Neverending Randomplay #71-#80
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 17,532 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.
71. Linda Ronstadt: I Will Always Love You **** iTunes
While most people are familiar with the 1992 Whitney Houston version of this song, which was an enormous mega-hit, fewer may realize that the song had a life of its own for years before Houston covered it. Originally written by Dolly Parton, who had a #1 country hit with it in 1974 (and took it to #1 again in 1982), it's covered here by Linda Ronstadt on her 1975 album Prisoner In Disguise. Prisoner In Disguise followed the same formula as her 1974 blockbuster Heart Like A Wheel, featuring many of the same musicians and a similar array of cover versions. "I Will Always Love You" is particularly well-suited to Ronstadt's voice, and she does well with it. The album lacked a bit of the spark its predecessor did, but remains among her best, and it peaked at #4 in 1975. The song has been covered by a wide array of performers in the years since.
72. Fleetwood Mac: Say You Love Me **** iTunes
Fleetwood Mac, from 1975, was this band's 11th album. The only original members who still remained at this point were the rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood; McVie's wife Christine McVie, who wrote and sang this number, had been on board since Kiln House in 1970. In 1975, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who had recorded an album, Buckingham-Nicks as a duo in 1973, were recruited into the band just prior to the Fleetwood Mac sessions. Suddenly with three strong songwriters and singers in the band, the band's fortunes took a remarkable turn, and they became one of the best selling bands on the planet. "Say You Love Me" was the third single from the album and reached #11; the album went to #1.
73. The Beatles: Blue Jay Way ****
"Blue Jay Way" was written and sung by George Harrison, and was included in the Beatles' 1967 homemade movie Magical Mystery Tour, and the soundtrack of the same name. It is one of the Beatles' most psychedelic numbers, with Harrison's vocal heavily filtered and distorted, accompanied by hazy backing vocals and a string quartet; its lyrics were written after Harrison had gotten lost in the fog looking for an address on Blue Jay Way, a street in the Hollywood Hills. It does convey that sense of wandering lost in the fog, and while it isn't one of the Beatles' all time great songs, it is one of Harrison's more interesting ones. Magical Mystery Tour, in a rare reversal, was a better release in the U.S. than in England, where it was a double-EP; the American version added 4 key A&B sides from 1967 to flesh out the album.
74. The Rolling Stones: I'm Free *****
Like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones had to withstand their American label chopping songs off their original U.K. albums in order to squeeze additional albums out of the band; December's Children (And Everybody's) is another such haphazard collection, throwing tracks together from non-album singles and album tracks to create a brand new Stones album, released in 1965. As such, it appears to be a step backwards from their previous release, Out Of Our Heads, which was their first album of all original material; December's Children contained six covers, more in line with their earlier releases. Still, it captures the Stones just as they were becoming great, and features some of their best early material. "I'm Free", one of the originals, was a minor album cut for the Stones; noteable cover versions were done by Chris Farlowe and the Soup Dragons, among others.
75. 10,000 Maniacs: Gun Shy **** iTunes
In My Tribe, from 1987, was 10,000 Maniacs' second album and commercial breakthrough. It remains the band's best album as well as Natalie Merchant's best album. What makes this album work, besides Merchant's vocals, is the songwriting, which featured input from the band members, and the arrangements, which are kept light and sprightly, in contrast to the slower, more ponderous numbers that weighed down their later releases. Merchant's lyrics, while socially conscious, avoid the traps of over-seriousness, which also has marred her later work. "Gun Shy" is an anti-war song, not one of the best on the album, but not bad. The album peaked at #37 and sent two singles into the lower reaches of the Hot 100.
76. Elton John: Philadelphia Freedom **** iTunes
Elton John's career was just reaching its zenith in 1975, when this single was released. It was John's eleventh top-10 in five years, and his sixth chart topper, and was even his second top-40 hit on the Black singles chart, reaching #32. Its success on the Black chart is due to the song's conscious attempt to mimic the then-current Philly Soul sound, with its proto-disco rhythm and horn section. The single became one of the most popular in John's catalog, and was covered by Philly Soul flagship band MFSB, and blue-eyed Philadelphia soul duo Hall and Oates. The first appearance of this song on an Elton John album was on the 1977 compilation, Elton John's Greatest Hits, Vol. II.
77. Supertramp: Give A Little Bit **** iTunes
"Give A Little Bit" recently gained new exposure through an advertising campaign, but was a sizable hit when it was first released in 1977. By the late 70's, Supertramp were a progressive rock band in the loosest of senses; their hook-laden singles had more to do with standard pop rock, with minor frills like odd time signatures to art things up a little. Supertramp was originally formed in 1969 when a young Dutch millionaire, Stanley August Miesegaes, offered acquaintance Rick Davies funding for the project, but after two muddled and poorly selling progressive albums, he withdrew his support. The band shifted to a more pop-oriented sound, which led to their breakthrough, "Bloody Well Right" in 1974. "Give A Little Bit" ups the pop ante even more, with its giant singalong chorus. Not an indispensible moment in rock history, it is undeniably catchy; it peaked at #15.
78. Janis Joplin: Me And Bobby McGee ***** iTunes
Janis Joplin never lived to see the release of Pearl, her biggest selling album. Her death in 1970 obviously built up the demand for this 1971 release, which is patchy in places, but shows moments of brilliance, including this cover of a Kris Kristofferson original. Me And Bobby McGee and the album both reached #1, and the song has become a posthumous signature song of hers, the second posthumous #1 single of the rock era (the first was "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding in 1967). After Joplin's death, the Grateful Dead added this song to their shows; their version was released in 1971 also, on the album Grateful Dead. The lyrics are unusually good ones, far better than anything else Kristofferson came up with in his career.
79. Yes: Perpetual Change *****
Although both of Yes' first two albums contain moments of brilliance, it wasn't until the 1971 release, The Yes Album, their third record, where they really became the leading progressive rock band in the world. "Perpetual Change" was the album closer, and captures everything that was good about this often unfairly maligned group. Featuring semi-profound elliptical lyrics, stellar guitar playing from new addition Steve Howe, who would become a key member immediately, Tony Kaye's complex keyboards, and a great Jon Anderson vocal, this is progressive rock with a tuneful bent and a hard-rock crunch, and remains fresh-sounding today. The album peaked at #40; subsequent albums would sell much better.
80. Renaissance: Flight ****
Renaissance was a British progressive rock outfit of the 70's that had originally been formed by two members of the Yardbirds; both were gone by the time of the band's third album, and the focus became Annie Haslam's multi-octave voice and the classical-influenced orchestral accompaniments to most of their music. Their commercial and critical high point was Turn of The Cards in 1974. "Flight" is from the 1983 album Time-Line, an album unlike any of their others. The band had been dropped from Sire records by this point, and picked up by indie label I.R.S., a strange choice for a prog-rock dinosaur in the post-punk era. Unable to afford the orchestras anymore, the band attempted a synthesizer based approach here, with punchy new-wave rhythms. The album was panned and nobody bought it, and the band essentially folded shortly after. However, the album is actually one of their best, even if it isn't representative (at all) of their classic sound; the time signatures and melodies remain as complex and arty as ever, and the tighter rhythms actually an improvement over their lackluster late-70's releases. Not essential by any means, but worth picking up for the curious.
Listen to Renaissance: Flight (1983)