Monday, November 27, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Ivor Cutler, Roget.
The Mekons, Oblivion.
Pete Townshend, Save It For Later.
David and David, Swallowed By the Cracks.
Big Stick, Drag Racing.
John Carter, Moon Waltz.
Prince, Girls and Boys.
The Judds, Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days).
Robert Cray, I Guess I Showed Her.
Timex Social Club, Rumors.
Megadeth, Peace Sells.
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs.
Les Mangelepa, Harare.
Elvis Costello, I Hope You're Happy Now.
The Smiths, The Boy With the Thorn In His Side.
Wynton Marsalis Quartet, Autumn Leaves.
Farley "Jackmaster" Funk and Jesse Saunders, Love Can't Turn Around.
John Adams, Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
Marley Marl with MC Shan, He Cuts So Fresh.
The Go-Betweens, The Ghost and the Black Hat.

Life used to be work until five o'clock and then you were meant to have some fun, some nourishment, some leisure. Americans don't understand leisure. They don't have a clue. They understand work; they understand play; they understand love; they do not understand leisure...

Is labor God? Is a job God? People vote like it is. Ronald Reagan is a vote to return to the company store. People look at that guy Nicholson down there yelling and say, "What's he do?" Nothing--he sits around and complains. At least a guy in a nice pin-stripe suit at down at the bank, he keeps the park clean, everything's cool. Who are these rabble-rousers? What do they do? Let's go back in there and let's buy shoes down at the conglomerate. Let's get our movie down at the conglomerate. Let's let the big guy in the pin-stripe suit run things, 'cause it will be quiet then.

Well, pal, that hasn't ever worked in the past. And it ain't gonna work in the future. Dream on, dream on. I can't do nothin' about it. I understand numbers. I'm going to reach fifty years old next year. I just turned forty-nine. There ain't time for me to turn this around...

If we're not a nation of idealists who fight against these things, I guess it's because we don't understand what it's costing us anymore.

Jack Nicholson, interview by Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone, August 1986.

Julia K. Swan, The Many Faces.

So here are the '80s, bright, loud, death-stippled, the unlamented lost years of my adolescence. As is typical, the music of time can't really be summed up in any comprehensible manner, so as my hero Ivor Cutler says, "I thought I'd ring the changes."

Punk, rock's aborted Reformation, never got a foothold in the United States, soon devolving into a secret language shared among a few scattered bands and converts. In the UK, where punk had played out on a much more public stage, its collapse was louder, messier and more ridiculous, as punk splintered into a dozen different factions, from Two-Tone (punk + ska) to"New Romantic" (punk + David Bowie + elaborate music videos.)

The Mekons were a leftist punk band from Leeds who had formed in 1977, their first single being "Never Been In a Riot," an answer record to the Clash's "White Riot," whose politics the Mekons viewed as inane and dangerous. They kept scratching away on the margins, and, while having periods of hibernation, survived longer than nearly all of their peers.

Revived by the Miners Strike of 1984-85, which proved to be Old Labour's Waterloo, the Mekons, having increased their ranks with refugees from The Rumour (drummer Steve Goulding), The Pretty Things (guitarist Dick Taylor) and The Damned (bassist Lu Edmonds), seemed to gain strength in desperation. As Milton, a huge Mekons fan, once wrote: "Joynd with me once, now misery hath joynd/In equal ruin: into what Pit thou seest/From what highth fall'n."

The band was now inspired by American golden-age country music, with songwriters Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford offering surrealist, apocalyptic cowboy songs, along with covers of "Lost Highway" and "Alone and Forsaken." The waltz "Oblivion," one of the best songs from this period, was also one of the first Mekons tracks sung by another key addition to the band, the inimitable Sally Timms.

Recorded in Leeds in March-April 1986; on The Edge of the World.

The incense burned away, and the stench began to rise...

Pete Townshend, the songwriter of his generation who had been most obsessed with youth, with its exploiters, its myths and its inevitable demise, had taken the advent of middle age the hardest. "Who Are You," the Who's last big hit, was about an encounter Townshend had with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, at the end of which Townshend woke up hung over in a Soho doorway, rousted by a policeman.

