Neverending Randomplay #51-#60
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 17,461 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track.
51. Cyril Neville: Gossip *****
"Gossip" was once an impossibly difficult record to find. Released by Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers as a solo single in 1969, original copies now go for upwards of $100. Fortunately, Rhino Records excellent 1986 anthology Treacherous: A History of the Neville Brothers includes this little gem. The song itself is an insane little 60's nugget; three minutes of hardcore New Orleans funk with brassy horns and a twangy sitar that comes in during the breaks. The Neville Brothers' history is a long one, stretching back to "Mardi Gras Mambo", a 1954 single by The Hawketts, featuring eldest brother Art Neville. A later band, Art Neville and the Sounds, evolved into the Meters. The Neville Brothers did not perform as the Neville Brothers until 1977; they've been at it ever since. Treacherous is a great place to start, but if you only manage to download one song, this one works up a real head. Alas, iTunes doesn't have it.
52. Barbra Streisand/Barry Gibb: Guilty ** iTunes
This is the title track from Guilty, which became Streisand's biggest selling ever in 1980. All of the songs were written by one or more brothers Gibb, and the Bee Gees supply backing vocals to this, and most of the other tracks on the album. Streisand, for her part, sings like a contemporary (for the times) pop singer here, rather than as a Broadway diva. The result is that this sounds like a post-disco Bee Gees song, while Streisand sounds like Olivia Newton-John circa Xanadu. Slick, glossy, vaguely tacky, and neither the Bee Gees' nor Streisand's best moment, it reached #3 on the charts. The album went to #1.
53. The Temptations: You're My Everything **** iTunes
The Temptations began releasing albums in 1964; by 1967 they had released seven, plus a greatest hits collection, more than many current artists release in a lifetime. Six of those albums reached #1 on the Black charts, this was their fifth to go top-40 on the pop charts. Given that track history, and the changing times in 1967, one might expect to hear a group nearing the end of their peak. On the contrary, this may well be the best of their traditional-sounding Motown albums, and showed them tentatively taking progressive steps towards the psychedelic soul that would inform their late-60's to early 70's releases. "You're My Everything" is classic Motown, and was the fourth single from the album; it peaked at #6. Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin trade vocals here; both are in strong, soulful voice. With A Lot O' Soul should interest rock fans for containing the original version of "(I Know) I'm Losing You" (later covered by the Faces).
54. Edgar Froese: Aqua ****
Better known as leader of German electronic/art-rock/ambient band Tangerine Dream, "Aqua" is the title track of Froese's 1974 solo debut, and is in a similar vein as the work he's done with the mothership. At 17 minutes, it opens with the burbling of electronic water before plunging into the lonely depths, where beeps and tweets twirl around like gnats, amid eerie synthesiser washes. It never reaches a crescendo; it just ebbs and flows, like the tide. Which limits the appeal of this track to diehard fans of minimalist kraut rock and mellotron addicts. Still, if you happen to be one of those, you'll probably find this to be one of Froese's best solo recordings, and one that sounds at home with Tangerine Dream's work of the era.
55. The Police: Be My Girl-Sally *** iTunes
From their 1978 debut, "Be My Girl-Sally" is a Sting-Andy Summers track, featuring a simple, catchy, almost naive sounding intro which fades into a weird, vaguely dirty shaggy dog tale cum nursery rhyme recited by Summers accompanied only by tinkling piano. Then the chorus revs up and takes us to the outro. This is the token weirdo cut on this album; each album usually had one. How good it is depends on how much you like the Police. It's worth a listen, and makes slightly more sense within the context of the album than as a stand-alone, but once you've heard the punchline, there isn't much reason to hear it again. Still, Summers' tale is funny, the chorus is easy and has that punchy Police beat. The album peaked at #23, a strong showing for a British "new wave" band at that time.
56. The Allman Brothers Band: One Way Out **** iTunes
"One Way Out" is a live cut from the half live/half studio Eat A Peach, the first album from the Allmans following the untimely death of lead guitarist Duane Allman in a motorcycle crash. Written by a trio of great bluesmen, Elmore James, Marshall Sehorn, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, it features Duane on guitar, and brother Gregg giving one of his best bluesy vocals. Eat A Peach is an uneven record; the live cuts with Duane are the best ones on it, although Dickie Betts' "Blue Sky" is a standout, as is Gregg Allman's "Melissa". The Allmans were never the same band again after Duane's death, but they remained a pretty good one for a very long time; they're still doing what they do best today, after some key lineup changes.
57. Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep, Mountain High *****
Arguably (but not very), this is producer Phil Spector's last undeniably great single. It is also arguably Tina Turner's first undeniably great one. Spector's day had just about passed; after introducing his world famous Wall of Sound production technique in the early 60's, in which multitudes of instruments were overdubbed to the point where some were "felt, not heard", it was definitely beginning to go out of style in 1966 when the sophisticated pop music buyer turned to harder rock. His response to this was to build perhaps the biggest, densest wall of sound ever, to the point where it literally commands as much attention as Turner's strong, rich, heavy soul vocals. As the song picks up the tempo as it reaches the gigantic chorus, the combination of the two is spine tingling. Unfortunately, the record didn't sell; the single peaked at #88, and the album at #102. Ike & Tina Turner would recover from this disappointment; having hits going back to 1960, they'd rack up many more before breaking up in 1975. Spector, however, never seemed to fully recover from this colossal disappointment that he had everything riding on. While he'd later produce the Beatles, John Lennon, and the Ramones, he'd never leave a real mark on the music world again.
58. Leon Redbone: Big Time Woman **** iTunes
One of the more enigmatic figures in rock history, Leon Redbone specialized in a strange neo-vaudeville with ragtime, jazz and blues inflections, sung in a gravelly baritone. The closest comparison might be Jelly Roll Morton, although Redbone's influences ranged more broadly. Part of the enigma is that Redbone wanted it that way; he has released almost no personal information about himself at all during his 30-year career. It's not even clear where he comes from; he's probably Canadian, since he first gained attention performing in Toronto in 1974. On The Track is a stunning debut, reviving long lost old pre-war Americana classics in a warm, friendly, lazy day style. Many of the tracks feature what he calls his "throat tromnet" a vocal inflection resembling a cross between trombone and trumpet. He's got a crack band with him here, including jazz masters Milt Hinton and Garnett Brown, and crack sessionmen including Steve Gadd. Remarkably, this album made it to #87 on the charts in 1976, despite being well outside the mainstream. "Big Time Woman" is a great Wilton Crawley number, although it's one of the lesser moments on an almost flawless album. Redbone has released albums to this day; he's also a familiar voice in television commercials.
59. Miles Davis: Will O' The Wisp ***** iTunes
Sketches of Spain, from 1959 is one of Davis' very best among a five-decade career of very great albums. John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley had just departed his band, but he re-teamed with British arranger Gil Evans for what would be their third album in a fruitful series together. Davis had heard "Concierto de Aranjuez" a classical recording by Juaquin Rodrigo and was so taken with it, he recorded his own version that he played for Evans. Evans was equally excited by it, and it was decided they'd record an entire album using it as a starting point. The result is a modern art masterpiece, a seemingly impossible fusion of jazz, classical, and flamenco. It is still a remarkable listen today; unlike anything before or since. What's really remarkable is that Davis was only beginning to break beyond the confines of jazz; in the 60's he'd rewrite the book. "Will O' The Wisp" is a fine number; maybe not the best jumping-in place (The "Concierto" or "Solea" are even more breathtaking), but it'll still be the best thing you hear all day, if not all week.
60. The Smiths: How Soon Is Now? *****
The Smiths were very arguably the most influential and important of the mid-80's British indie bands. One focal point was flamboyant frontman Morrissey's angst-ridden, emotive, histrionic vocal stylings, which you either loved or hated. The other focal point was Johnny Marr's neo-classisist rock guitar, which almost everyone had good things to say about, including those who hated Morrissey. Regardless of what you think of them, "How Soon Is Now" is one of the greatest singles of the 80's. Dense, layered, danceable, tranceable, it benefits from Marr's lonesome tremeloed clang of a guitar riff; psychedelic in a very dark way, with drummer Mike Joyce pounding the drums for seven minutes like a human drum machine, and Morrissey delivering lines like "I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar" this is one strange and irresistable tune. While this cut is not reflective of anything else on the album, it was remarkably influential; shades of it can be heard in songs from the late 80's/early 90's Madchester scene, and SoHo sampled it for one of the very first electronica hits ever, "Hippychick".
Neverending Randomplay appears every Wednesday Night/Thursday AM.
Listen to The Smiths: How Soon Is Now? (1985)