Neverending Randomplay #331-#340
Neverending Randomplay is a feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 20,595 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. Rated 1-5 stars.
331. Rickie Lee Jones: Sunshine Superman ****
This appeared in the mid-90's FOX-TV teen drama Party of Five, a program I am pleased to report I have never seen. Released in 1996 it bears much in common with Jones' other mid-90's work. Here, she gives the Donovan standard a slinky, jazzbo sensibility that gives the song a sexiness its author probably didn't have in mind. The arrangement is so loose that it almost comes off its axis, but Jones' voice is in fine form, and the woozy organ and fiddle combined with a crisp slide guitar and taut fretless bass take enough chances to keep things interesting. Jones' career never really recovered commercially from a slump that began with her sophomore album, and she's made a practice of not repeating herself whenever possible, which frustrates all but her most diehard fans. Still, the bulk of her 90's work, including "Sunshine Superman" actually delivers on the promise her 1979 self-titled debut held; for singer/songwriters you could do a lot worse, and while her interpretations of others' material is hit-and-miss, this one is a good one. If you don't want the show soundtrack, the song also appears on the 2005 Duchess of Coolsville anthology.
332. Deep Purple: And The Address ****
This is the album opener from Deep Purple's 1968 debut, Shades of Deep Purple. An instrumental number, it was perhaps an odd way to introduce the band, but it does establish their post-psychedelic hard rock/heavy metal credentials pretty well. Jon Lord's organ histrionics are the prime attraction, although drummer Ian Paice and bassist Nick Simper gallop along briskly. Ritchie Blackmore's guitar sticks mainly to the thematic riff and fills, although he gets a fluid solo in that establishes him as somewhat more swinging than Tony Iommi and somewhat more bluesy than Jimmy Page, although he had the overall impact of neither at this early stage in the game. It's dated, all right. But there's also a kind of naive charm about it. Shades of Deep Purple was something of a false start for the band, despite spawning the hit single "Hush"; for the next three albums the band would experiment with progressive rock and even record with a classical orchestra before finding their real groove on Deep Purple In Rock in 1970.
333. Brian Eno: Baby's On Fire ****
This begins Baby's on fire/Better throw her in the water/Look at her laughing/Like a heifer to a slaughter. Eno, of course, isn't known as a lyricist; it's his electonically treated guitars and keyboard textures that are the real draw, and he comes through here. "Baby's on Fire" is from his 1974 solo debut Here Come The Warm Jets, recorded right after his exit from Roxy Music. The song is comprised of an insistent polyrhythm that blends a rapid hi-hat with a slower bass drum, and hangs a simple two chord melody on it. The bulk of the song is three minutes of surrealistic guitarwork from Robert Fripp (King Crimson) and Paul Rudolph which has been heavily filtered and distorted. That's where all the fun is, although getting back to those lyrics, they actually work better than they may look on paper; they get stranger and stranger from that opening. The overall effect is claustrophobic and hypnotic; most of the album, which still sounds pretty experimental even now, is of similar high caliber.
334. 13th Floor Elevators: Thru The Rhythm ***
One of the less memorable cuts from one of the more memorable psychedelic outfits of the 1960's. "Thru the Rhythm" is a Seeds-like heavily echoed psychedelic blues punctuated by Roky Erickson's high pitched screams and Stacy Sutherland's rudimentary lead guitar. The band's famous electric jug, played by Tommy Hall, is barely audible among the reverb, but it's in there too. Erickson's lyrics are alternately mumbled and wailed, and it's hard to get a good read on what, if anything, he's trying to say. However, that's one of the charms of psychedelic 60's albums; they never made much sense. Taken from the band's 1966 debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, it doesn't capture the band in its legendary lysergic abandon, but its vaguely snarling tone gives it some grit. Worth a listen, but the album has many better moments. Erickson was destined to become one of rock's most famous acid casualties, spending time in mental institutions, and re-emerging as something of a semi-functional savant/relic in the 1970's.
335. Asia: After The War **
Cheesy is the word that comes to mind. Not that I have anything against dinosaur rock, bombast, pseudo-classical flourishes, and overearnest lyrics. But for that, I stick with the originals: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to be precise. Asia was like a streamlined ELP; still pompous, but minus the lumpen assymetrical instrumentation; on this the vocals are as smooth as Velveeta, and the synthesizers are tacky in the way only mid-80's synthesizers were tacky. It opens with an enormous synth build-up, full of grandeur and rapid-fire drumming (from ELP's Carl Palmer), and goes nowhere fast, as unmemorable when it ends as a radio ad. Astra was Asia's third album (borrowing a page from America, who titled their albums inexplicably with words beginning with "H", Asia's albums always started with "A") and it tanked big-time, peaking at #67, and resulting in a breakup. By the time of Astra, guitarist Steve Howe had already left, returning to Yes, although the band hadn't been much better with him. Geoff Downes (The Buggles) and John Wetton (Family, King Crimson, Uriah Heep) are almost cynical in their musical conservatism here, and frankly, where's my old Brain Salad Surgery album? Downes and Palmer regrouped in 1992 for Aqua.