During that night, Townshend had bemoaned his uselessness, had ceded the future to Cook and Jones, who in turn were baffled by him, as they had always loved the Who and didn't see what his problem was. (Had Townshend gone out drinking with John Lydon, it would've been another story). The night produced a self-lacerating song, Townshend yelling "who the fuck are you?" to the mirror, as well as snarling at the generation of punks vying for his throne; it is now best known as the theme song to the current decade's version of Quincy.

the punks meet the godfather

Townshend's decision to pull the plug on the Who in 1982 seemed to liberate him for a time. His solo records already had been stronger than Who LPs for at least a decade, and right before releasing the damp squib which was the Who's It's Hard, Townshend put out the weirdest thing he'd ever done, an album called All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, filled with desultory songs about failure and age, all with rambling, somtimes unmoored lyrics. The finest track was "Slit Skirts," about how the singer and his woman no longer felt they could go out in their leather. "Can't pretend that growing old never hurts."

A few years later, Townshend was on stage at a charity gig in Brixton, and performed "Save it For Later," a recent hit from the Beat. Townshend sheared the song down to its skeleton, hanging the lyric on one repeated guitar figure. Singing in a harrowed but calm voice, Townshend lingers on the lyric's odd phrases (one of which for years I'd heard as "Black Karen Seven she's all rotten through"), infusing the line "your legs give way/you hit the ground" with weary resignation, and taking the lyric's silly sex joke and turning it into a vulnerable plea.

But soon afterward, he seemed to beat the retreat, heading back towards the past. He would spend over a decade endlessly reworking a failed rock opera he first attempted in 1970, and by the end of the '80s, Townshend would reunite the Who, keeping it going sporadically for another twenty years.

One night in the summer of 1993, during a concert near Boston in which he was promoting a terrible new record, Townshend began ranting at the audience, reeling off his recent accomplishments--like turning "Tommy" into a Broadway hit--with a mixture of obnoxious pride and self-loathing. "Don't you know, I've made so much fucking money," he screamed, to which some in the crowd cheered. Well, they had paid to see him, so perhaps they considered themselves shareholders.

Recorded in Brixton; on Deep End Live.

Goldsworthy, Sweet Chestnut Autumn Horn.

David and David were David Baerwald and David Ricketts, two songwriters who lived together in Los Angeles in the mid-'80s, often along with another songwriter, Ricketts' then-girlfriend Toni Childs. It wasn't the happiest of arrangements: Baerwald recalled that upon hearing Childs sing the line "Where's the ocean?" for the nth time, he went up to her and said "Take a right on Sunset." She never spoke to him again--soon enough, the David & David partnership ended.

[Ed. note--this summary is not entirely accurate, as Mr. Baerwald has noted in his comments (on the 1946 post)--DB and DR didn't live together, and they didn't 'shop around' their tape. "It just sort of happened," is a more accurate way of describing Boomtown's origins.]

The 1986 record Boomtown, which was the only thing David & David recorded, was essentially a professional remake of the demo tapes the two had been shopping around for years. "Swallowed By The Cracks," like their big hit "Welcome to the Boomtown," is an unsparing look at Los Angeles: its myths, its many snares, and the havoc they wreak on the talented, attractive kids who are served up on the altar, year after year. The singer is a failed choreographer, his friends a failed writer and actress--their season of hope seems short-lived, as before long they're working menial jobs or, in the singer's case, becoming "a drunken old whore."

Recorded in LA; on Boomtown. In the 1990s, Baerwald and Ricketts were part of a group of songwriters whose work would ultimately evolve into Sheryl Crow's first record, Tuesday Night Social Club. Both Ricketts and Baerwald, for example, are credited on Crow tracks like "Leaving Las Vegas."

Big Stick
is John Gill and Yanna Trance, one of the more fantastically abrasive groups to emerge from New York's underground rock scene in the '80s.

"Drag Racing," their first single (released initially on Recess and later on Blast First) consists of Trance saying "In the summer I wear my tube top, and Eddie takes me to the drag strip," interspersed with engines revving, vicious guitar noise, cheap drum machines, more noise, PA announcements, breaking glass, advertisements, mutters and come-ons. The record sounds like it was somehow fused out of melted surf and girl-group 45s.

You can find "Drag Racing" and other Big Stick tracks here.

The most ambitious jazz project of the decade was the clarinetist John Carter's five-album series, called "Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music," an impressionist history of African-Americans from the great medieval African kingdoms to the rise of the slave trade, from transport to America to emancipation and relocation.

Carter, born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1929, was a school music teacher well into his forties, when he finally decided to quit to play jazz professionally. He started out on saxophone, but by the mid-'70s had switched to the clarinet, an instrument which had fallen into disuse in jazz over the past few decades.

