Neverending Randomplay #101-#110
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 17,600 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.Last|NextNeverending Randomplay appears every Wednesday night/Thursday AM.
101. Gerry Rafferty: Sleepwalking ****
Gerry Rafferty, from Paisley, Scotland, will forever be remembered (and typecast to an extent) by his two greatest successes; "Stuck In The Middle" with his band Stealer's Wheel in 1973 which was featured in the film Reservoir Dogs, and his #2 solo smash from 1978, "Baker Street", from his #1 album, City to City. He did have two more solo hits, the smooth soft-rock "Right Down The Line", #12 in 1978, and "Get It Right Next Time, #21 in 1979. His last chart album and single in America were released in 1980; he's since been largely forgotten. This is a pity, since Rafferty was an excellent singer songwriter who wrote good soft-rock tunes since his days as a member of the Humblebums in 1969; much of his music is not dissimilar to Al Stewart's; Rafferty is superior. "Sleepwalking" was a 1982 title track from the album that ended his chart success. It's not a bad tune; melodic, with delicate synthesizer atop an almost Grateful Dead-esque drum pattern and vaguely Dylan-esque lyrics. The album wasn't much, and the single flopped.
102. Sonny & Cher: A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done ** iTunes
This was a #8 single in 1972 for the duo, from the album All I Ever Need Is You, which got as high as #14. Sonny & Cher are best known for their clutch of 60's hits, which generally sounded like folk rock with ersatz Phil Spector production (courtesy of Sonny Bono, a former Spector assistant). When the hits dried up, they had retreated to the Las Vegas supper club circuit. However, they had a considerable renaissance in the early 1970's via a network TV variety show that ran on CBS for two seasons. The show was a hit, guaranteeing maximum exposure for their music, and helping Cher's solo career take off. The pair divorced in 1974. "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done" is similar in sound to Cher's hit "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves", but with an odd, Hollywood epic style production. Essentially, it sounds like a song written for a TV variety show skit, which in essence it is. Not worth bothering with, unless you're some kind of Cher completist.
103. Styx: Lady *** iTunes
Styx, from Chicago, began life as an prog-rock band, demonstrating a mix of influences from Emerson Lake and Palmer to the Moody Blues. Their 1972 debut album sold poorly nationwide although they had a large local following, and their 1975 follow-up, Styx II, did poorly as well untile "Lady" was picked up by FM radio stations nearl;y a year after it had been released. The song peaked at #6, and the album edged into the top-20, although they wouldn't have another success until 1978. Dennis DeYoung, the band's keyboardest and vocalist gives the song a dramatic touch, and the delicate piano is appealing. However, "Lady" also veers pretty close to MOR schmaltz, and unless you're predisposed to big, romantic power ballads, this might seem fairly bloated. The band's commercial heyday was from 1978-1983, when they had a string of 5 top-10 albums, including the #1 Paradise Theater in 1981. After a long layoff, the band returned to action in the 1990's, with little success.
104. Hot Butter: Popcorn **
Many might include this on a list of most annoying singles of all time, a #9 hit from 1972. Frequently heard during "we are experiencing technical difficulties" interludes on television, it is a pure novelty hit based on a simplistic but spacey Moog synthesizer riff that does sound like popcorn popping. Hot Butter was the alias of Stan Free, a 60's sessionman who appeared on albums by the Monkees and Arlo Guthrie, among others. Cheesy though it is, it did have a little influence on disco and synth-pop, and it certainly is instantly recognizable. An album of similar tunes made it only as high as #137; it is unlikely to be a disc one would play through often.
105. Cream: Politician (live) ***** iTunes
Following the break-up of Cream, Eric Clapton's star continued to rise until he was sidelined by heroin addiction. Public interest in the band still remained high in 1972, so Polydor issued a sequel to its 1970 release, Live Cream. In an unusual reversal, Volume II exceeds Volume I in performance and sound quality in every way; it is probably the best live document of the band. "Politician" is one of their most beloved songs, originally appearing on Wheels of Fire in 1968, and again in a live version on the swan song Goodbye in 1969. The version of Live Cream II is arguably the best; Bruce gives it one of his best bluesy vocals, Clapton is focused, stretches out a little, but resists the temptation to draw the piece out too far, keeping it at a respectable 5:08.
