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Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

Ageless and

I hear the opening bars and how can I resist? I’m back in the 1970s again, Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” bringing me there. This transport is instantaneous. Resisting isn’t even an option; there’s no time for it. Hearing that song again after a long time, I think it would be fun to pull together a collection from Streisand’s peak era, that decade. I tried the same with Bette Midler and that failed miserably due to lack of quality material, but in this case it worked out, as it has recently for in-depth looks at Natalie Imbruglia, Laura Nyro, Lisa Loeb, Sarah McLachlan, and an over four hour sampler of Olivia Newton-John’s entire career. With Streisand, as I collect the songs I remember that I once owned her second greatest hits cassette. No wonder this is so familiar.

Streisand’s never meant too much to me. Stoney End is a great album I invested in some time ago. But, otherwise, of her films, her life, and her earlier and later songs, only her ridiculous version of “Jingle Bells” figures in my active consciousness as I find myself singing it once every year or two. And, although she didn’t write anything I can think of, she did have a way of making songs her own, as singers of earlier eras and her ilk do. (Sometimes—even in the era of sing-songwriters—it’s surprising to learn that they did write a lot of their own material, as is the case of Melissa Manchester.) In the 70s, Streisand’s songs were beautifully arranged and lovingly orchestrated—she definitely cultivated a sound.

So, spurred on, I started listening to a bunch of her songs from my early life and created a 17-song “golden hour” group. Some are from that old hits collection and some I’d never heard or heard of. I left out the duets with Neil Diamond and Barry Gibb, wanting to keep it her voice—although the Donna Summer song is included (“No More Tears: Enough Is Enough”) as they meld well in their womanly sentiments.

I wound up grouping them haphazardly, but by album. Along with “Evergeen” and “The Way We Were,” two songs written to make me want to cry, there’s “All in Love Is Fair” and the towering “Woman in Love.” I hadn’t heard “Prisoner” in ages. “Superman” and the touching “Songbird” were faint memories.

Hearing “My Heart Belongs to Me” again for the first time in decades is a grand reunion; it might be her very best song. Possibly more exciting, there were songs I’d never even suspected existed: “The Summer Knows,” the surprising (based on its eyebrow-raising title) “Wet,” and best revelation of all “Lazy Afternoon,” a truly amazing atmosphere you can enjoy during any season (winter especially?), which I link you to here.

With all of the music coursing through my veins and across my ears, I should be doing posting daily to squeeze this all into what’s left of my lifetime. One day I’ll pursue my “Women of Song” or “1970s Epitome” ideas. Maybe I’ll analyze just what this 1970s feel is; for now I think of it as beauty unfiltered by experience. But for now there’s this, the song that’s haunted me in and out, off and on, for days: click here.

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Can’t Change That

I was listening through my mix CDs the other day and came across these two classics:

Raydio, much better than Ghostbusters, “You Can’t Change That

Naked Eyes, of so many New Romantics, “Promises, Promises

After thoroughly enjoying both, I wondered which was better. Then I realized, of course, that luckily it doesn’t matter. Both are awesome!

So, back to the old station wagon car and little transitor radio tunes. Sometimes it seems it would have been good if the world had frozen sometime around then, but maybe the past can be much more thoroughly enjoyed when it’s pretty deeply buried, so I get luckier and luckier as the weeks and months move along.

Okay, logically-unsound-and-not-thought-through thought for the time being. But another post and a couple of great songs for whoever sees this.

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There was a time when reading about music was enough to set it in your mind and eventually lead to a purchase, songs unheard.

The Jamwho emulated much and in turn produced much to emulatewas probably my first example of this. I still remember the thrilling ride all the way up the tedious highway to Woodfield Mall to visit a music shop that had such alternative/British stuff. I bought the cassette of their second album, This Is The Modern World, and listened to it on the drive home.

It was the first scrap of music I’d ever heard by The Jam, but reading about them I had to check it out; I had decided they were for me. Thought of as a rushed, mediocre second album, it remains a favorite for this association, not to mention the music being damn good too. Critics. Interesting knowing what the first song you heard by a band was: “The Modern World” in this case.

In the mid 2000s, I read snippet (p)reviews of albums or concerts by CSS and Blonde Redhead. The former was a cheeky comet in the night that holds up pretty well (the album’s still in my “best albums” storage case). Blonde Redhead, the beginning of an intoxicating latter-half-of-my-life relationship. (More on them another day, for sure.)

