Neverending Randomplay #41-#50
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.
41. The Grateful Dead: Candyman (Godchaux Rehersals) ***
This is a live-in-studio rehearsal from 1971. This version of "Candyman", which originally appeared on American Beauty in 1970 features unusually terse and loud guitar from Jerry Garcia, and a fairly fluid Phil Lesh bassline punctuated by some harsh plucking. Like a lot of live Dead tunes, this one gathers steam as it goes along. Still, it's no improvement over the original, the vocals on the chorus are mixed way too low, the bass way too high. In other words, it sounds like the bootleg it is. Also, there isn't an audible keyboard on this recording, Godchaux' instrument. Keith Godchaux eventually joined the Grateful Dead as keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan ailed. Pigpen would die from liver failure in 1973, and Godchaux became a fulltime member. He would die himself in an automobile accident in 1980. I have been unable to verify that this even is a Godchaux rehersal recording; the only bootleg I could find didn't have it listed among the track listing. The one on American Beauty surpasses this by far.
42. Kate Bush: The Fog ****
Atmospheric art rock from Kate Bush's 1989 The Sensual World. From England, her albums have always had a very literary quality (Her first hit was a song called "Wuthering Heights"), and this is no exception. Her high-register, keening vocals are also here, along with some David Gilmour guitar, and lush, late-80's progressive production. This almost builds to a "Moonlight Mile" style grandeur with its eastern inflected strings. Bush was one of the most successful singers of all in the U.K. in the 1980's; in America, her success was much more limited, although she sold fairly well for awhile. The Sensual World is arguably her best, most cohesive album, without a bad track on it. It peaked at #43.
43. Simon & Garfunkel: Still Crazy After All These Years (live) ***
From Simon and Garfunkel's 1981 reunion in Central Park. Garfunkel sat out a string of Simon solo tunes mid-show, of which this is one; only Simon is heard on it, sounding fairly faithful to the 1975 original, which reached #1. Lyrically, it's a vignette of a mid-30's divorcee, and not one of Simon's most embraceable. The album, Concert In Central Park, is a pretty good one though; the duo's 60's folk-rock is given a funkier 80's treatment that works pretty well. The band embarked on a concert tour together in 1982, giving all indications that the reunion would be permanent. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), they had a falling out after recording most of an album together; Simon then erased Garfunkels vocals and released it as Hearts and Bones in 1983.
44. Mr. Big: To Be With You ***
Mr. Big are often dismissed as hair-band posers, but really deserve considerable credit as musicians. Billy Sheehan (ex-David Lee Roth Band) was one of the best bassists of the 80's, Paul Gilbert (ex-Racer X) really could play guitar. "To Be With You" is a fat, commercial slice of power-balladry, but its gigantic sing along chorus is a tough lure to resist; the bed of acoustics the airy vocals ride upon is also an appealing change from the more bombastic tendencies of the genre. All that said, Mr. Big isn't going to make anyone forget Van Halen. Still, this did reach #1 in 1991, one of three top-30's for the band in America. In Japan, the song blasted them into the stratosphere, and they've retained a huge following there to this day. The most recent Mr. Big album came out in 2003.
45. Melanie: What Have They Done To My Song, Ma ***
Melanie Safka, from Astoria, Queens, began her career as almost the poster girl for Flower Child. Her first hit, "Lay Down" was an ode to Woodstock, and her image was one of naive hippie with a serviceably expressive voice that could hit high notes, but retained a gravelly bluesiness to it. She wrote most of her own material, including "What Have They Done To My Song, Ma", which was also a hit for the New Seekers. It snuck into the top-40 by a hair in England in 1971, making her something of a star. In the U.S., she'd have a #1 the following year with "Brand New Key" As far as this song goes, it's a tad on the corny side, with a cross between country/folk, vaudeville, and a sung-in-french chanteuse verse. Interesting, but utimately, she's a lightweight. She still records today.
