Neverending Randomplay #201-#210
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 18,346 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.
201. Crosby, Stills, & Nash: Southern Cross ***** iTunes
"Southern Cross" was one of two top-40 singles from Daylight Again, Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1982 "comeback" album. At the time of its release, CSN were generally considered to be has beens; they hadn't released an album together since the mediocre CSN in 1977 and that had been their first since 4-Way Street as CSNY in 1972. During the 70's, Stills had moderate success as a solo act and as a member of the country-rock supergroup Manassas. Crosby & Nash also had modest success as a duo. By 1980, all three had seen their solo careers dry up. Stills and Nash embarked on an album together; David Crosby was absent due largely to erratic behavior stemming from a drug problem that would ultimately land him in jail in the late 80's. Art Garfunkel was enlisted to supply harmonies, fleshing out the sound into an approximation of CSN's classic sound. Crosby eventually managed to pull himself together to add vocals to most of the tracks on the album, although Garfunkel's vocals were kept as well on many tracks. The resulting album was surprisingly good, given the circumstances; Stills and Nash had accumulated some good songs over the years that hadn't yet seen the light of day, Still's excellent "Southern Cross" among them. "Southern Cross" is a tuneful and melodic folk/pop number with gigantic harmonic hooks for its chorus, and a fairly soulful Stills lead vocal; it remains one of the trio's best post-70's moments. The album version is superior to the single, which hacked off the final, poignant verse.
202. Glenn Miller Orchestra: Sunrise Serenade [radio performance, 1939] *****
Those who would like a great Glenn Miller album that contains most of his hits but with a twist, should consider the disc from which this version of "Sunrise Serenade" is taken, Legendary Performer. Legendary Performer compiles Miller radio performances from 1939 until his disappearance during World War II in 1942 and contains the hosts' introductions, some comments from Miller, and some great vacuum-tube ambience to the sound. Miller himself comes across as an uncomfortable speaker; after the host introduces Miller at the Glen Island Casino, Miller formally thanks the audience and hastily turns the mike back to the host, preferring to let his music do the talking. "Sunrise Serenade" should need no introduction to many; it has been used in countless movies and commercials, and remains a primo example of big-band swing at its peak of popularity; sultry, swinging, tight. Miller, himself a trombonist, led his orchestra for a relatively brief 3 1/2 years, during which he reigned as America's most popular performer. Modern rock fans might have little interest in Miller now, but he's essential listening for anyone curious about America's musical history; young soldeirs heading off to fight World War II danced, partied, chased girls, and got drunk to this music, once upon a time.
203. Uriah Heep: Return To Fantasy **** iTunes
Uriah Heep, part of the first wave of British heavy metal bands, had managed to build a solid following in America and Europe with their Hammond organ dominated heavy rock sound, which recalled Deep Purple, and their mystical, fantasy-inspired lyrics which permeated their two biggest albums, both from 1972, Demons and Wizards and The Magician's Birthday. Following a major 1973 tour and live album, the band released two albums that were lukewarmly recieved, Sweet Freedom in 1973 and Wonderworld in 1974. The band also suffered a shock with the drug-related death of bass virtuoso Gary Thain in 1974. By the time of Return To Fantasy in 1975, the band's cult had eroded and sales were starting to fade. As the title suggests, the album was an attempt to return to the band's "roots", a hazy, murky psychedelic metal with themes drawn from fantasy and magic (reflected by recruiting the same cover artist used on their twin 1972 peaks). John Wetton (ex-King Crimson) was brought in to play bass, and brought his Mellotron with him. The effort succeeds for the most part; Return To Fantasy is probably Heep's third best album from the David Byron-Mick Box-Ken Hensley lineup behind their 1972 high water marks, although sales continued to erode, as the album peaked at a soft #85. The song "Return To Fantasy" opens with a heavy gothic Hammand organ from Hensley, and a whistling Wetton Mellotron before settling into a galloping rhythm over which lead singer David Byron gives one of his best performances. Uriah Heep has always famously been universally hated by music critics around the world, yet they maintain a cult to the present day. Fans of 70's metal and progressive rock might dig them though; they deserve a better reputation than they've gotten.