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Cansei de Ser Sexy, with clipped art that intro’d me to the group.

It’s hard to capture how many singles and albums were dreamed of and bought thanks to the Encyclopedia of British Beat Groups & Solo Artists of the Sixties by Omnibus Press. I learned of The Flowerpot Men, a zippy Salvation Army Band, and true obscurities like Beau Brummell (“I Know Know Know”) and Bruno (who produced “a brace of singles”). There was Forest with their “gentle, swirling music”an only partially applicable description of their brace of albums.

There were cool low-tech images: a gorgeous pelvic-thrust of a picture of Elkie Brooks (still never listened to her music) and a dot matrix masterpiece of a laughing Freddie Garrity.

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Record catalogs had an effect too, with names of songs sticking in my head and often ending up purchased and revolving on my record playerthe only way to hear the lyrics to these tantalizing scraps of music history. There was really no other way to hear an obscure song unless you wanted to pester a local DJ who just might have a dusty record lying around somewhere. And what if the song was embarrasingly bad?

And then there’s songs you’d hear on the radio. Usually one song was all it took, and maybe a little sampling in the record shop. It was acquiredpurchased, or a copy obtained from a friend. Ahhhh, good old days.

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Surely from an antsy time, and the pinhole at the top shows I had this hanging up somewhere for “inspiration.”

Twitching

like a finger

on the trigger

of a gun

This is one of those lost songs from my radio childhood rediscovered in the mid- to late 90s, and what a song. Simon & Garfunkel reunited and not with just some tepid retread, but a fresh kind of song, despite and because of “dirty breezes” and “the dead and dying.” It’s one of my favorite Paul Simon lyrics and Art’s presence on the song adds that nostalgic return to their youth referred to in the song, plus the usual fibrous vocal punch.

There was a period of listening to S&G albums, with my masterpiece being Bookends. Their ability to see and depict age were incredible despite these being from their callow days. An amazing achievement for only five studio albums (only four that anyone’s heard of). One of the few things I’ve written mentioning a family member was a rewrite of one of their lyrics. A bit embarrassing, the product, but at the time it was satisfying, and I was in New York, so…

As for the sentiment on the Post-it, I didn’t have an intense feeling toward my hometown and its people and trappings expressed in this song, although there is always an ambivalence, especially for someone like me who has steadily spent so much time there long after high school graduation.

It was more just an eagerness to break out and do my thing at odds with my job when I scribbled this down. If I’d known then what I know now, I might have scrapped this Post-it rather than the job, but c’est la vie, guerre, &c.

 

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There’s no one specific in mind here, but just another splendid little scenario in my head, thinking how nice it would be to be able to say that about someone. Could it have been related to someone specific of the time, possibly, but I don’t recall the association, although she was a pretty polite, strait-laced person.

I fell for your

Etiquette

The first time we ever met

This isn’t the first time Phil Judd and Split Enz have surfaced here in Stevesunusual Land. This is an outstanding music video, showcasing Noel Crombie’s contribution to the group. And it’s long before MTV, so disproving the lie that MTV and its ilk wanted us to buy in the early 80s that the music videos they broadcasted were a new phenomenon. Utter nonsense that fresh generations try to pull on older ones, or, more accurately in this case, older generations (advertising types) try to pull on younger ones (targeted youth) to make them feel they are unique.

The emotive close of the video, each band member looking us in the face. Sweet dreams, sweet dreams, sweet dreams every once in a while.

 

 

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A quick list of my six favorite * & The * groups, with music released under those names, in chronological order, as prompted by a friend who asked us to stop at five.

Gerry & The Pacemakers

Freddie & The Dreamers

The Mamas & The Papas

Sly & The Family Stone

Echo & The Bunnymen

Prince & The Revolution

 

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I

As I look at my lists⁠—lists of favorite books, games, favorite movies and shows, movies and shows to see, careers, what to do today, what I want to do with my life in writing, nature studies, and learning the didgeridoo⁠—I sometimes think of what has been lost, how life was long before these lists really took hold and established what seems to be a permanence.

