Neverending Randomplay #171-#180
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.
171. Millie Jackson: Sexercise, Pts. 1 & 2 ***
Millie Jackson was like a sexy version of Gladys Knight vocally, and was known for her raunchy, sex-drenched raps in the mid-70's. Born in Georgia, she relocated to Newark, NJ in 1958 when she was 14, and charted her first single in 1971. At her peak, in the mid-late 70's, she was hot and outrageous-- a real firecracker. By the time of this 1983 release for Sire, her best days were behind her. "Sexercise" is something of a spoof of "Physical", raunched up and made explicit. It suffers from a dated new wave sounding production (Sire was a new wave label, and seldom handled r&b), and an over-the-top delivery that borders on camp. Jackson continues to release the occasional album, but her chart days have been over since the 80's. Her best albums were Caught Up from 1973 and Feelin' Bitchy from 1977, smoldering, sexy, and saucy. This one isn't the place to start with this deserving artist.
172. Thelonious Monk: Epistrophy ***** iTunes
Pianist Thelonious Monk had a signature piece with "Epistrophy", which was a staple of his performances throughout his career, often using it as an opener and closer to bookend his set, like a theme song. Co-credited Kenny Clarke/Thelonious Monk (Clarke was his drummer), this is an early version from the late 40's, when Monk was recording for Blue Note. Lou Donaldson, Lucky Thompson, Kenny Dorham, and Art Blakey all appear, and the song gets an energetic bop performance that is fairly definitive, although so many versions of it exist that it's very hard to choose a best one. While Monk is now recognized as one of the greatest jazz pianists in history, he was greeted with considerable skepticism in his early career; his odd technique and long rhythmic spaces were atypical of the day, and he was accused of being a subpar pianist by some who should've known better. It wouldn't be until a 1957 gig with John Coltrane at the Five Spot turned him into a bona fide celebrity and gained him lavish critical respect; he remained a premiere pianist until his surprise retirement in 1973; he spent his last years in seclusion battling mental illness before he died in 1982. Monk is best known perhaps for composing "'Round Midnight", one of the all-time jazz classics.
173. David Peel & The Lower East Side: F Is Not A Dirty Word ****
To some, street musician David Peel is best known for being name-dropped in the John Lennon song "New York City" in 1972; the same year, Lennon produced Peel's The Pope Smokes Dope album in 1972 for Apple, from which "F Is Not A Dirty Word" is taken. He had actually been a familiar character in New York's radical/bohemian Lower East Side since the 1960's, having released two albums for Elektra in 1968 and 1970. he usually sually accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and bellowing with a good-natured but tuneless voice, helped out by an amalgamation of hippies and street musicians dependant on whoever was in the room at the moment. His themes seldom strayed far from odes to marijuana, being a dirty New York Hippie, and marijuana again. "F Is Not A Dirty Word" is a pretty good joke tune, in which Peel jams with assorted guitarists, bongo players, handclappers while he intones in a speaking voice the variety of ways the F-word can be used (which he gleefully utters at least a few dozen times). It's juvenile, but it also has a charm about it. Peel never released a major label disc again, but has released many albums on his own Orange label, which he's run from the same Lower East Side apartment for decades now. In the late 70's/early 80's he palled around with GG Allin, who also released some albums and tapes via Orange early in his career.
174. Pink Floyd: Bike **** iTunes
"Bike", the album closer to Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett-led 1967 psychedelic debut The Piper At The Gates of Dawn is classic Barrett shortly before he became one of the more famous acid casualties in rock history. Indeed, he may have been well on his way when he recorded this; it is the strangest thing on a fairly strange album, a goofy folk song with nonsense non-rhymic lyrics, a manic tinkly piano accompaniment, eerie sound effect wooshes, and a cacophony of noise and studio weirdness that goes on for 90 seconds at the end. The overall effect is not unlike Spike Milligan on, er, acid. Barrett would deteriorate fast after the album's release; he would appear on TV and forget to lip-synch, in concert he'd stare catatonically at the audience hitting the same note over and over. David Gilmour was brought into the band to augment them, and ultimately Barrett was dismissed altogether. Barrett would release two very bizarre albums in 1970 that sounded like a man battling mental insanity; since then he's mainly been under the care of guardians. Pink Floyd was a different band without him, mostly better, although his whimsy on the debut is missed on their other late 60's releases.
175. Dionne Warwick: The Look Of Love *** iTunes
"The Look Of Love" was one of Burt Bacharach/Hal David's best compositions ever, absolutely dripping with romance, and capably covered by many talented performers, ranging from Dusty Springfield to Isaac Hayes to Shirley Bassey and many others. Dionne Warwick, the smooth-soul pop princess of the 1960's crossed paths with Bacharach in 1962 at a Drifters session, and Bacharach suggested she cut demos of his songs. SHe ultimately recorded and released dozens of Bacharach/David tunes, including most of his most well-known ones, including "Walk On By", "Trains and Boats and Planes", "Alfie", and "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?" This version of "The Look Of Love" is from a 1988 Bacharach tribute album, and is a far cry from her 60's stuff, done in by bland studio backing and production that is neither distinctive nor very lustful. Warwick, whose hits had managed to stretch into the late 80's began to fade quickly as the 90's rolled in; now 65, she still records infrequently. Fans of 60's pop should consider her 60's output quite classic and would do well to pick up an anthology. For the "Look of Love", try Springfield's version, as close to a Warwick clone as you can get.
