that is utterly familiar to me, like the Stylistics “I’m Stone in Love with You” (I LOVE the Stylistics. LOVE them.) is juxtaposed with “Smarty Pants” by long-last ’70s girl group, First Choice. First Choice were popular, sort of the Destiny’s Child of their day (though not quite that popular), but I totally missed them the first time around. Every now and then, though, I get to rediscover one of their tunes via K-tel and they blow me away every time. I’m always happy to see a First Choice song on a K-tel record.

So I hear the utterly familiar and the happily surprising on K-tel albums, but that’s not all! I hear the cool guitar riffs of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Let It Ride,” and I realize that though I have rarely listened to BTO on purpose, their ubiquity seeped into my wonder years. The “Let It Ride” riff is tightly stitched into my musical memory, probably from some family picnic 40 years ago, when Dad’s burlap covered mini-speakers sat in the open window of my sister’s bedroom and transmitted WMMR out to the picnickers on the brick patio in our backyard. I probably ate a whole bunch of raw green pepper slices and a couple of hamburgers that day, because that’s what I did.

That’s some potent memory-inducement and it’s all thanks to a flimsy old record that sold for about $5.00 and was advertised on UHF stations during late afternoon reruns of Bewitched and Speed Racer back in 1974.

(RRR002)

Red Crate Records #001-004

In 1970s, 1970s soul, British pop, Curtis Mayfield, record collecting, Red Crate Records, Rich's House of Vinyl on March 1, 2015 at 10:22 pm

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The concept here is relatively simple, so won’t belabor it. However, here is a brief explanation:

I use a pair of 20-sided dice to choose records from my collection to play. Once I listen to them, I place them together in a red crate and eventually make a few mix CDs/playlists from whatever is in the red crate at that time. Starting now, I’m also going to write something about each record. Once I’ve written about four records, I’ll post an entry here.

Here’s the first entry. Red Crate Records #001-004.

Red Crate Record #001:
Music for Cooking with Gas
Harry Fields, His Piano and Orchestra
circa early 1960s

This album was made by the Caloric Corporation, a fine oven manufacturer. The front cover of this LP states “a la carte—music that’s rare and well done!”. I would imagine Music for Cooking with Gas was either given away when Caloric customers bought an oven or were able to buy the album cheap—say for $1.99—at a Caloric showroom. Or both.

No matter what led to its creation, a copy of Music for Cooking with Gas has been hanging around my record collection for years—maybe decades—and I’ve only just listened to it, at least as far as I can remember. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s a pretty good lite piano jazz album. It’s not going to take your brain through all kinds of crazy twists and turns like a Thelonious Monk record. Nor is it going to lead to some introspective place a la Bill Evans. And it brought won’t stir nostalgic Christmas memories the way Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas music does.

But twisty-turny is for Monk, introspection is for Evans and Christmas is for Guaraldi. Harry Fields was simply a very good musician who graduated from Julliard, built up some symphonic bona fides and learned his jazz chops from Art Tatum. Fields ultimately became a piano teacher to the stars—Mickey Rooney! Mae West! Judy Canova! Many more!—in Los Angeles. He may have made other records, but I don’t think recording was necessarily his first priority.

Caloric made Harry Fields a sponsorship offer too good to refuse. Whatever kind of deal went down that lead to Music for Cooking with Gas, the result is a thoroughly entertaining record that’s got some serious music behind it. And, yes, it probably does make an entrancing soundtrack for cooking in your Caloric oven.

Red Crate Record #002:
Bad Axe
Son Seals
1984
Alligator Records

Son Seals is a name I’d probably heard before, maybe via the Saturday Night blues show on WXPN that my father used to listen to, but I had never consciously heard any of his music. At some point in the last few years, this 1984 album fell into my collection. It might have come from one of the boxes of records that my friend Blanko Dave has passed on to me in recent years, though I can’t be 100% sure of that. But I know I didn’t buy this record.

I’m glad to have Bad Axe though. Listening to it for a second time now—the first time being during a dishwashing marathon the other night—I’m enjoying it immensely and thinking about how much Dad would have liked it. He liked a good blues record, and that’s precisely what Bad Axe is.