When I was young, I didn’t think about or try to plan which way my mind would go, and accomplished seemingly all sorts of things, including a few fun lists, of course, from the World Almanac, an Estes model rocket catalogue, or whatever else was in my hands; but they were never lists that pressured me into the future. You never know, and more importantly it never seems to matter, which way the mind will go when untutored, unstudied, left to its own devices, un-self-conscious. What projects, pursuits, and pitfalls it will fall into and just as easily slip out of. If there is an inherent energy, a lot will be done, possibly even accomplished.

A couple of writers come to mind who wrote in this way⁠—Lord Byron and H.G. Wells. Byron was an endless fount of poetry for a lot of his life, and was tired by his editors, but kept composing and wasn’t given to too much polishing. Wells pursued his writing objectives, completed them, and then moved on. He did not dwell upon his novels in the aesthetic revision sense. John Keats could sit under a plum tree, scribble up an ode and leave it thrust into some books, to be scooped up by Charles Armitage Brown and later published as a masterpiece.

There is something to working randomly that the burden of age, conscience, time pressures, or simple change has robbed me of. But, contrariwise, there is something to that final polishing and publishing that takes conscientiousness and follow thru. The fine art of acting in the moment and then taking the steps to preserve what is worthwhile out of it.

II

This tidbit came to mind amidst this crisis and all of this almost lecherous turning out of doors and socializing in larger and larger groups: “I am perfectly fine with many things being put on hold. When you’re on crutches you can’t play soccer for a while⁠—do something else. I don’t know why many in our society don’t draw that same conclusion.” My married, but otherwise bordering-on-hermit friend concurred, adding a few choice words about sheep, well here they are: “Maybe I’m full of myself but I think many in our society don’t have the capacity to draw the same conclusion. People work their jobs, watch television. They aren’t critical thinkers. They aren’t learners. They’re sheep. Sitting at home all day, they don’t know what to do with themselves. When you have a narrow identity and that identity is taken away, they don’t see anything other than getting that identity back. I don’t know. It’s a theory.”

III

And then this exercise from an old junior high friend who posted the idea online: favorite songs of yours as a kid, from tenderest babe up to early junior high. I copped out a bit on this, not digging into the deeper reaches of my memory. Maybe I was a little afraid to probe into the pre- and early elementary school daze, but what I came up with was something at least. Just way too many songs passing into my brain in the 70s. I fondly remember playing the song “I Can’t Stand It” from a neighbor’s Donny Osmond album at speed 78, ca. 1977, and I know that wasn’t because we liked the song. 

So, restricting myself to early ’45s I bought that I still have and sometimes play: “Come on Eileen” Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Rock of Ages” Def Leppard, “Cum on Feel the Noize” Quiet Riot, “Electric Avenue” Eddy Grant, “Abracadabra” Steve Miller Band, “Even the Nights Are Better” Air Supply, “One Thing Leads to Another” The Fixx, “The Safety Dance” Men Without Hats, “Keep Feelin’ Fascination” The Human League, “I Feel for You” Chaka Khan, “Stray Cat Strut” The Stray Cats, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” Taco, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Bonnie Tyler. Not so bad, actually!

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These days, the mind has time to range every which way in time, and my thoughts recently turned to those who influenced my taste in music. Here are the major ones, all well before I graduated from college.

First must be my dad, who used to strum his acoustic guitar and sing for us from his Sing Out! magazines of folk music. “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Reuben James,” “The Wabash Cannonball,” “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” and all of that great stuff. He also spun a lot of Beatles records and turned us on to classical music.

sing out reprints

My elementary school music teacher, Mrs. H, with her wide eyes, also stirred classical imaginings in us. Portraits of the great composers graced the wall she stood in front of while she taught us to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder and xylophone, or guided us on the most atmospheric of experiences, the “Danse Macabre” of Saint-Saëns, which we played out every Halloween.

There were her Christmas/Holiday Programs, where each class took their turn on the risers performing a holiday classic, or something new. We sang “Winter Wonderland,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” complete with top hats and white gloves. And in 5th grade, we sang an original composition that started with, “The little lord Jesus asleep on the hay…”. There were feature songs where my clarinet-ing was even allowed; they conjured up images of winter and Hanukkah. After each class performed their song, they filed over to the holiday tree and placed ornaments we’d made in Mrs. S’s art class. Oh the glitter and the glue!

We had songs in our textbooks too, going back to first and second grades, “I’m gonna put put put on my walking shoes / I’m gonna but but button up my coat / I’m gonna walk right across the land there’s lots of things to see / And if you want to you can walk with me / Walk with me, walk with me, walk with………me!”