106. The Byrds: I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician *** iTunes
"I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician" is a tongue-in-cheek novelty tune, in a jaunty ragtime rhythm and featuring an upright piano. Lyrically, it's a lampoon of a cynical campaign speech set to music, playfully sung by Roger McGuinn. It first appeared on the band's 1971 album, Byrdmaniax, which was when the band was finally nearing the end of the road. Byrdmaniax is a peculiar album in that it was originally recorded in early 1971 before a tour, and left in the hands of producers Terry Melcher and Chris Hinshaw, who proceeded to bury almost every track under layers of distracting production. This tune gets an overblown marching band and plenty of sound effects and oddball instrumentation. While the production is cute, it overburdens what would have been a good off-the-cuff (or simulated off-the-cuff) number. The album doesn't fare as well, but to be fair, a lot of the material was weak to begin with. The next album, Farther Along, would mark even more decline.
107. My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow ***** iTunes
The leadoff cut from My Bloody Valentine's 1992 masterpiece of shoegaze, Loveless, it sets the tone of the album perfectly. Opening with a Ramones-like drum intro before warping into a cacophony of processed and distorted guitars, before morphing into a bizarre zig-zagging overdrive riff which gives way to Belinda Butcher's wistful, elegiac, unintelligible vocals over a roil of staccato and strummed electric guitars. It is a fine choice to open the album, almost demanding further listening. The song reached #27 on the Modern Rock tracks chart in 1992, a guage of mostly college airplay. Despite the success of the album, and its undeniable importance to the shoegaze and noise-pop movements, the band never managed to release a follow-up.
108. Joni Mitchell: Chelsea Morning ****
Joni Mitchell's 1969 sophomore album Clouds is where her legend really starts; it is a stark, hauntingly beautiful album featuring Mitchell unaccompanied on vocals and acoustic guitar. It was also her first commercial hit, reaching #31 on the charts, and containing a number of her greatest early songs, including "Both Sides Now" and "Chealsea Morning" "Chelsea Morning" is a song of the optimistic, sunshine hippie vibe that was already becoming rare in 1969; it also features Mitchell's trademark early guitar style which was bouncy and rhythmic, in an odd timing. Mitchell's voice had excellent range in those days too, and she swoops high and low on this one. While the sentiments expressed may be a little too happy for some tastes, it is in contrast to most of the album, which is starker, more mature sounding, and fairly sad sounding. The album is certainly one of the best singer/songwriter albums of the late 60's; Mitchell would have her greatest successes in the early-mid 70's.
109. The Rolling Stones: Hang Fire **** iTunes
Tattoo You, from 1981, was hailed as both a return to form for the Rolling Stones following the lackluster Emotional Rescue; it was also billed as a return to hard rock after years of mucking about with disco. The later claim was a bit spurious; even in their so-called disco phase, the Stones' albums generally consisted of hard rockers; the disco was limited to a couple of songs per album. The album itself consisted largely of Emotional Rescue leftovers; yet there was an undefinable something that made this album cohere better than its predecessor. The album yielded four singles; "Hang Fire" was the fourth, and received enough airplay to boost it to #20 on the charts; Tattoo You was the Rolling Stones' last-ever #1 album, although all of their subsequent studio albums have reached the top 5. The song itself is not one of their most memorable; it has a good riff, and 50's style backing vocals, but sounds derivative. The album netted the Rolling Stones their first Grammy ever: for album packaging. Ironically, the packaging is probably their worst ever, featuring a fairly ugly cover, no pictures of the full band, no musician credits, no frills or goodies.
110. Bob Dylan & The Band: Baby Let Me Follow You Down (live) ****
This is from the Band's farewell gig, captured in the Martin Scorsese film, The Last Waltz. The soundtrack album is a good one as far as soundtrack albums go, with the Band giving a beefed-up heartfelt performance, and getting good performances out of a lineup of guest stars, including Bob Dylan, whom the Band had backed off and on since the 60's. "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" had been an acoustic folk-blues with a spoken intro on Dylan's 1962 debut; here, it has been transformed into a rough-and-tumble rocker that serves as Dylan's entrance number, and is reprised for his exit. Dylan was in an interesting point in his career when this was recorded in 1977; he had just released a series of excellent albums after a few years in the wilderness, and had regained a swagger he had seemingly lost after his motorcycle accident in 1966. The Band runs roughshod over the song, but that was always what they did best.
Listen to Gerry Rafferty: Sleepwalking (1982)