Generally speaking, I’m not sure if blues recorded in the 1980s has a very good reputation. There might be an assumption that blues from that oversized decade might be too big generic-sounding or too influenced by the rock that it initially inspired to be any good.

But none of that applies to Bad Axe. It is quite simply a solid blues record made by a solid blues guy for a solid blues label in the very solid blues town of Chicago, Illinois. Sure, the song about going back home where women have some meat on their bones might not be politically correct in some universe, but thank God that’s not my universe.

I read up on Son Seals and learned that he had a pretty tough life, though it sounded like he certainly did have some fun along the way. He also uncorked some heavy blues guitar solos, like the one I just heard in “Just About to Lose Your Clown,” along the way. A tough life, but well-lived, hopefully.

Red Crate Record #003:
No Dice
Badfinger
1970
Apple Records

Red Crate Record #004:
Superfly
Curtis Mayfield
1972
Curtom Records

Badfinger’s No Dice and Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to the movie Superfly will always be linked together in my mind. As well, they should be: my grandmother introduced me to them, together, back on a Christmas Eve in the mid-1970s. This is that story.

I did not use the aforementioned dice to pick these albums, which is appropriate considering the Badfinger album title. I consciously decided to make go with No Dice because I just bought a copy of the record today. This is the first time I’ve had a copy of No Dice in probably 30+ years.

Let’s say it was Christmas Eve 1973, though it could have been ’74 or ’75. Hell, it possibly could have been ’76, though it certainly wasn’t later than that. Among her presents to me, Grandma gave me two music cassettes (as she would have pronounced the word, CASSettes). One of them was No Dice, the other, Superfly.

I was already into music at the time and must have recently gotten some kind of cassette player/recorder, so cassettes would have been a logical present for Grandma to give me. What I have never understood was her choice of tapes.

I might have heard the big hit from No Dice, “No Matter What,” on the radio, but even if I did, I didn’t know it was performed by a band called Badfinger. No Dice was not something I would have thought to ask for, as it was something that I didn’t even know existed. But when I opened and Superfly, I do remember being suddenly curious, wondering what these tapes would sound like. From a very young age, I remember being open-minded about music and I was very fortunate to have family members who were happy to feed this open mind with excellent tunes.

I don’t know if Grandma made the choices or if she farmed that duty out to one of my young aunts who might have been hip to what I’d like. Maybe one of those aunts already had these tapes and was tired of them, though I’m pretty certain they did come to me new and shrinkwrapped.

However it was that these No Dice and Superfly tapes came to me, I listened to them enough that they left an impression that grew over time. Seeds were planted in the brain. My musical taste was being formed and power pop, as exemplified by “No Matter What,” one of the greatest pop songs ever, was going to part of the firm foundation of that taste. My appreciation for 1970s soul was certainly amplified by Mayfield’s masterful Superfly. Listening to these tapes put me on a road that would lead to many other albums and songs, some of which I’m still discovering. All thanks to Grandma, who may or may not have known who Curtis Mayfield or Badfinger were. Come to think of it though, if Mayfield or Badfinger appeared on the Mike Douglas Show, Grandma would have known about them.

Over the years, both of the cassettes Grandma gave me disappeared, probably at the point when I decided tapes weren’t so cool anymore. Eventually, I found a used vinyl copy of Superfly and I’ve had that LP for decades; I never followed up on No Dice, though in recent years I’ve been wanting to track down a copy.

Finally, at a newly-opened record store nearby called The Vinyl Closet, I bought No Dice on LP. I took in a whole stack of records that I didn’t need any more to get store credit. I came out with six records, a fraction of the number that I walked in with, but I was a happy guy. I finally had No Dice.

As for the music on these albums: wow! Still 40+ years later, “No Matter What” sparkles as a pop song and much of No Dice is nearly as enjoyable. Superfly is still enormous, a gritty slice of ‘70s soul that cuts deep with some serious social commentary that is probably still as relevant today as it was in 1972.

I’m not sure that Grandma French intended to introduce to me one of the first great post-Beatles pop albums and a landmark of ‘70s soul that Christmas Eve so many years ago. Why she picked these two tapes will always be an enigma to me and she’s not here to answer my questions about it anymore. But I think Grandma would be pleased to know that 40 years later, I listened to No Dice and Superfly one evening, loved them both and thought of her.

