Neverending Randomplay #161-#170
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 18,134 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. iTunes links, when available, are included for your convenience.
161. Neil Diamond: Red Red Wine **** iTunes
Neil Diamond is remembered today by most rock fans as a fairly lightweight and maudlin pop singer/songwriter popular among housewives in the 70's and 80's; too soft even for "soft rock", he's not the kind of act who will appeal to your average headbanger. That said, Diamond's contribution to rock is actually a good deal greater than many may realize; as a songwriter, he's contributed songs to or has been covered by dozens, if not hundreds of rock performers. Among those who have covered Diamond's material include Urge Overkill, Spencer Davis Group, Deep Purple, The Drifters, Smash Mouth, Elvis Presley, The Box Tops, Lulu, The Monkees, The Specials, Tina Turner, Roy Orbison, and far too many more to mention. As a performer, he ranks third behind Elton John and Barbra Streisand among the most successful adult contemporary artists in history. "Red Red Wine" is another of his oft-covered numbers, best known for UB40's reggaefied #1 hit version from 1984. Appearing on his 1967 debut, Just For You, it's an earnest but touching number with lush but understated 60's pop production.
162. Mazzy Star: Blue Light (live) [bootleg] ****
This is a live recording from the bootleg b-side and live collection The Other Side, which appeared in 1999. "Blue Light" also appears on Mazzy Star's best CD, So Tonight That I Might See, from 1993. The live version is almost indistinguishable from the studio version; it features the same instrumentation and tempo; Hope Sandoval's eerily detached vocal is no more animated on stage than on record. Still, it is one of their best songs; a languid, late-night dream-pop number featuring muted organ accompaniment with tamborine, bass, snail's-pace drums, and David Roback's neo-psychedelic guitar noodling. The original version is superior mainly for its slightly clearer production, although the sound quality here is flawless. Sad, wistful, yearning, vaguely creepy; the usual adjectives Mazzy Star conjur up apply here too.
163. George Harrison: That Is All ***
Of all the Beatles, George Harrison managed to garner the most acclaim with his first post-Beatles releases, his 1970 triple-disc All Things Must Pass, and the 1972 triple disc The Concert For Bangla Desh. McCartney, in comparison, had been ridiculed for his first Wings release in 1971, and Lennon, after a good start, put out the most unlistenable and embarrassing album of his career, Sometime In New York City, in 1972. So, expectations were fairly high for Harrison's 1973 album, Living In The Material World, his first studio album since his sprawling debut. The album peaked at #1 and also produced a #1 single, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)". However, it was sheer momentum that earned him those sales; the album itself is an overly earnest, plodding collection of joyless dirges, many of them devotional in nature. The album was largely panned and signalled the start of a string of mediocre 70's releases from which Harrison's reputation never quite fully recovered. "That Is All" closed the album on something of a downer; its leaden tempo and unhummable melody underscore the dour nature of the whole project. Harrison's pretty good slide guitar gets a few token licks in, the best thing about it.
164. Gary Portnoy: Where Everybody Knows Your Name *** iTunes
Portnoy is best known for co-writing the 1982 theme song to the massively popular 1980's sitcom Cheers. In fact, that's about all he is known for; aside from a 1980 self-titled solo album, virtually nothing has been heard from him. He was the composer for the themes the 80's TV series Punky Brewster and Mr. Belvedere and was nominated for an Emmy for a song he contributed to the TV series Fame. He recorded another CD in 2003 called Keepers, which he sells over his website. "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" certainly is a catchy TV theme; unlike most TV themes, it actually works as a song. The single version contained an extra verse and peaked at #28 on the adult contemporary chart in 1983. Great music it isn't, but it is pleasant enough; sort of an ultra-pop cross between Gerry Rafferty and Air Supply.
165. The Rolling Stones: Bitch (live, 1972) [Bootleg] ****
The Rolling Stones have generally maintained a schedule of one live release every 3 years or so throughout their career. In 1966 they released Got Live If You Want It!; their 1969 tour was documented on Get Yer Ya Ya's Out, in 1975 they released Love You Live. Missing from this schedule is an album from their 1972 tour, although one was recorded and considered for release on Decca before ultimately being scrapped. "Bitch", a tune originally from the 1971 studio LP Sticky Fingers, was among the tracks slated for the album. The recording is a little light on bass, but otherwise is nearly legal-release worthy in sound quality. Performance-wise, it rocks, although it sticks very closely to the original. The stars here are Keith Richards' guitar slashes and Mick Taylor's boogie lead; Taylor in particular sounds better than he did on Get Yer Ya Ya's Out, which was recorded weeks after he joined the band, before he had time to become integrated into the band. He'd be out of the band by 1975; Ron Wood handled lead on Love You Live.