Classical also benefitted from the Hooked on Classics record series. I had no idea this guy was the conductor and arranger for ELO’s orchestral elements! Melodies still pop into my head and segue into the melodies they segued into on those records, often having no idea what the pieces are. They’re just stamped on my brain.

My mom had her share of influence too, driving us as the did on various errands throughout the day. It was 70s and early 80s radioCarly Simon, Kool & The Gang, Ambrosia, &c.that was soundtrack to trips to soccer and tennis lessons, Jewel-Osco, Nichols Library, the Y. Imagine something like this.

We’d stay at my grandparents’ in Ohio, and eventually one got to spinning the records stored indoors or in my grandpa’s workshop attached to the garage. My grandpa might have suggested Louis Armstrong, and he had a few brittle Big Band 78s I still possess, but it was more the records left behind by my aunt and unclesChad & Jeremy, Marianne Faithfull, Paul Mauriat, The Kingston Trio that scintillated my ears.

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Beautiful cover from the U.S. release of her first album (from discogs.com)

There was also a great double album Glenn Miller memorial collection, opening the way for Big Band music galore a little down the road.

Somehow or another I got to buying 45s and LP records too, gleaned from radio listening. I remember mowing the lawn with my Walkman headphones on my ears, listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown. Early MTV had its place too. 104.3 and its oldies; 94.3 and its even olders. The cassettes I recorded direct from radio with songs like “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs and “Cinnamon” by Derek!

Just as important, my friends BB and DH, who got me into rap in a big way. That first tentative buy of Raising Hell by Run-DMC, the sophomoric sonic boom of License To Ill, scouring record shops for discs by spray-paint-scrawl Techno Hop records and the endless appreciation for record scratching, including trying to imitate it. Cool creations by Mantronix. Public Enemy. Some conventionality arose as well, as someone kept playing Milli Vanilli and such things.

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One of a few great Techno Hop records (from discogs.com)

Later, as high school ended, a new awakening. Alternative music groups too many to even begin naming. Two seminal, immortal “miscellany” tapes from MD, different schools of thought embodied by EJ, RJ, GU, and the rest. My sister’s equally immortal mix tapes, she and her best friend lending me tapes, copying music for me.

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A smattering of tapes from the time

What heady Curefriend days those were! This carried forward into college, accentuated by school breaks and dozens of letters and little packages sent back and forth. And I can’t forget the colorful reference books I inhaled, on British beat groups of the 60s, on alternative rock. I’d just roll the names of the groups and songs over in my head time and again, and sometime was even able to listen to the actual music. A trek to Woodfield Mall to buy (and hear) my first Jam album was one such incident.

What a wonderful time. No wonder my heart and mind still return to it, and all of those that went before.

Oh, and have you voted in the Signac puzzle piece poll yet?

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I sometimes stop to think how amazing it is that the words of Julius Caesar have survived history, that we can read his descriptions of his notorious and celebrated maneuvers in the Gallic frontiers and Roman power politics. Leonardo’s notebooks, a biography of a Byzantine emperor written by his daughter, the revelatory Records Written In Silence of a Korean noblewoman of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these have survived for us to relish as experiences of past thought and deed.

Listening to Mental Notes, the first album by Split Enz, it occurred to me that we might be listening Phil Judd’s experiences of bipolar disorder chiseled into a record groove. Judd was one of two lead songwriters and lyricists for the band at the time, the other being Tim Finn. The whole album from side one’s “Walking Down A Road,” “Under The Wheel,” “So Long For Now,” to side two’s “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Titus,” and “Spellbound,” to the last incessantly repeating groove of “Mental Notes” ringing in our ears and Judd’s head—suggest this notion. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but it’s an affecting lens through which to experience the album and the band’s early history, with guitarist Wally Wilkinson leaving the group due to agoraphobia, and Judd apparently so stressed from touring and the other travails of band membership that he started tearing his hair out—hence his baldness in the masterpiece “Sweet Dreams” video.

I’m not sure why this never occurred to me before. Look at their other early album names: Frenzy, Second Thoughts, Dizrythmia. All were recorded while Judd was with the band, or his influence still strongly felt, before Neil Finn (hard to imagine anyone saner) came to dominate the songwriting and image. Noel Crombie’s harlequinesque stagecraft always suggested clownishness, a fun, safe representation of insanity. But what it really shows is a jubilant, lip-smacking sugar pill of mental illness—Judd’s defiant lost-one’s-mindedness recorded on record and film.