176. The Beatles: For You Blue ****
"For You Blue" was recorded in january 1969 and was intended for the ill-fated Get Back album, which was ultimately scrapped and revamped into Let It Be, released in 1970 as the Beatles' final album (although Abbey Road was actually recorded later). Written and sung by George Harrison, it has a genuinely bluesy feel, but is fairly slight for the Beatles. John Lennon contributes a woozy slide guitar using a cigarette lighter on the fretboard; the song has a honky tonk piano and other touches, but won't make anyone forget Elmore James, despite a vocal reference "Old Elmore James ain't got nothin' on this baby" from Harrison. As filler goes, it's much better than most bands can muster. For the Beatles, it is indeed filler on an album full of bad vibes and less-than-top-notch playing. Harrison would revive the song for his 1974 and 1991 solo tours.
177. Spirit: When I Touch You ***** iTunes
Los Angeles psychedelic/hard rock band Spirit never quite became a household name, although they did manage to land 11 albums on the charts between 1968 and 1977, and maintained a fervent cult audience that prompted them to reassemble in 1982 and continue releasing albums through 1997. Their best album was arguably The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus from 1970, although many of their fans are more partial to their earlier, more psychedelic offerings. "When I Touch You" is an overlooked gem from the album; a slab of jazzy hardcore psychedelic hard rock, bordering on both heavy metal and progressive rock. Written by Jay Ferguson, it has some of guitarist Randy California's heaviest and best riffing, and jazzy drums from 47-year-old Ed Cassidy, who became California's stepfather when he married his mother. Ferguson delivers a howling heavy metal vocal that has real potency, fire, restraint, and abandon; overall, the track is one of the great semi-unheard tunes of the era from a major-label act. California met a tragic end in 1997 when he and his 12-year old son were caught in a riptide off the coast of Hawaii; he pushed his son to safety, but drowned himself.
178. Be Bop DeLuxe: Axe Victim **** iTunes
Be Bop Deluxe were an unusual British cult band of the 70's, specializing in a quasi-progressive rock/art-rock with arena rock flourishes. Led by guitarist Bill Nelson, who plays a guitar solo somewhere between blues-rock and glam-rock on "Axe Victim" from their 1974 debut Axe Victim. The lineup of Nelson, guitarist Ian Parkin, bassist Robert Bryan, and drummer Nicholas Chatterton-Dew only got to record this one album; Nelson sacked the entire band and started frsh with their next album. The band only managed one hit in England, and never charted an album higher than #65 in America, but did well on the touring circuit. "Axe Victim" is a good cut, highlighted by Nelson's playing; after the band's late 70's demise, Nelson recorded prolifically, often experimentally, and maintains a small niche cult to this day.
179. Ringo Starr: Gypsies In Flight ***
Believe it or not, in the early 1970's Ringo Starr was a more consistent hitmaker than Lennon or McCartney for awhile. Starr racked up a string of classic hits, most reaching the top-5, including "It Don't Come Easy", "Back Off Boogaloo", "Photograph", "You're Sixteen", "Oh My My", "Only You", and "Goodnight Vienna". Most of these were written by his old mates John Lennon and George Harrison; Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney turn up on all of these, although not at the same time. The closest the Beatles ever got to a reunion was the 1973 album, Ringo, which featured all four of them, but no more than three at a given time. Also present on his mid-70's releases were enormous rosters of guest stars of high caliber, including The Band, Harry Nilsson, Elton John, and plenty of others. In 1975 Apple records folded, and Ringo signed with Atlantic. Forming a songwriting partnership Vini Poncia, he attempted to keep his string alive, but none of his Atlantic singles made much of an impression, and the albums were dull and characterless, buried by unbecoming, glossy production from disco producer Arif Mardin. "Gypsies In Flight" is one of the better moments from the otherwise dreary Ringo The 4th from 1977; it's a languid, vaguely Carribean-meets-country sounding number, featuring some tasty guitar from David Bromberg. Not a single, it's unlikely many people have ever heard it; the album only reached #162.
180. Smashing Pumpkins: Tonight, Tonight ***** iTunes
While most alternative rock fans prefer Smashing Pumpkin's 1993 masterpiece, Siamese Dream, their sprawling 1995 double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was their best seller, reaching #1 at the charts at a time when Smashing Pumpkins seemed to be everywhere. The song opens with strings and a giant riff for a hook that immediately signals the song's ambitions to reach epic proportions, something it ultimately does indeed build into. It marked the apex of Smashing Pumpkin's career; the following year would see the band begin to unravel, as drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and tour keyboardist and Jonathan Melvoin overdosed on heroin before a gig at Madison Square Garden; Melvoin died. Subsequent albums from the band relied mainly on Billy Corgan's painstaking overdubs, and were quiet, subtly arty affairs for the most part. The band split in 2000; but in 2005 Corgan announced plans to reform Smashing Pumpkins.
Neverending randomplay usually appears on Wednesdays; this week it appears a day late.
Listen to Spirit: When I Touch You (1970)Back|Next