204. Oasis: Supersonic [live] *****
Oasis seemed to appear from nowhere in 1994 when they quickly became the biggest rock group in England. America has always remained somewhat skeptical; the band never quite caught fire on this side of the Atlantic although they did place two albums in the top-5. Some of the anti-Oasis sentiment that exists in the rock world may have something to do with Oasis being famous for being pricks; insofar as this might be true, it's a silly reason not to respond the the primal pleasures "Supersonic" provides, both on their 1994 debut album Definitely Maybe (which reached #11 on the Modern Rock Chart), and in this live version from the 1994 Live Forever EP. Those primal pleasures included plenty of guitar crunch and feedback from Noel Gallagher, propulsive drumming, a dark, snotty vocal from Liam Gallagher, and some real larger-than-life rock attitude. The live version suffers from somewhat muddy sound quality, which docks it a star. But the star is restored on the strength of Liam's drawl and Noel's pyrothechnics, both of which reach more extreme limits live. Oasis has always had a sound somewhat similar to The Verve; The Verve were better, but Oasis has had more staying power.
205. Jefferson Starship: Count On Me [live] ***
Jefferson Starship was re-formed by original Jefferson Airplane members Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, and Jack Casady in the early 1990's after Jefferson Airplane's one-shot reunion album and tour in 1989. Deep Space/Virgin Sky, from 1995, was the first product to emerge from this new aggregation. It isn't a very good album, and it went almost directly to cut-out bins. However, Jefferson Airplane fanatics might find it interesting. Consisting of 8 new songs (including "Papa John", dedicated to Papa John Creach, who died in 1994) and 8 live renditions of Jefferson Airplane/Starship oldies, the album's chief drawing card is a cameo by Grace Slick, in what is her final appearance on record. "Count On Me" doesn't feature Slick; Darby Gould fills in. The country-tinged pop ballad original was one of the only good moments on the final Slick/Kantner/Balin Jefferson Starship album, Earth, from 1978. This live version doesn't hold up to the studio version, with Balin sounding rushed and the backing vocals more ragged, although keyboardist Tim Gordon supplies an interesting new keyboard intro and the band does stretch out a bit. Non-fanatics are advised to stick with the original version.
206. Cameo: Shake Your Pants ***** iTunes
"Shake Your Pants", from 1980, is a funkadelic dancefloor number, with taut rhythms, soul harmonies, plucked bass, outrageous George Clinton-esque arrangements, demented cowbell, and synthesized bleeps, whirleys, whistles, and other sounds. In short, it sounds a lot like late 70's P-Funk, with all the thrills and jokes that implies. It also recalls Chic, although it stays on the funk side of the disco/funk fence. Lyrically, it doesn't quite supply the hardcore jollies of P-Funk; it's a standard celebration of booties, of which the disco-era was renowned. But nothing wrong with that; it's danceable and absurd in the largely extinct 70's funk tradition. Cameo had a long and prolific career, charting similar material from 1977-2000; "Shake Your Pants" was the second single from their biggest album, Cameosis, which hit #1 on the Black Charts (#25 on the Pop Chart). Leader Larry Blackmon, who went to Julliard, started his own record label, Atlanta Artist, in 1984; in the 90's he became vice president of A&R at Warner Brothers.
