Archive for the ‘1988’ Category

Going Random Through The Eighties

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Last week, I took a six-tune random walk through the Seventies. Today, with my creativity evidently in a waning rather than a waxing phase, it seems like a good idea to do the same with a decade I tend to ignore: the Eighties. There are about 4,500 tunes from that decade in the RealPlayer, so let’s see where we end up.

Our first stop is a track from Showdown!, an album released in 1985 by blues veterans Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins and the newcomer (at the time) Robert Cray. Trading guitar solos and vocal takes throughout the album, the three bluesmen put together a set that All-Music Guide calls “scorching.” This morning’s track – “The Dream” – finds Cray taking care of the vocal and Collins adding the solo guitar work.

Then it’s onto a Duke Ellington/Bob Russell tune as interpreted by a Sixties icon for an album that originally wasn’t available in much of the world: “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” was recorded by Paul McCartney for his album Снова в СССP, which was issued in 1988 only in the Soviet Union. According to Wikipedia, McCartney “intended Снова в СССР as present for Soviet fans who were generally unable to obtain his legitimate recordings, often having to make do with copies; they would, for a change, have an album that people in other countries would be unable to obtain.” The Soviet release contained eleven songs at first, with two tracks added for later pressings. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the album was released world-wide in 1991 with one more additional track.

One of the mainstays of my music collection – and this will likely be no surprise – is Gordon Lightfoot. While he didn’t issue albums in the 1980s with the frequency that he did in the previous two decades, his Eighties work includes some of my favorites, especially the1986  album East of Midnight. While the track “Anything For Love” doesn’t top the list of my favorites from that effort – the title track does – it’s still a good effort worth a listen, and it’s our third stop this morning.

Hailing from near Liverpool, China Crisis started as a duo, according to AMG. But when Virgin Records picked up the single “African and White” in 1982, Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon put together a full band. The group never made much headway in the U.S., with only two of their eight albums even making it into the lower half of the Billboard 200 and one single – “Working With Fire and Steel” – reaching No. 27on the Dance Music/Club Play list. But somehow, I came up with a copy of the group’s 1985 album, Flaunt the Imperfection, and “Bigger the Punch I’m Feeling” from that album is where today’s journey finds its fourth stop.

It’s Hard, the 1982 album by the Who, contains one tune that truly grabs me: “Eminence Front.” Other than that, the album – billed as the last by the group at the time and released in conjunction with what was called a final tour – is kind of blah. That album’s “Why Did I Fall for That” is the RealPlayer’s fifth stop this morning. It’s a tune that has always come off to me as an inferior remake of the brilliant “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from the similarly brilliant Who’s Next.

And we come at last to a track from one of the albums I had long included on what I call my hopeless list: Albums I wanted to hear but that I thought were lost for one reason or another. In early 2007, during the first incarnation of this blog, I wrote a bit about the late Tom Jans, mentioning his final album Champion, which was released only in Japan in 1982. Having cobbled together a collection of the rest of Jans’ brief oeuvre, I dug a bit for the album without result and then gave up the quest. But during 2009, fellow blogger Chun Tao at Rare MP3 came up with a copy of Champion, which was as good as I’d hoped it would be. Here’s the magnificently sorrowful “Mother’s Eyes,” the final track on the album.

A Note:
A little more than a year ago, after I landed here at my own place, I began to set up an archive of the posts from Echoes In The Wind during its Blogger and WordPress days. That effort flagged for several reasons, and when I returned to it over the weekend, I decided to start over again. So at Echoes In The Wind Archives, I’m working on reposting material – without any active music links – from early 2007 through January 2010. As I said once before, I’m not sure how much interest there might be in my archives, but the site will eventually allow me to see what I might previously have written (as it did today in the case of Tom Jans).

Revisiting Jesse Winchester’s ‘Biloxi’

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

In February of 2007, I wrote about Jesse Winchester and my favorite among his songs. Here, updated and revised slightly, is what I said:

One of the great themes of popular music – from the pre-recording days when music’s popularity was measured only by sales of sheet music, through the entire Twentieth Century to today – is displacement. From the day in 1853 when Stephen Foster – America’s first popular songwriter – wrote “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight,” American musicians and listeners have celebrated places dear to them, often longing for those places and grieving their separations from them.

