50 years of tunes…1970-79…

1970

A favourite of my mother and one of a number of musical memories from my early childhood, my love of Simon & Garfunkel has recently been renewed/rekindled/reaffirmed by way of enforced cassette purchase for a Land Rover with somewhat limited audio capability.

‘Sounds of Silence’ lost out to Dylan here for 1966, however ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ makes it as my 1970 pick.  I think for me, overall the best Simon & Garfunkel album is probably the ‘Definitive…’ best of, which is an extraordinary collection, however both this and ‘SoS’ run it close.  The title track here and ‘The Boxer’, opening sides A and B respectively, are magnificent things – somehow generating at their crescendo the acoustic/harmonious equivalent of Phil Spector’s orchestral Wall of Sound.  Of the two, The Boxer wins it on points:

Their output is timeless and rarely have male harmonies reached these heights…although Messrs Stipe, Mills, Buck and Berry may have something to say on that…more on which to come in time…

A world away from Paul and Art, my other serious consideration for 1970 was Black Sabbath’s immense ‘Paranoid’, along with, for the soul fans, the little known wonder that is ‘Right On Be Free’ by the youth choir Voices of East Harlem.  So wonderful that it gets a spot here (incredible, joyous, fabulous video from two years later, of a performance in Sing Sing prison):

1971

By some distance my favourite Elton John album – ‘Madman Across The Water’ (admittedly time does not necessarily serve him very well looking ahead from this point…).

I’d known ‘Tiny Dancer’ (also favourite), from the Almost Famous s/t, for some time before discovering this album, when the title track was included on a @whenyouawake mixtape curated by Howlin’ Rain’s Ethan Miller and persuaded me to explore further.  I have zero idea what this song is about (or much of the album for that matter – was this a cocaine period?) but find it enormously evocative in terms of both lyrical and musical imagery.

An otherwise interesting year as well…next on my list would be David Crosby’s ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ (definitely a cocaine period I think).  Also Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ (erm…ditto).  Led Zeppelin and The Who may have released some records that did reasonably well too.

1972

Another soundtrack album, albeit both movie and record some distance from Leone and Morricone.  No less stunning in all manner of respects though, with the combination of Shear and Womack – ‘Across 110th Street’.

The title track, rightly reissued to the world with Tarantino’s ‘Jackie Brown’, is near-perfect both in its own right and in relation to both films.  It is one of those songs that has a subliminal physical effect – try listening to it when out and about and see if it doesn’t change your gait and posture – indeed it started a twitter debate at one point regarding ‘songs to strut to’ being a potential ‘People’s Playlist’ theme on Lauren Laverne’s 6music show.  ‘If you don’t want my love’ is absolutely beautiful too…and ‘Quicksand’ a brilliant, jaunty, jazzy, gem.

In addition to the music, evoking 70s Harlem like nothing else, the album benefits from brilliant, sharp, excerpts of dialogue from the film – from the likes of Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto.

1973

Following the MC5 in 1969, another example of thrilling, visceral punk…before punk…The Stooges’ ‘Raw Power’.  I think, apparently, Kurt Cobain’s all-time favourite album too.

Iggy remains more rock and roll than nearly any other act going today.

1974

‘No Other’ by Gene Clark.  My most recent discovery in this list…firstly through an introduction to Gene Clark by friends and then the appearance of the Gene Clark No Other Band (a tribute collective of, amongst others, a Walkman, a Grizzly Bear, a conventional Fairport and a Fox) playing the album in its entirety at EOTR 2014 (itself a magic set, but that’s a story for another time).

I sought the album out before the festival and immediately fell in love – a beautiful collection of songs with echoes of Laurel Canyon and Clark’s past life as a (some say the greatest) Byrd but with a soulful sensibility running through it – echoing a variety of other influences.  Very sadly, for various reasons, its initial release was a commercial disaster and it was deleted in just a couple of years – only to be rightly reissued, reappraised and highly regarded first in 1991 and then again in the early twenty first century.

Herewith, for your delectation, the whole album, a beautiful collection of songs…

1975

Definitely, maybe, I think, my favourite Bob Dylan album.  ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is an extraordinary piece of work.  Vast amounts have been written…about its place in the Dylan canon…it being the best ever ‘break-up’ album…is it autobiographical?…isn’t it?…what about Chekhov?…and I am not sufficiently qualified to comment on or answer any of that.  I can say though that the production is spot-on, musically I don’t think he’s been better, and every song on it is pretty much perfect, especially…

…’Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’.  Probably my favourite Dylan track and at the very height of storytelling within songwriting…listening to it is just like watching a scene from a Western.  Incredibly evocative, while maintaining a degree of mystery which surrounds both characters and plot.  In those terms, for me, nothing would come close until the Raconteurs’ ‘Carolina Drama’…surely a deliberate relation.  Just wonderful.

On a related Dylan note…Vol.5 of the bootleg series (see ‘1966’ in previous post for Vol.4) is from around this time – covering the elemental Rolling Thunder Revue tour – absolutely worth checking out, as is the book on the same subject by my good friend and esteemed Dylanologist/musicologist Sid Griffin.  I don’t think there is a live event in history I would have liked to experience more.

