Neverending Randomplay #31-#40
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 17,456 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.
31. Gentle Giant: The Advent Of Panurge ****
This begins as a baroque choral over a low-register synthesizer, and goes on that way for nearly a minute; vocals weaving and winding around each other. At about the minute mark, a progrock flourish kicks off an unexpectedly funky bassline punctuated with bluesy, ragged piano. Form there we get synthetic trumpet fanfare, more renaissance inspired vocals, church organ, a bluesier reprise of the first funk section accompanied by weirdly phased vocals turned ominous, before breaking back into hard prog rock. In short, a typical workout for this singularly odd early 70's English progressive band. Gentle Giant was a cerebral band, mixing hard rock, medieval classical, and r&b into a unique progressive sound that came closer to Yes than anything else, but was firmly in its own world. Despite a devoted cult, they never found a wide audience, and disbanded in 1980 after eleven albums in ten years. Octopus is their best, from 1972.
32. Natalie Merchant: Space Oddity ***
Despite her considerable talents, Natalie Merchant has never been the best judge of her own material, and her taste in cover versions are a case in point. As a singer, she has always displayed an overbearing earnestness that threatened to overshadow her best work, which was tuneful and playful. This same earnestness is brought to David Bowie's "Space Oddity", robbing it of some of the quirky humor and silliness Bowie's original had; overplaying the tragedy of the lyric while missing completely the absurdity of it. Her backing band, pros all the way, lumber along anonymously in the background. Live In Concert was Merchant's third solo release, one that probably came too soon; ignoring her 10,000 Maniacs classics in favor of the earnest and humorless "Dust Bowl" and "Gun Shy", plus a smattering of songs from Ophelia and Tigerlily, and a Neil Young cover. It peaked at a tepid #82.
33. The Beatles: She's Leaving Home ****
The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" doesn't feature any Beatle instruments; McCartney's vocal and Lennon's background counter-melody are accompanied by an string quartet conducted by George Martin. Taken alone, it is fair game for the standard McCartney criticisms; it's syrupy and maudlin in places, and it sure doesn't rock. However, taken as part of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, it is a well-programmed piece of slice-of-life melodicism, at home among the other musical portraits, and not without its own sonic surprises, especially the vaguely Eastern flavor the strings take on during the chorus. Sgt. Pepper ultimately redrew the rock 'n' roll frontiers; few albums have been as influential as this one.
34. The Electric Prunes: Love Grows (Just Good Old Rock and Roll) ****
The Electric Prunes are best remembered for "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night", a psychedelic guitar fuzzfest not dissimilar to the Seeds that hit #11 on the Billboard charts in 1967. The band that recorded that classic had been entirely replaced at the time of this 1969 release (credited to "The New Improved Electric Prunes" on the front cover). Producer David Hassinger assembled a band of sessionmen for this contractual obligation fulfillment, Dick Whetstone is credited as singer and drummer. Suprisingly, this isn't bad; Whetstone sounds like a cross between Jack Bruce and Stephen Stills, and the song has a good, stinging guitar hook that helps chug it along. The rest of the album doesn't come close to this, featuring some soggy jams and overripe singing. If you're a fan, this seldom heard track might be a nice curiosity, despite the absence of the original band. Neither single nor album charted, and with contract fulfilled, the Electric Prunes were no more.
35. Meat Loaf: You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) ****
Forget Tommy; Bat Out Of Hell was rock's real rock opera; a tacky kitsch masterpiece whose lowbrow ambitions are fulfilled via Jimi Steinman's songs; each one a dramatic little mini-epic. Also helping is the enormous wall-of-sound production that resembles the E Street Band, and Meat Loaf's emotional singing which wrings every drop of nuance out of the songs. Sure it's silly; it was meant to be. It also hasn't aged nearly as badly as one might expect; as concept albums go, this holds up a lot better than many. "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" is one of the more uptempo entries, and is among the better songs here. The album went platinum, peaking at #14, and spawned two hit singles.
36. Fats Waller: Honey Hush ****
Fats Waller (1904-1943), from Harlem, was one of the best early jazz pianists, contributing "Ain't Misbehavin'", "The Jitterbug Waltz" and "Honeysuckle Rose" to the canon; even a non-jazz listener would instantly recognize those songs from their many appearances in film and television. Most of the material on this disc was recorded during a 1939 tour of England and Europe, months before the outbreak of World War II. Waller claimed he got the melody idea for "Honey Hush" from the songs he heard at dawn from birds after walking the London streets at night. A lush, romantic ballad with spare instrumentation and fine vocal, this is an engaging listen. Waller died of pneumonia in 1943.
37. Phish: Run Like An Antelope ****
This 10-minute laid-back mostly-instrumental (lyrics arrive past the 8-minute mark) groove from Phish's third album, Lawn Boy, released in 1991, does formally recall the old masters Grateful Dead to a considerable degree, before it opens up into a faster-tempo jazz-rock workout. While many of Phish's early albums simply don't hold up to overly close scrutiny, Lawn Boy is a good one; the band's essence is captured for the first time, and points towards future adventures, when they'd do this kind of thing more spontaneously. Originally recorded for Rough Trade records, it vanished for awhile when that label collapsed months later; Elektra picked the band up and re-released it the following year to coincide with the band's extensive touring and appearance at the H.O.R.D.E. shows, which introduced them to a much larger audience than they had been accustomed to.
38. Deniece Williams: Let's Hear It For The Boy **
From the immense mainstream hit film Footloose, and featuring drum machine and synthetic instruments all over the place, this fairly well screams 1984. While this is a fairly tacky tune, instantly disposable and forgettable, Chicago-born Williams has had a pretty stellar career. Her discography spans from 1972-1998, "Let's Hear It For The Boy" was her second pop #1; she also hit the top with "Too Much Too Little Too Late" in 1978, and racked up 18 Black and R&B hits during her career. Williams, whose hits recalled Nancy Wilson's, got her big break when Stevie Wonder chose her as a backing vocalist for a 1972 tour in which he opened for the Rolling Stones. Her best album is This Is Niecy from 1976, and features Maurice White (Earth, Wind, and Fire) production.
39. Stevie Wonder: That Girl ****
After the departures of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross from Motown records, the historic label struggled mightily, and pushed this Wonder compilation big, hyping it as a major event. Indeed, it now stands as probably the best introduction to Wonder, focusing on his classic 70's period, and including a side of new material for bait, among which "That Girl" is included. A #4 hit in 1982, this is a smooth-goove soul number. While it doesn't come close to packing the wallop of his earlier material, it isn't bad; and it outshines most of his subsequent releases.
40. Minnie Riperton: Inside My Love ****
Minnie Riperton's most distinguishing attribute was her remarkable five-octave vocal range, very likely an early influence on the similarly endowed (but much less soulful) Mariah Carey. Also known for her work in the late 60's psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection, she had worked since 1961 as a backing vocalist, and also released a few singles herself. Her real solo career didn't begin in earnest until 1971 and hit its peak in 1974 with Perfect Angel, and the single "Loving You", a #1 hit. "Inside My Love" is from the 1975 follow-up, Adventures In Paradise. A lush, sensual tune, featuring the Crusaders backing her, it is a sexy tune that deserved much better than its #76 peak on the charts. Riperton escaped serious injury when the lion pictured on the cover attacked her moments after the picture was taken. Sadly, she would succumb to cancer in 1979.
Listen to Gentle Giant: The Advent of Panurge (1972)