Thanks, Grandma.

333 Words about Abandoned Luncheonette

In 1970s, 1973, Rich's House of Vinyl on November 3, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Typically I use a chance operation to determine what albums I profile on this blog, but once in awhile there is a good reason to write about a specific LP on a specific day. Such is the case with Hall & Oates’ Abandoned Luncheonette, released 40 years ago today.

A breakthrough album for Hall & Oates, Abandoned Luncheonette provided the duo with a big hit single, “She’s Gone,” though it wasn’t a hit for the duo until both Lou Rawls and Tavares recorded popular covers of it.

In addition to the musical success Abandoned Luncheonette brought its creators, the LP created a fair amount of notoriety for its cover model, the ruins of the Rosedale Diner, which had been a mainstay in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where Daryl Hall grew up, for years. By 1973, what was left of the Rosedale sat along Route 724, just up the road from where I now live.  The success of Abandoned Luncheonette led to many pilgrimages by fans to Route 724 until 1983, when the diners remains was burned by a local fire company.

In more recent times, a guy named Matt Simmons fell in love with the Abandoned Luncheonette album and determined that he was going to travel to 724 and learn more about the Rosedale. He did just that, and probably knows more about the Rosedale than just about anyone.

Given our shared interest and my physical proximity to the site where the Rosedale rested for years, it was probably inevitable that Matt and I should become friends. As is often the case, social media helped us meet and facilitated our friendship to the point where we actually met in person back in August. I was happy to show Matt and his family the Colonial Theater here in Phoenixville and I later joined Matt as he visited the Rosedale site and even found me one of the remaining bits of floor tiles from the diner.

Here’s Matt and me that day, listening to Michael Kropp play at the Phoenixville Farmer’s Market:

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333 Words About 3 + 3

In 1970s, 1973, funk, guitar solos, Isley Brothers, record collecting, records, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock, soul on November 1, 2013 at 2:28 am

The Isley Brothers weren’t midway through their career in 1973, even though they’d been around since the mid-1950s. But they were at the top of their game on that year’s 3 + 3 album.

Hearing this album was a revelation to me. Of course, everyone knows about “Shout” and “Twist and Shout,” as well as “This Old Heart of Mine.” I’m quite partial to “It’s Your Thing,” as well. But 3 + 3 finds the Isleys tapping into the sound and feel of mid-1970s funk and moving the genre along with their own innovations.

The first thing I noticed after listening to the entire album is how it’s pretty evenly divided between excellent Isley compositions and killer cover versions of recent pop hits. The album opens with the insanely catchy hit single, “That Lady,” an Isley original, and the quality never lets up, whether the band is tackling their own songs or those by James Taylor (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”) and the Doobie Brothers (“Listen to the Music”).  And, though Chris Jasper is credited with playing the “clarinet” on several songs, I’m pretty certain that it’s actually a “clavinet” that he is using to distribute liberal dollops of funk throughout the album.

While the entire album is quite enjoyable, 3 + 3 brings it all home toward the end, with the Isley’s magnificent cover of Seals and Crofts’ proto-yacht rock hit, “Summer Breeze.” The Isleys take their time with “Summer Breeze,” letting it develop at a languid pace that at one point, unexpectedly reminds me of British band XTC. I say unexpected because I would have never imagined that XTC would remind me either of the Isley Brothers or Seals and Crofts. One particular verse though, has a musical and lyrical vibe that would feel right at home on XTC’s classic (and languid) album, Skylarking.

All the languidness (languidity?) is clearly leading up to something: an explosive guitar solo by Ernie Isley that starts about four minutes into the song and rides “Summer Breeze” to a glorious conclusion two minutes later.

333 Words About Taj Mahal’s The Real Thing

In 1970s, blues, live albums, record collecting, records, rhythm and blues, Rich's House of Vinyl, soul on October 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm

The essential point of this “Rich’s House of Vinyl” blog, aside from giving me a chance to write about music, is that I pick the records out using a pair of 20-sided dice. This suits my geeky side quite nicely, especially since, not be a Dungeons and Dragons kind of geek, I’ve never really had a context to use such dice and now I do.