336. Charlie Patton: Prayer of Death (Part 1) ****
If one wants to trace rock's development, one would have to look towards postwar Chicago blues as an obvious influence, and going backwards in time one would travel in reverse direction from the sharecropper migratory route taken by so many after WWII, eventually landing in the Mississippi Delta. There, you could arguably begin with Charlie Patton, a star as early as 1930, one of the first bluesmen to achieve widespread popularity. His heyday was short; he died in 1934. "Prayer of Death" is a traditional number; Patton usually wrote his own material. Still he makes it his own with his trademark singing style, which included half-spoken asides that made his songs sound like dialogs. Patton was famous for being a loud singer, although the somber nature of this song keeps him reverent. His playing is sweet; and augmented by rhythmic thumps. He played the slide by laying the guitar flat in his lap and using whatever was handy, most often a penknife, for fretting. His original material conveys more of his essential character, but this is a gorgeous piece of work too. Like all of his material, the original tapes were long lost, so this was mastered off a 78RPM record, resulting in lost fidelity. But it's worth sitting through the crackles and pops; Patton is one bluesman whose style becomes instantly recognizable once you've heard it a few times. And he predates Robert Johnson.
337. Chilliwack: Lonesome Mary ****
Vancouver's Chilliwack never really hit big in the States, although they managed two top 40 hits in 1982-3. Lonesome Mary was the lead-off cut on their 1971 self-titled sophomore album and isn't half bad, kind of a cross between West Coast pop and simulated Southern roots-rock. Singer/guitarist Bill Henderson's vocals sound like Neil Young doing a Bob Weir song, while his guitar has a little Randy Bachman fluidity in it and chimes and rings. It's a bit ragged, which lends to its charm, and keeps an agreeably brisk tempo. In later years, the band pursued a slicker, more pop-oriented sound which netted them their minor hits, but this is a lot better than their later material.
338. The Staple Singers: Respect Yourself *****
Dating all the way back to 1951, the Staple Singers, in one form or another, were around for almost 50 years, one of the longest-lived groups of any genre. Generally known as probably the best gospel group of all time, they also performed a lot of secular material as well, and racked up an impressive string of hits throughout the 1970's. "Respect Yourself", recorded for Stax in 1970, was one of their biggest. Far from sounding like a standard gospel group, they come across like Sly and the Family Stone delivering an empowering secular message with a side order of funk. The Gospel sound is still there in the family chorus, but the heavy bass, keyboards and drums give it a real danceability. The stars of the show are family patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples, who delivers the first verse, and the arresting vocals of daughter Mavis Staples, who takes the second verse. Muscle Shoals handles the horns, and the production is by Stax master Al Bell. The best song on today's Randomplay; an anthem during the early 70's Black Power era, it carries as valid a message today as it did when it was new. Pops Staples passed away in 2000 at the age of 85.
339. 10cc: Dreadlock Holiday ***
"Dreadlock Holiday" was the last real hit (#1 in the U.K., #44 in the U.S.) from the tongue-in-cheek art-pop duo of Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, better known as 10cc. Taken from the 1978 album Bloody Tourists, it boasts a convincing faux-reggae beat and over-the-top accents to the vocals. It can be taken as either a loving tribute to the then-current U.K. reggae craze, or as a smug colonial British insult; the former is probably the intent, but there's a definite taste of the latter in the cautionary tale of a white man lost in Jamaica. As such, it gets docked a star for its xenophobic aspirations, but keeps the other three for a swell production job and an unthreatening good-naturedness to the jokes. 10cc is a tough band to get into; as dabblers in a wide range of styles, some of them crackpot, you have to be in for the long haul or not in it at all. Or, you can do what I do and make do with their singles; "The Things We Do For Love" was the biggest (and most conventional). They ran out of steam not long afterward; Stewart, who had once been in Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, took Denny Laine's place as Paul McCartney's helpmate in the 1980's, while Gouldman (who had produced The Yardbirds, Hollies, and Jeff Beck in the 60's) worked with the Ramones.
340. Def Leppard: Photograph ****
You can't scream 1980's much louder than Def Leppard, the British hair metal gods. "Photograph" probably needs no introduction to anyone reading this; you couldn't escape it on mainstream radio in 1983, and it's still a perennial. What can be said about it? It's big dumb fun, essentially. Air-pumped vocal harmonies, plenty of guitar, metal-lite drums, hooks big enough to snag Moby Dick. "Photograph" provided the band with the major breakthrough they needed in the U.S.; it drove Pyromania to the top of the charts (#2, actually), where it continued to spawn hits all year. Drummer Rick Allen had an arm amputated following a car accident on New Year's Eve 1985 which briefly clouded the band's future, but he adapted by learning to play a custom adapted drumkit; the band's next two albums, Hysteria (1987) and Adrenalize (1992) both reached #1. In retrospect, Def Leppard proved fairly influential; it'd be hard to imagine the late 80's crop of lite-metal bands being as big as it was without Leppard blazing the trail.
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