An avant-garde multi-album jazz series about the African diaspora would have been a tough sell at any time, but the '80s were perhaps the most unpromising era in recent memory that Carter could have tried it. Still, using several small, independent labels, he managed to record the series over eight years. Dauwhe is a portrait of the golden age of the African kingdoms, Castles of Ghana shows the arrival of the slavers and the corruption of the West African kings, Dance of the Love Ghosts is a study on the "middle passage" of African slaves to America, Fields depicts the lives of slaves in the ante-bellum South, and Shadows on a Wall is the story of the great Northern migration by blacks in the 20th Century. Carter died of lung cancer two years after making the last record.

Among Carter's regular collaborators for this series was the great bassist Fred Hopkins (formerly of Air, see the 1976 entry), Carter's longtime friend, the cornet player Bobby Bradford, the drummer Andrew Cyrille and former Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston.

"Moon Waltz" is the end of the Dance of the Love Ghosts suite--described by Carter as follows:

So great was the despair of the passengers sailing from the castles [of Ghana, into slavery], it must have seemed on bright, star-filled nights that the moon danced in concert with their pulsating pain. The birth of the blues...

or as the Mekons would sing a few years later, in a verse about a slave ship crossing the Atlantic,

Down in the hull there is no sound
We're taking rock & roll to America...

Recorded in November 1986 in New York City; on Dance of the Love Ghosts.

Prince, at his peak in the '80s, was an unearthly combination of Miles Davis, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, a talent so singular, whose feats seemed effortless, that his presence in pop music still seems a bit bewildering. Too willfully strange to remain on center stage for long, Prince had followed up his multi-platinum album and hit film Purple Rain with a swerve into religious psychedelia and in '86 made his second film, an odd venture called Under the Cherry Moon.

Yet the soundtrack to Cherry Moon was something else--a fantastic exercise in minimalist funk, a reworking of Sly Stone's Fresh set in some imagined Montmartre. The album's big hit, "Kiss," was built solely around Prince's vocal, a bare beat, a hint of synthesizer and some guitar breaks; "Girls and Boys" offers a slightly fuller palette--beats (from both the Linn drum machine and the Revolution's drummer Bobby Z.), the occasional honking line from a saxophone, chirps and quacks from synthesizers, a few guitar licks--and blossoms as it proceeds, with Prince delivering a loopily seductive vocal that becomes, at the track heats up, his first recorded rap.

On Parade.

Koons, Rabbit.

In the '80s, in America, there seemed to be a general cultural yearning to return to, or, even better, somehow restore the poorly-remembered past, whether it was Michael J. Fox going back to the 1950s to mold his parents into more responsible people, or the various Stallone/Norris movies in which lone soldiers returned to 'Nam to settle scores.

The Judds, Naomi and Wynonna, updated the country music brother act for the '80s, offering in its place one of the first-ever mother/daughter teams. Naomi, born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky, in 1946, married a marketing executive, moved to Los Angeles, and had two daughters. When the marriage fell apart in the early '70s, the Judds changed their names (except for Ashley, of course); Naomi became a registered nurse and supported the family while working on establishing her and Wynonna as a professional singing act. After sending out demo tapes for years, they at last got an audience with RCA execs, who signed them; the Judds began an astonishing run of 14 #1 country hits in less than a decade.

One of those hits, "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)" is on the surface part of the '80s nostalgia boom, an ode to the golden past when fidelity and stability were stronger than the present--it's sung by a child of divorce, asking her grandfather about a simpler time. Yet as David Cantwell wrote in his entry on this track in Heartaches By the Number: "In the end, [Wynonna] proclaims it all true--the faithful fathers, the kept promises, all of it. On the other hand, the mournful, home-bred harmonies she and her mother create sure don't sound very convinced." It's telling that grandpa never gets his chance to speak.

Recorded in Nashville; On Greatest Hits.

Marwood: Oh God, I don't feel good. Look, my thumbs have gone weird! I'm in the middle of a bloody overdose. Oh God. My heart's beating like a fucked clock! I feel dreadful, I feel really dreadful!

Withnail: So do I, so does everybody. Look at my tongue; it's wearing a yellow sock. Sit down for Christ's sake, what's the matter with you? Eat some sugar.

Robert Cray, born in Columbus, Georgia in 1953, was a major figure in the popular renaissance of the electric blues. Akin to the "new traditionalist" movement occurring in country music, this new generation of bluesmen, which also included Stevie Ray Vaughan, were interested in paring the blues back to its basics while also instilling a more modern sensibility to the lyrics and playing.