The dice allow me to pull stuff out of my large record collection that I’ve actually never listened to. This is a good thing, since I don’t collect records just so they can sit around on a shelf (or, at the moment, on my living room floor) gathering dust. I actually want to listen to the things.

The dice were kind to me in presenting Taj Mahal’s early 1970s live album, The Real Thing. I think this record came my way when a friend passed along a box of great albums that had been passed to him from a friend. I had not gotten a chance to listen to but now I have, and I love it.

While I’ve known of Taj Mahal for years, I’ve never actually heard his music. I’ve also known that Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder were in a band together in the early ’60s, which was a good sign that I’d  like him. I’d always imagined that Taj Mahal was a mostly acoustic blues guitarist and singer, but he’s got much more going on than that. On this album, which was recorded live at the Fillmore East, Taj Mahal’s band plays electric guitar, bass and piano, drums, congas and four tubas. And those tubas rock, lemme tell ya. Taj Mahal himself plays a variety of instruments, including the ever-popular six-holed fife.

The result? A live show, rooted in blues but not afraid to take those blues to some exotic, jazzy places. A show that took place more than 40 years ago, but is introducing me to Taj Mahal today. The real thing, indeed.

333 Words About Royal Rappin’s

In 1970s, 1979, disco, funk, gospel, Isaac Hayes, Millie Jackson, record collecting, religion, Rich's House of Vinyl, soul on October 24, 2013 at 4:46 am

On a recent morning, I was sitting in my living room, enjoying Millie Jackson and Isaac Hayes’ 1979 album, Royal Rappin’s, when I heard a knock at the door. I discovered a very young boy and a very old man standing on my porch, anxious to speak to me about God and what He wants/doesn’t want.

As I was greeting my visitors, I realized that Millie and Isaac were in the thick of it, it being their salacious rendition of the rockin’ disco hit, “Do You Wanna Make Love” (sample lyric: “Do you wanna make love/Or do you just want to fool around”). Cleverly intuiting that the Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door were not interested in a debate over the pros and cons of making love, I slyly reached over to squelch the volume on my record player, which was conveniently next to the door.  I then listened as the boy preached the gospel to me and asked me if I thought God cared more about money and material things than a loving family. I said no, He probably didn’t, and as the boy agreed, he pointed to the scripture that confirmed our shared belief.

He and the older gentleman then handed me a copy of The Watchtower and asked if they could come back some time to discuss it with me. I did not flat out refuse their suggestion, though I am not sure when that meeting will take place.

As the Witnesses moved on to my neighbor, I returned to Millie and Isaac, who were continuing to discourse on the power of getting it on. Romance and sweet lovemaking are the topics Millie and Isaac preach about on Royal Rappin’s. Opening with the seductive “Sweet Music, Soft Lights and You,” wending their way through Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time,” bumping’n’grinding through the aforementioned “Do You Wanna Make Love,” before climaxing with a cover of the Anne Murray sapfest, “You Needed Me,” it’s all about the love, L-U-V, on Royal Rappin’s.

Daily Record 11/12/11: We Do ’em Our Way-various artists (1980)

In 1970s, 1974, 1978, 1979, British bands, compilations, cover songs, new wave, Rich's House of Vinyl on November 12, 2011 at 5:58 am

Recording a cover song can be a dicey proposition for any band, particularly a new one. A cover song will probably get the band some attention, which is probably always a good thing, but the band could easily get typecast, with audiences subsequently paying little or no attention to the band’s original music.

We Do ’em Our Way, a 1980 British compilation (I got it as a cheap import somewhere a long time ago), highlights bands that came out of the punk explosion, disassembling a variety of beloved rock classics with varying degrees of reverence. You’ve got Devo covering the Stones; Sex Pistols exploring both Bill Haley and Monkees’ tunes; the Slits taking on the iconic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine;” and the Dickies spending some “Nights in White Satin.”

To me, one sign of a great cover is when the covering artist takes the song to a place you never would’ve imagined and that’s what happens in nearly every case here.

I would imagine that most of these bands recorded these songs at least in part in the hope that listeners would be intrigued enough to dig into the band’s original tunes. It’s hard to tell to what extent that happened, but the fact remains that, three decades later, We Do ’em Our Way, is still a cool, fun record to spin late on a Friday night/early on a Saturday morning.