The separation need not be physical: Time pulls us away, too, as places change and we ourselves are altered by the turning of the calendar. Joe South’s 1969 lament, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” mourned the changes brought to his home place – and by extension, the entire south – by the so-called progress of that decade, which replaced orchards with offices and meadows with malls (and the orchards and meadows continue to disappear to this day, of course, not just in the south but all across the country).

The era during which Joe South sang – those volatile years from, say, 1965 to 1975 – was one of displacement for a lot of folks. Many of those who were displaced, of course, had not one bit of use for rock or soul or any of their relatives; they instead found their solace in gospel music or in the country stylings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and their contemporaries. But the sense of longing wasn’t limited by genre. It’s not an accident that one of the better singles of the Beatles, the best group of the time – or any time, for that matter – told us all to get back to where we once belonged. We all wanted to go home.

One of those who couldn’t go home was Jesse Winchester, a native of Memphis who’d left the U.S. for Canada in 1967 instead of reporting for military service (and most likely an assignment to the war zone in Vietnam) when he got his draft notice. Living in Montreal in 1969, he met Robbie Robertson of The Band – himself a Canadian, of course, like three of the other four members of The Band. Robertson produced and played guitar on Winchester’s first album, Jesse Winchester, and brought along his band-mate Levon Helm to play drums and mandolin. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was timely: it spoke to a disaffected American generation that sympathized with Winchester’s pacifism. But it was also timeless: the songs revealed a powerful writing talent (recognized by the numerous artists who covered them), and Winchester’s gentle vocals made a wonderful vehicle for delivering them.”

Winchester, of course, was unable to perform in the U.S. to promote either the record or his career, and thus never was able to capture the attention of the listening and buying public as well as he likely deserved. He recorded four more albums in Canada until an amnesty proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 allowed him to return to the U.S. He’s recorded sporadically since then but has been an active performer, with several recent live albums preceding last year’s studio album, Love Filling Station.

Among all of Winchester’s fine songs, I find my favorite to be “Biloxi” from that first, self-titled album. Winchester’s back story comes along when I hear it, and regrets and longing linger under the gentle vocal as Winchester seems to recall the joy and solace he once found in a place he might never be able to see again. And all of that is why “Biloxi” belongs in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 10
“Question” by the Moody Blues, Threshold 67004 [1970]
“Biloxi” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester [1970]
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 [1972]
“Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” by Hurricane Smith, Capitol 3383 [1972]
“Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash, Geffen 49824 [1981]
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra 96412 [1988]

“Question” was my introduction to the Moody Blues. I think that introduction took place across the street at Rick’s, when he and Rob shared some albums Rob had borrowed from a friend. One of those albums was A Question of Balance. I was entranced by the group’s sound and the songs’ content: These guys were singing about the same kinds of questions I was grappling with at the time. I’ll acknowledge that the lyrical content of some of the Moodys’ albums has not aged well, though the songs on A Question of Balance do not seem now as overcooked as do many of those on the other albums. And “Question” – which went to No. 21 during the spring and early summer of 1970 – still sounds good today, although I’m not sure if that’s a matter of the song’s maturity or of my carrying inside me a perpetual sixteen-year-old. Over the years, on oldies radio, the album version – with the (synthesized?) horns calling out during the introduction – has pretty much driven the simple strummed guitar introduction of the single edit out of circulation. The version I found at YouTube seems to be a hybrid: it has the single’s introduction but runs longer – by my reading – than the single edit ever did.

None of the kids I was hanging around with during the autumn of 1972 were listening to Mott the Hoople, so neither was I. But when “All the Young Dudes” began to push itself out of the radio speakers from time to time that November – the record spent just three weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 – I put the band on my list of music to check out. It took me years to get there, having detoured figuratively through Muscle Shoals and Macon, Georgia, but the crunchy chords of “Dudes” remained fresh over the years, even as the glam poses of Ian Hunter and his band got very old. I never thought the record was all that much a tribute to glam rock, anyway, no matter what David Bowie might have had in mind when he wrote the song. And this morning, I read Mark Deming’s review of the song at All-Music Guide: “In Bowie’s version, there seems to be a vague, under-the-radar suggestion that the ‘dudes’ in question were rent boys or glammed-out fashion victims, but Hunter’s vocals (buoyed by Mick Ralphs’ soaring lead guitar and Verden Allen’s superbly sympathetic organ swells) turned the song into an anthem for the guys on the corner, sticking by each other through the ups and downs of their lives.” Sounds about right to me.