If this process had been ‘song first, then album’, the above would have been pushed mighty close by the mighty ‘Freebird’.  This will be anaethema to some readers (who know who they are…) but I really do love this song and it is a jukebox staple round these parts (also being very good value in minutes per pound terms :-).  Overblown, probably, but an epic song all the same and the guitar is just ridiculously good…

1976

This one actually very much a case of track before album.  Various friends had enthused for years about the genius of Tom Waits, yet the odd half-hearted attempts by me to understand and appreciate such were sadly in vain for some time.  It took a Rough Trade compilation (and an excellent one at that…highly recommended) – Counter Culture 1976 – to make a difference.  Along with the likes of Blondie, Bootsy Collins, The 101’ers and Nick Lowe was Tom Waits, with ‘Step Right Up’…five minutes of drawled, jazzy, stream of consciousness seemingly allying much of the human condition with a world increasingly focused upon consumption and commerce.  And alcohol.  The song was the spur for me to investigate Waits’ work further and I stumbled across a box set of five albums including ‘Small Change’, conveniently home to ‘Step Right Up’, which has grown to be a favourite Tom Waits record amongst what I now recognise to be formidable competition from over the years.  He is a quite unique talent.

‘Small Change’ is all about the booze.  A dark, bleak piece reflecting I understand the travails of Waits’ touring lifestyle and mindset at the time…it presents a cast of sad, lonely, characters drawn against a desolate and depraved backdrop in the gutter.  There is though a warmth and a charm that is woven throughout with humour to be found most of the way along the way – held in there by the gravelly bass of Waits’ voice and a bluesy feel that draws one into the sanctuary of the very same strip club or speakeasy.  If you’ve not heard it, then please seek it out…step right up indeed…

1977

Another relatively recent discovery, by virtue of some very good friends and musical mentors…’Pacific Ocean Blue’ by Dennis Wilson.

One of the great Americana records, it is unrecognisable from the near-perfect surf-pop Wilson and his Beach Boy brothers produced in the 60s – instead offering a mature, emotional, at times ragged, and soulful sound.  Indeed it is with some sadness and pathos even that the background to the album’s genesis was of Wilson’s drug abuse and related failing health – and that those factors likely contributed to what is regarded as the genius of the record – which would persist until his untimely and tragic death at the age of 39 in 1983.

I give you the majestic ‘River Song’…

In a very strong year – other close contenders for 1977 included Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ (a coked-up Cohen and Phil Spector – what a combination…) and Meatloaf’s gloriously and shamelessly bombastic ‘Bat out of Hell’ (another childhood favourite).

1978

Taking a bit of liberty with 1978, contrary to my approach with other live albums here.  The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’, together with Scorsese’s film of the same name, documents the group’s final concert which took place in 1976.  But the album and film were both released in 1978.  And I was born in 1978.  So I, ahem, am allowed to select it here (it should be said however I do so at the expense of Springsteen, Kraftwerk and Blondie – for which I will be lambasted from certain quarters).

It is also a magnificent collection from a group of musicians, together with the vast and stellar supporting cast on the night, who played a major part in the development of American and Canadian music over the 1960s and 70s – whether independently or with Bob Dylan.  They, along with the likes of the Byrds and CSN&Y, are undoubtedly behind the evolution of ‘Americana’ – first of all through the Paisley Underground and later into the welcome revival of the folk and alt-country scene today.

It’s not worth trying to say much more here.  Just watch the film.  And buy the album.  They are more than worth it.

On an entirely different musical note, 1978 also offers The Rezillos’ ‘Can’t stand the Rezillos’ which, eschewing the political and social manoeuvring of most of its punk peers, offers up about as much fun as you can possibly have on a glam/pop/punk record.  Just wonderful.  Check it out.

1979

1979 for me is dominated by bands and albums that had matured both musically and lyrically from the initial onset of the punk scene some three years earlier…including the likes of  The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Inflammable Material’, The Damned’s ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ and Gang of Four’s ‘Entertainment’.

My choice though, over even the four excellent records offered above, is Public Image Ltd’s ‘Metal Box’, which is a brilliant, dark and at times disturbing album in all senses.  Surely at the time no sane mind could have known that the combination of John Lydon, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene – making a deliberate and definite move to the avant-garde – would produce what remains one of the finest post-punk albums – everything should clash but nothing does.  Well it does.  But it doesn’t.  That’s probably the point though…I’m not sure there were many sane minds involved. Probably the greatest ever record packaging too.

What remains as well, is that John Lydon, when surrounded by great musicians (he still is, albeit not Wobble and Levene), is a really wonderful frontman with an incredible voice.  It is apparent from recent gigs I’ve seen that he genuinely loves P.I.L. and it comes through in every thrilling, visceral, performance.

That said…the guitar is the star in this OGWT performance of ‘Poptones’  – mind-blowingly good…

An extraordinary decade then…looking at where it starts and finishes here, which on reflection is what is so interesting about this exercise – how music moves, or doesn’t, over very short periods of time – reflecting changes in society, culture and technology.

The nineteen eighties next…

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