46. Pere Ubu: 30 Seconds Over Tokyo *****
Pere Ubu was a hugely influential band of the punk/new wave era. Emerging from the rust belt outside of Cleveland, OH, they played a foreboding, menacing, sometimes demented experimental/progressive/industrial/punk with a humanist dimension that bears no easy classification. Led by the heavyset David Thomas, and benefiting from the stellar work of the band, they were one of the original trail blazers for alternative rock in general. "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" is their raw 1975 debut. It sounds like garage art-rock; with a jagged, punky rhythm guitar and a metal lead, playing over a slinky, morphing rhythm. Thomas sings in an ominous monotone. There's some free form ambient noise coloring the track, some brief funk moves, an an appealing cacophany to the proceedings. Lyrically, its a horrorshow; to its credit. The band would break up in the early 80's following Thomas' conversion to Jehovah's Witnesses, but reformed again with a largely different lineup, releasing albums consistently through 2002. "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" was written by Peter Laughner/David Thomas; co-founder Laughner, a friend of rock critic Lester Bangs, died in 1977 from an overdose.
47. Heavenly: Our Only Chance ***
Not to be confused with the British twee-pop band of the same name, Heavenly is a French power metal band, with English vocals from Kai Hansen (ex-Helloween) and guitars from Hansen and Piet Sielck (ex-Iron Savior). Hansen's vocal delivery is in the grandiose, histrionic style of David Byron of Uriah Heep. Indeed "Our Only Chance" sounds quite a bit like a sped-up version of classic Uriah Heep, for better and worse. Although the album didn't make a dent in America, it does have its supporters. However, you'd have to be a metalhead to really appreciate it. Twee pop fans probably needn't bother.
48. George Harrison: Something (live, Concert for Bangla Desh)****
From the famed 1971 concert for Bangla Desh, featuring an all-star lineup including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, and Billy Preston. The Concert For Bangla Desh hasn't aged well; Harrison's subsequent lackluster solo career makes this album seem weaker in retrospect. It also isn't quite as good as the Beatles' version, which represented Harrison's only A-side single for the band. The gospel singers on backing vocal give this song a weightiness unapparent in the original, but the superstar playing sounds ill-defined in the cavernous Madison Square Garden. It's not bad, and Beatle fans should probably have this historic document. But there's nothing particularly arresting about it, either.
49. Wings: I've Had Enough (live in Glasgow, 1979) ****
Paul McCartney and Wings were nearing the end of the road in 1979; their current album Back To The Egg was something of a disappointment, becoming his first album to miss the top-2 since 1971, peaking at a soft #8 before quickly slipping off the charts. Wings performed a live tour of England in 1979 in support of the album, featuring a Wings-heavy song line-up, with a few Beatle songs and covers thrown in. While the tour was a sell-out, it wasn't especially good; lead guitarist Jimmy McCullough and drummer Joe English had quit the band in 1978, and new members Lawrence Juber and Steve Holly weren't fully integrated into the band yet. They do a good version of this song, however, one of McCartney's lesser-remembered singles, a top-40 hit from London Town in 1978. This bootleg has excellent sound quality, and McCartney is in fine voice, if his band sounds a little ragged. A few weeks later, McCartney would be jailed in Japan for bringing in marijuana; this would indirectly lead to the final dissolution of the band. Not worth shelling out big money for, if you can find it, but McCartney fans will like it. The version of "Coming Up" on this album surfaced as the B-side to the studio version in 1980.
50. Cat Stevens: I Think I See The Light *****
Surprisingly bluesy, vaguely psychedelic, ragged, piano-based number from none other than Cat Stevens, featuring an uncharacteristically gutsy vocal and prog-rock time signatures. Stevens had created some stir when he emerged in England in 1968 with his debut, but had spent a year out of action due to tuberculosis in 1969. "I Think I See The Light" is from his 1970 re-entry, Mona Bone Jakon , and is a revelation; sounding more like Yes crossed with Elton John than the gentle singer/songwriter he'd become within a year, this has some real meat on its bones. Lyrically, it's pretty heavy stuff, with themes of death and alienation, and sought-after redemption. Even non-fans predisposed towards keyboard-textured prog-rock might like this one. The album yielded no hits in America, and peaked at #164. He'd hit paydirt with his next one, Tea For The Tillerman, and "Wild World".
Look for Neverending Randomplay every Wednesday night/Thursday AM.
Listen to Pere Ubu: 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (1975)