Cray began playing in the mid-'70s and made a few records on indie labels, including 1983's Bad Influence, a lean, nasty album that begins with Cray desperately trying to seduce a girl whose number he found etched in a phone booth. But his commercial breakthrough came in 1986 with Strong Persuader, a record saturated in infidelity, with Cray taking the part of the wronged husband, or an adulterer listening to his neighbors' relationship disintegrating on the other side of his apartment wall.

"I Guess I Showed Her" is a bit more light-hearted. Cray's narrator here is a bit of chump, trying to talk up his decision to leave his cheating wife and move into a fleapit hotel ("the hot plate's brand new"); already cuckolded, the singer seems unable to even act self-righteous about it. It's held together by Cray's needling rhythm playing, while the Memphis Horns add their sympathies.

Recorded in Los Angeles with Richard Cousins (b), Peter Boe (keyboards) and David Olson (d); on Strong Persuader.

In Nabokov's Lolita, Humbert Humbert tortures himself with images of his nymphet in the arms of 'kissy-faced brutes'; that's what Top Gun is full of. When Kelly McGillis is offscreen, the movie is a shiny homoerotic commercial. The pilots strut around the locker room, towels hanging precariously from their waists, and when they speak to each other they're head to head, as if to shout 'Sez you!' It's as if masculinity had been redefined as how a young man looks with his clothes half-off...

In between the bare-chested maneuvers, there's footage of ugly snub-nosed jets taking off, whooshing around in the sky, and landing while the soundtrack calls up Armageddon and the Second Coming--though what we're seeing is training exercises...

What is this commercial selling? It's just selling, because that's what the producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and the director, Tony (Make It Glow) Scott, know how to do. Selling is what they think moviemaking is about. Top Gun is a recruiting poster that isn't concerned with recruiting but with being a poster.

Pauline Kael, "Top Gun" review, The New Yorker, 16 June 1986.

The Timex Social Club were a group of high-school friends led by Marcus Thompson. In the summer of 1983, Thompson began writing a song he called "Rumors," which he showed to buddies Michael Marshall and Alex Hill. Thompson had only written the lyrics, so three tried to write accompanying music, at last finishing a four-track demo a few years later.

The demo wound up in the hands of producer Jay King, who brought the three into the studio. After some wrangling (King tried to put electric guitar into the mix, and thought he would also sing backup, both decisions proving to be dire ones), the track got professionally recorded and mixed, with Marshall singing lead. By the summer of '86, it had become a smash.

"Rumors" is a transition piece between the waning style of electro R&B and the rising tide of hip hop (it sounds a bit like a harder remake of Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me"), and also presages our current gossip-mad culture, though I don't think anyone back in '86 could have predicted something like US Weekly or Paris Hilton. Those were simpler times, in some respects.

Recorded January 3, 1986, in Richmond, California; on Hot R&B Hits.

I have to say it: I just don't enjoy heavy metal, mostly because of the poppy, dunder-headed brand of metal that was ubiquitous in the late '80s, to the point where it seemed like the culture at large was being punished for some crime it had committed.

That off my chest, let me add that I get a kick out of Megadeth's '80s records, perhaps because they're a contrast to the more-lauded Metallica, a band I've always hated. So here's the mighty "Peace Sells," the title track of Peace Sells...But Who's Buying, featuring Dave Mustaine and Chris Poland's dueling guitars, as well as David Ellefson's opening bass riff, used by MTV for years as the hook to its news broadcasts.

Released in November 1986; on Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?

Grandmother and grandaughter, Nicaragua, 1980s

Dwight Yoakam, born in Pikesville, Kentucky in 1956, found there was no room for him in Nashville, so he headed out to California in the early '80s. Refusing to play the countrypolitan hits of the era, and so having little luck with traditional country music clubs, Yoakam and his guitarist Pete Anderson wound up opening for the likes of Los Lobos, X and the Blasters.

Eventually, Yoakam found a home on country radio, incorporating rock & roll elements into his music (such as a heavier drum sound), while at the same time his purist's obsession with the symbols of classic country, his oft-proclaimed love of cowboy hats, beer drinkin' and honky tonks, helped make his music seem less radical.

"Guitars, Cadillacs," his second Top 10 country hit, sums up Yoakam's aesthetic, with the standard country fiddle countered by Anderson's jagged guitar licks, while Yoakam's tenor smooths it all out.