Sometimes a hit record comes along that is so utterly out of step with current trends that I imagine some listeners assume that its popularity is a joke or an ironic comment. So there likely were folks out there in radioland as 1972 turned into 1973 who were chuckling or raising irony-laced eyebrows every time Hurricane Smith came out of the speakers singing “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” The faux Twenties/Thirties backing track, the pinched and sometimes awkward vocal and the guileless and romantic lyrics made the record unlike anything around it in the Top 40. (When “Oh Babe” reached its peak at No. 3 during February 1973, it was bracketed by Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and “Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weisberg and Steve Mandell, which itself was unlike anything else in the Top 40, of course.) As is well known now, the singer’s real name was Norman Smith, and he’d been an engineer and producer for EMI in England, working with – among many others – the Beatles and Pink Floyd. “Oh Babe” was his only hit in the U.S. although he had better success in the U.K., where eccentricity sells better, I guess. Eccentric or not, when “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” comes out of the speakers when I’m around, it’s greeted with a smile that hasn’t the faintest trace of irony.

Given my general disinterest in music from the 1980s – it wasn’t as awful as I thought it was at the time, but I still don’t think it was as good as recent waves of Gen X nostalgia have posited – I wondered as I trimmed my list of songs how many tunes from that decade would end up in my metaphorical jukebox. As I detailed in an earlier post, twenty-two songs from the Eighties survived the trimming. Two of them are in this grouping, and they were selected for diametrically opposite reasons, one for sound and the other for story. From the opening sax riff by Rindy Ross through her vocals to the end of the song, “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash just sounds good. The lyrics tell a universal tale, the songs lopes along, Ross’ vocals are believeable and, best of all, that sax riff is one of the greatest of all time. At the time the song was on the charts – it went to No. 3 during a nineteen-week stay after entering the Top 40 during early November 1981 – I wasn’t listening to a lot of Top 40, but “Harden My Heart” was inescapable. The radio station I listened to most often at home in those days was more focused on what I think was called adult contemporary, and Quarterflash was there, too.

By the time the end of the Eighties was drawing near, I was listening to newer music again, and when Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” hit the charts during the summer of 1988, I was fascinated by the record. It’s a no-frills recording: a simple acoustic guitar riff most of the way through with the drums and bass blowing in for the choruses. But it makes my list for its story, with its detail-studded portrait of a life on the fringes of American society, a life spent working in the check-out lane where the big house in the suburbs is unattainable, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether fate or frailty creates the barriers. “Fast Car” went to No. 6, and I sometimes wonder which reaction to the record was more prevalent among those who helped it get that high in the chart:  Was it “My God, that’s my life she’s singing about”? Or was it “Thank God that’s not my life she’s singing about”?

Back To The Jukebox

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I think that every once in a while as I explore the Ultimate Jukebox, I’m just going to let the selections go on stage without an opening act.

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 3
“Baby It’s You” by Smith, Dunhill 4206 [1969]
“I’ll Be Long Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs [1969]
“All Right Now” by Free from Fire & Water [1970]
“Guilty” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time [1973]
“Take Me Home” by Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle from the One From The Heart soundtrack [1982]
“Under the Milky Way” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

I’ve written before about Smith and “Baby It’s You,” and I know my blogging friend jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has as well. So without digging into my Word files, I’m not sure whether a reference held in memory will be mine or his or maybe someone else’s. Either way, the record – a cover of the Shirelles’ 1962 hit – was a tasty and thick slice of organ-dominated pop-rock, laced with chunky guitar and topped with the sweet and gritty voice of Gayle McCormick. The record – pulled from the album A Group Called Smith – went to No. 5 in the autumn of 1969, the only hit for the Los Angeles-based band. The video I found shows a television performance on which, I believe, McCormick sings live to a canned background. Key lines: “It doesn’t matter what they say. I know I’m gonna love you any old way.”