166. Simon and Garfunkel: I Am A Rock **** iTunes
"I Am A Rock", from The Sounds Of Silence, the duo's sophomore album, reached #3 on the charts in 1966 and represented the first hints of maturation in their sound, which would come into its own with their next album, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme. At this juncture in their history, Simon and Garfunkel had just become stars on the strength of "The Sound Of Silence" which had originally appeared on their 1964 debut Wednesday Morning 3AM. "The Sound Of Silence" was an acoustic number in its original incarnation, and attracted little notice. Simon then spent 1965 in England, where he recorded a solo album. Garfunkel attended classes at Columbia University. During this split, Columbia records decided to overdub electric instruments onto the song and re-release it; Simon chanced upon a copy of Billboard in Denmark and saw that the single was beginning to chart; it eventually reached #1. He returned to America, where he and Garfunkel cut The Sounds Of Silence album with some electric backing; "I Am A Rock" is a folk-rock number featuring electric backing in the manner of West-Coast folk rock like the Byrds and Mamas and Papas. An early alienation anthem of Simon's, it is one of his finest early efforts, if not quite in the same league as his later work.
167. Gun Club: Bad America **** iTunes
Gun Club's third studio album, The Las Vegas Story, was one of the best albums of the 1980's; a psychobilly/roots-rock/post-punk classic that also marked a return to form after a sophomore slump that manifested itself as the poorly recorded and mixed Miami album in 1982. Gun Club's lineup underwent some changes prior to these sessions; original guitarist Kid Congo Powers returned to the fold, and Patricia Morrison (formerly Pat Bags of the Bags) came in on bass. WIldman/frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce was writing the most consistent songs of his career at this juncture, and was exploring the roots rock traditions of Southern blues and west Texas country. The playing is taut, angular, and percussion heavy through the album; the production, by Jeff Eyrich, is clean and true; his previous project had been with T-Bone Burnett, a good match. "Bad America" strays far from the band's psychobilly heart; it almost sounds like a Texan version of Television. This makes it somewhat unrepresentative of much of the album, but it's a great song nontheless; the guitar work recalls Tom Verlaine and is worth the price of admission.
168. Toad The Wet Sprocket: Butterflies ***** iTunes
Named for a Monty Python sketch, Toad The Wet Sprocket, of Santa Barbara, CA, enjoyed brief success in the mid-90's with a melodic, melancholic alt-rock sound that crossed over to adult alternative pop/rock. Fear, their third album, marked their big breakthrough from little-known cult act to the big time. Released in 1991, it saw the band change directions, from an early jangle-pop/garage band sound into a weightier, yet more accessable approach; singer/songwriter Glenn Phillips' material took on a depth and subtlety that characterized the band's subsequent output. "Butterflies" is an ambitious piece of alt-rock art-rock, opening with a spoken intro before launching into a staccato hard rocker with a complex vocal arrangement and particularly acute lyrics. The band, Todd Nichols (guitar), Dean Dinning (bass/keyboards), and Randy Guss (drums) are muscular and adventurous on this cut, and play off each other throughout. Hearing this again, it seems a pity the band split in 1998.
169. Lou Reed: I'm So Free ****
Lou Reed's solo career began with a self-titled album in 1972, but it was really his sophomore effort, Transformer, also from 1972, where his career really got moving. Part of this was due to Reed's own songwriting; where his solo debut was tentative and uncharacteristically gentle, Transformer showed a newly confident Reed cranking out his best songs since the Velvet Underground's third album. Another difference is the help he had on this one; David Bowie produced and Mick Ronson plays guitar. The Bowie/Ronson team ups the glam factor to a considerable degree, giving Reed the space he needs for his own lyrical obsessions. "I'm So Free" is an easy song to overlook on the record, surrounded as it is by better known numbers like "Walk On The Wild Side" "Vicious" and "Perfect day", but it holds its own; it features a great propulsive hard rock riff, and some stellar Ronson guitarwork; Reed sings like he's having fun (never a given with him), and the production touches, from the handclaps to the falsetto backing vocals are dead-on.
170. Joy Division: Love Will Tear Us Apart **** iTunes
"Love Will Tear Us Apart", was the last single from Joy Division before lead singer Ian Curtis commited suicide by hanging in May 1980. His suicide was a great loss; Joy Division had come a long way from their early thrash singles of only two years prior; "Love Will Tear Us Apart" comes close to being a pop song in a similar vein to what would soon be everywhere in England; Joy Division was controversial among the post-punk bands of the late 70's in that they evolved in a pop direction, adding prominent synthesizer lines and highlighting melody. Lyrically, the song is a downer; nihilistic and pessimistic, it gains unintentional resonance by Curtis' subsequent death. The single made the top-20 in England, but never charted in America, where Joy Division remains fairly obscure. It was included in the 1988 compilation Substance, a fine introduction to the band.
Neverending randomplay is a Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature.
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