And some of Split Enz’s earlier songs reveal the same: “For You” and “No Bother To Me,” which has seldom left my head these past couple of weeks:

It’s no bother for me to beg, I was sane
My eyes are red and my head’s in pain
It won’t hurt me to say what I mean
My throat is blistered but my hands are clean
And I’m just your long lost love and
I’d love you still but I’m not able
They won’t catch me if I can help it
Just hold me down if I have a fit
And I think I’ll be alright now
Say that I’ll be normal some day
Say that I’ll be normal some day
Say that I’ll be normal some day
Now they laugh and teach me how to pray

 

By good fortune, we have this video of the above song, preceded by my favorite of their performances on their catchiest of tunes, “Maybe.” The stage performance is as demented as they come; the transcription is muddled, like a filmstrip from its era, the ones we’d see in elementary school. What better luck in capturing the band’s depiction of mental illness?

The spirit lived on, notionally at least. Tim Finn was the more happy-go-lucky one, with the sweeter voice, as opposed to Judd’s bleating, which he was forced to re-record on at least one occasion (viz., the two versions of “Titus”). In “Without a Doubt,” “Haul Away,” and even the disturbing “Charlie,” Finn is depicting an approximation, an outside-looking-in, decorous view of depression, melancholy, violence, madness. The spirit remains to some extent, the viscera have fled.

Judd’s later efforts seem more medicated and strained, again portraying not embodying his edge of insanity. His group Schnell Fenster’s “Sleeping Mountain” is a great song, hinting at pent-up, uncontrollable energy, but it is his resurrection of the long ago demo’d “Play It Strange” on his 2014 album of the same name, that really captures that Mental Notes era. You can listen to, and purchase, that touching, masterful song here. It gives me great comfort in this time when I seem to play it strange down my own path, while the world goes its own strange way.

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Cover of the album “Play It Strange” by Phil Judd. ©2014, Phil Judd and Bandcamp

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Unexpected Shades

On the strength of a scratchy 45 of mine, “Midnight Blue,” I’ve been drawn into the world of Melissa Manchester, yes, the height of 1970s riding-around-with-my-mom-in-the-car radio. I’ve learned a lot. Manchester co-wrote “Midnight Blue” and “Whenever I Call You Friend,” and long before the 1980s brought “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” and other minor chestnuts, was recording albums in classic singer-songwriter style–Home to Myself, Bright Eyes, Melissa, Help Is on the Way. She not only a singing, but playing piano, writing many or most of the songs on her albums, often with long-term writing partner Carole Bayer Sager.

I picked up a two-CD, four-album set featuring these albums and started playing it in the background of my typing doings, noticing when “Midnight Blue” came on, when she did a good cover of “Dirty Work,” and occasionally had my ear perked with other pieces of songs. I started hearing shades of piano I never expected, minor keys, quiet playing in the dark, something as set in another world, or at least a rare home of her own, her quiet corner of NYC.  “Easy,” “Jenny,” “Bright Eyes,” “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore.” These songs caught me, and reminded me of one of my favorite albums of all time.

There are only a few albums that have instantly made me feel I had entered another dimension, another world, another landscape to explore. These three always spring to mind: 1977 by Talking Heads, Murmur by R.E.M., Mental Notes by Split Enz. This last came out in 1975, just after the first two Manchester albums I listed, and the same year as the third. Mental Notes has elements of early Genesis, but it really is a thing unto itself. And I guess now I can add there’s a bit of Melissa Manchester, those moments of quiet piano. If you listen to the stylings of Eddie Rayner and Tim Finn on “Time for a Change,” you’ll hear a touch and more of what she was playing. In the quiet corners of one the best albums ever recorded–the latter halves of “Stranger than Fiction” and “Under the Wheel,” and times when they segue into rollicking beats–you might hear her.

What would it be like if Bronx-born Melissa had been the Split Enz keyboardist? I discovered the great Akiko Yano in a mental/Wikipedia exercise, starting with a thought and looking for a pianist to fill the spot. I am glad I stumbled into Melissa Manchester in a similar way, albeit backwards–starting with a hit song and surprisingly finding a corner of her musicianship I’d never expected.

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