For most people, I suppose, the highlight of Boz Scaggs’ self-titled 1969 album, his first solo work after his years with the Steve Miller Band, was the long blues number “Loan Me A Dime,” on which he, the Muscle Shoals crew and Duane Allman simmer for a long time and finally boil over. But every time I listen to Boz Scaggs, that astounding set of performances is challenged for the top spot by the record’s second track, “I’ll Be Long Gone,” which starts in a contemplative mood before shifting into its own up-tempo statement of purpose. Key lines: Good luck with your path/But it wasn’t built to last/Or we might take it differently.”

In an art form where macho postures abound – and they’ve done so in every generation, from the leers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry onward – one of the more blatant macho statements was Free’s “All Right Now,” which came ripping out of radio speakers during the late summer and early autumn of 1970 on its way to No. 4.  Dave Marsh nails the record perfectly in The Heart of Rock & Soul when he calls it “Cock rock extraordinaire,” noting that “All Right Now” is “the apotheosis of the form, as unrelenting as a hard hat’s street corner come-ons.” And yes, the narrator’s approach to the young lady in question is brash and clumsy and self-involved. But you know she had to love the guitar hook and the chorus. Even if she did nothing else with the guy, she had to play air guitar and sing along with him. Or maybe not. Key lines: “She said ‘Love?’ Lord above, now you’re tryin’ to trick me in love.”

As I’ve noted before while writing about Bonnie Raitt’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” the opening chords by pianist Bill Payne always make me slow down, close my eyes and travel in time. I first heard the song through the wall of the hostel room where I lived during half of my college year in Denmark, as one of the girls in Room 6 had the song on a mixtape someone had sent her from home. And in the many years since then, no matter where I am, the song places me for at least an instant in my room in the middle of a winter night with the muted sounds of “Guilty” seeping through the wall with its mix of sadness and resignation. I heard the song so frequently during my four-month stay at the hostel that Raitt’s recording, as I wrote once, “took on forever an aura of beer-soaked regrets and midnight grief.” That’s okay, though. We need to recall our grief and regrets from time to time. They are, after all, a large part of what has made us who we are today. And for me, as I would hope it does for all of us through time, the grief has eased its way to bittersweet, and the song triggers these days nothing more than a half-smile at how young we all were. And the recording – which includes among others Lowell George on slide guitar and New Orleans pillar Earl Palmer on drums – stands up well after thirty-seven years, too. Key line: “It takes a whole lot of medicine for me to pretend to be somebody else.”

I’ve never seen the Francis Ford Coppola film One From The Heart, a lack in my experience that will have to be remedied some day. But if the film is as good as the soundtrack that Tom Waits composed and then recorded with help from Crystal Gayle, it’s a hell of a film. I first became aware of “Take Me Home” from its use in a CBS Television drama, The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire, which had a seven-episode run in the autumn of 2003. At the end of one of the episodes, Mare Winningham sang the song to another of the cast members, spurring me to find out more about the song almost as soon as the show’s credits ran. I soon found Waits’ soundtrack and Gayle’s superb vocal on “Take Me Home” and then learned I needed to add the song to that list of tunes that can bring me to tears no matter what else is going on. Key lines: “Take me home, you silly boy/All the world’s not round without you.”

I imagine that the radio stations I listened to in Minot, North Dakota, during the spring and summer of 1988 likely played the Church’s “Under the Milky Way” at other times of the day, but when I hear the record’s moody jangle, it always makes me feel as if it’s sometime around eleven o’clock at night. I’m in my apartment on Minot’s north side, reading or petting a cat as the music brings me closer to ending another day in a season that was little more than a test of endurance. I imagine I heard the record a fair amount during that time, as it went to No. 24. And given that, it’s a pleasant surprise that I still like the record very much. Key lines: “Wish I knew what you were looking for/Might have known what you would find.”

(My thanks to Caesar Tjalbo for “Take Me Home.”)

– whiteray