207. The Beatles: Sun King *****
From Abbey Road, the Beatles' final recording (Let It Be, released in 1970, was actually recorded before Abbey Road in 1969). Abbey Road is probably best remembered for the medley of song fragments on side 2, of which "Sun King" is part. John Lennon remarked in later years that he wasn't keen on the medley idea, which came from McCartney, although it does remain one of the Beatles' shining studio creations. "Sun King" begins during the extended fadeout of "You Never Give Me Your Money" with the sound of crickets chirping. A languid guitar-bass-cymbals interlude follows, and then Lennon's blissed out vocals begin as McCartney and Harrison add some of their most gorgeous harmonies, borring a hint of Beach Boys. The song concludes in a gentle, sunny verse of nonsensical fake Spanish and abruptly kicks into Lennon's grotesque caracature "Mean Mr. Mustard". On its own, "Sun King" really is a fragment more than a song, but it captures the Beatles at their most playful and melodic. Lennon never really dabbled in such whimsy on his subsequent solo albums; McCartney would revisit the fragment-medley concept occasionally on his solo albums, notably on Ram, Red Rose Speedway, and Tug Of War, although without Lennon none were as memorable as Abbey Road.
208. Pete Townshend: Love Reign O'er Me ****
Following the breakup of The Who in 1982, Pete Townshend set about collecting a career's worth of demos, which he released as Scoop and Another Scoop in 1983 and 1987. "Love Reign O'er Me", from the 1973 album Quadrophenia, is one of Townshend's very best and most elegant compositions, and one of the Who's best 70's recordings; it builds and cascades and reaches a crescendo like a summer thunderstorm; it also was one of the more progressive-rock numbers in the Who's canon. Particularly striking about the Who's version was Roger Daltrey's moving vocal, which rank among his very best. This version, from Scoop, is certainly interesting; its arrangement is almost identical to the Quadrophenia version, but is a completely different recording; Townshend's guitar is busy and takes some byways not heard on the famous version. Vocally, he's no Roger Daltey; his trembling tenor lacks the command and range Daltrey could muster, making this version sound somewhat weaker and more tentative. Why Townshend released these albums has been a matter of conjecture; while they provide consistent interest to Who fans, they also repeatedly remind the listener of how good Daltrey was. If Townshend wanted to prove he could have done it wothout him, the evidence isn't here on this cut. But it is interesting.
209. David Bowie: I Feel Free [live] ****
This is a somewhat low-fi audience recording of Bowie doing Cream's 1966 breakthrough single, "I Feel Free". This version is from a 1995 EP called Rarest One Bowie and was recorded live at Kingston Polytechnic, 1972. It is a full psychedelic workout, with some excellent band playing from the peak of the Ziggy Stardust days; the only surprise is that they stick fairly close to Cream's blueprint, Bowie himself does a pretty decent Jack Bruce. The real hero is Mick Ronson, whose guitarwork glams up Clapton's work considerably, without losing the bluesy touch. Trevor Bolder (future-Uriah Heep) contributes a great bassline, although the quality of the recording renders it somewhat muddy. Bowie would release a studio verion of "I Feel Free" many years later on his 1993 album Black Tie White Noise.
210. I Am The World Trade Center: September **** iTunes
A glance at the artist and song title might lead one to suspect this is some kind of 9-11 tribute. However, I Am The World Trade Center released "September" on their album Out Of The Loop on July 17, 2001, two months before 9-11. I Am The World Trade Center, an indie electronica duo of Daniel Geller and Amy Dykes, actually came together in 1999; Out Of The Loop was their debut. Noteworthy about the pair was how they recorded; Out Of The Loop was recorded on Geller's laptop computer, where he mixed and overdubbed the electronic pulses, loops, and beats before Dykes laid down her vocals. The resulting album is a mixed bag; at times its sound does sound cheesy and thin, but at times it does have a convincingly full, finished-sounding presence. "September" is one of the best moments; the polyrhythmic beats are varied enough to give the recording a satisfying depth, and Dykes' vocal is sexy and alluring. The pair received stacks of unwarrented hate-mail following 9-11; nontheless, they have retained their name and released two more albums, despite a romantic breakup between the two.
Neverending randomplay is a Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature. Due to "summer hours" Freeway Jam has been running a few days behind schedule; stay tuned this weekend for a ton of catch-up.
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