Daily Record 2/11/11: What’s Going On-Marvin Gaye (1971)

In 1970s, 1971, Marvin Gaye, Motown, soul on February 11, 2011 at 5:35 pm

One week ago, I talked about the idea of “Friday music”–fun, goofy music that epitomizes the “Working for the Weekend” spirit of the day–in my entry on the Fratellis’ Costello Music album.

Marvin Gaye’s 1971 masterwork, What’s Going On, presents a much different, but equally valid brand of “Friday music.”

What’s Going On is Friday music for those Friday mornings when you wake up with your nerves so raw and jaggedy that you feel them cutting into your soul. When a week filled with loss, frustration and worry can’t end soon enough. When just staying in bed, or turning the car around to go back home to bed, seems like a much more sensible alternative to slogging through another day of work.

Things weren’t quite that bad for me this morning, though just after I got out of bed, I felt like they were going to be. I recovered though, and What’s Going On is probably why.

What’s Going On manages the interesting trick of being very topical and yet introspective at the same time. Gaye was thinking about the Vietnam War, urban poverty and environmental concerns, among other topics, on What’s Going On, but he paradoxically seems to turn these thoughts both inward and outward, resulting in an album that is extremely thoughtful but not navel-gazing; seriously engaged in discussing important ideas, but not preachy (at least not too preachy); and an album that invokes God but is also deeply humanistic.

Gaye helped put these heavy ideas across by placing them in a musical context that is probably one of the most gorgeous things you’ll ever going to hear: swirling orchestration, astonishing vocals, a central melodic theme (that of the title track) that serves as the music touchstone for the entire album.

And, while people (including me sometimes) will occasionally place What’s Going On in the “classic pop albums that people appreciate but  hardly ever listen to” (I’m looking straight at you Pet Sounds), it seems to me that ultimately What’s Going On exists in a realm of its own, an artwork that addresses events of its time in a timeless fashion and, by its very existence, proves that even in the midst of inward and outward turmoil, men and women are capable of creating works of great beauty and insight.

And if you possibly think What’s Going On isn’t still relevant nearly 40 years after its release, consider this: the millions of people protesting for a better way of life in the streets and squares Egypt right at this moment might be asking Mr. Murbarak and company many questions, but, in the end, all of these questions can be distilled into one three word query that appears to be leading toward Murbarak’s ultimate retreat from power:

‘What’s going on?”

Hopefully, there will always be people in this world willing to ask that question.

Daily Record 2/8/11: Sinatra & Company-Frank Sinatra (1971)

In 1970s, 1971, Brazilian music, Frank Sinatra, Rich's House of Vinyl on February 9, 2011 at 3:33 am

Today I listened to Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin. Here, I’m going to talk about Sinatra.

Sinatra’s 1971 album, Sinatra and Company, is a very nice example of an album that has very distinct “A” and “B” sides. This is an aspect of vinyl that may have been lost in the transition to compact discs to MP3s: the idea that when you flip the album over, you might get a completely different mood.

Side one of Sinatra and Company includes Brazilian icon Antonio Carlos Jobim among the company, as Sinatra glides his way through a set of tunes written or co-written by Jobim. This album side continues the Brazilian explorations that Sinatra and Jobim documented on their 1967 collaboration, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s a cool, understated set of tunes, such as “Drinking Water (Agua de Beber)” and “Wave,”  that hide all kinds of complexities within their deceptive simplicity.

Flip the album over and it’s a whole different story. Sinatra made periodic excursions into “contemporary pop” or “soft rock” territory. That’s what Side two of Sinatra & Company is all about, with Frank tackling such tunes as “Close To You” and “Leaving On a Jet Plane.” Sinatra seems to take these songs more seriously than, say, his hilariously contemptuous version of “Downtown.”  In a surprise move, the highlight of Side B might Ol’ Blue Eyes borrowing Joe Raposo’s “Bein’ Green” from Kermit the Frog. It’s a nice gentle performance that might actually have you thinking about the lyrics a little bit more than you have before.

Still, when it comes to Sinatra and Company, I’ll take Brazil Frank over Soft Rock Frank in a heartbeat.