Recorded in LA; on Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

Les Mangelepa were among the many Congolese expatriate musicians who came to Kenya in the '70s and '80s, drawn by the many clubs and the recording studios, which were the best in East Africa. Les Mangelepa came to Nairobi in a mass exodus with other Zaire-based musicians, such as Baba Gaston and Nguashi Ntimbo; in fact, most of the group had originally worked for Gaston, until a number of them, including bandleader/guitarist Bwami "Captain" Walumona, Kasongo Wakanema, the singer-composers Evani Kabila Kabanze and Kalenga Nzaazi Vivi, Lutulu Kaniki Macky, and Twikale wa Twikale split to form Orchestra Les Mangelepa in the mid-'70s.

The band specialized in intricate harmonies, supported by multiple guitars and, a rarity among East African bands, a horn section. Unfortunately, at the peak of Les Mangelepa's career, they were deported by the Kenyan government in 1985, due to Kenya's increasingly restrictive work permit laws, and never quite regained their momentum.

"Harare," released @ 1986, is sung in Lingala, and its lyrics offer a traditional sad tale:

The girl who used to love me, today loves someone else. It's sad, who can I tell? You used me, showing me heavy love. Harare, I'm crying day and night but you don't listen to me, because you've got a new lover. I'm broken hearted. I'll never love again.

Recorded in Kenya; on the unfortunately out-of-print Guitar Paradise of East Africa.

Elvis Costello once called Blood and Chocolate, one of two records he released in 1986, "a pissed-off, 32-year-old divorcee's version of This Year's Model." A muddy, unrelentingly angry album, it remains an unsettling and bleak artifact some two decades on. At the time of its release, what disturbed my teenage self the most was the record's implication that the pains, betrayals and petty hatreds of adolescence would persist well into middle age; that there was no escape, just a further descent.

"I Hope You're Happy Now" is one of Costello's most bile-filled performances, a work of actual malice so incensed that Costello generally forgoes his usual wordplay, offering instead naked curses, like the cold verse towards song's end:

I knew then what I know now:
I never loved you anyhow.

Costello had attempted to record "I Hope You're Happy Now" several times in 1985 and 1986. The song may have been inspired by Dylan's "She's Your Lover Now," whose storyline is roughly the same: the singer, happy to be rid of a woman he's both obsessed with and who he utterly hates, gleefully watches her descend upon a new victim, who he is also jealous of. The released version has "a little bit more humor to it" than previous attempts, Costello would say years later. "It almost sounded like pop music."

Recorded in London by Costello and his estranged band, the Attractions: this would be their last collaboration for almost a decade. The track, like the rest of the record, was recorded essentially live, in one room, at stage volume, with instruments bleeding into each other in the recording; on Blood and Chocolate, a record so good it makes up for the past two decades of Costello's career.

In 1986, I was fourteen, which might be the very worst age in the world. So I'm grateful The Smiths were around at the same time.

While I haven't listened to the Smiths in ages, "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side," one of the band's many portraits of teenage martyrs, holds up well some twenty years later--it's glorious pop, driven by Johnny Marr's guitar and Morrissey's wryly overwrought singing. And if you've similar memories as me, sing along for the sake of the old, miserable days: "And when you want to live/how d'you start?/where d'you go?/who d'you need to know?" Unanswered questions, really.

On The Queen is Dead.

The USSR, in its closing performance

Ah, what to say about Wynton Marsalis? By far the most popular and most lauded jazz musician of his generation, he is perhaps more known for his controversial statements than his compositions, making him the first "top-tier" jazz player whose recorded legacy is a question mark. He's been recording for a quarter of a century, and one has to ask: where's his Kind of Blue? His Brilliant Corners? His "Weather Bird"? His "Koko"? His A Love Supreme? His "Black and Tan Fantasy"? His Shape of Jazz to Come?

While his talent is undeniable, Marsalis' greatest mark on jazz appears more symbolic: he, along with his brother Branford and a few other like-minded players, encased jazz in cultural prestige, turning the music, for better or worse, into what it is today--a well-funded adjunct of American classical music, performed impeccably and tastefully, and readied for the long haul.

(Marsalis also restored sartorial supremacy to jazz. Let me explain. For most of jazz's existence, its players were some of the coolest-dressed people on the planet. Here, watch Miles and Trane in 1959. But then in the '70s, it all went to hell--multi-colored capes, baggy pants, track suits, turtlenecks, etc. Look at poor Jack DeJohnette's boiler suit here. So thank Wynton for his efforts. )

Here is Marsalis' take on Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves," from one of Marsalis' best live performances, his seventh engagement as bandleader at Washington DC's Blues Alley at the end of '86. Featuring one of Marsalis' most exciting quartets--Marcus Roberts (p), Robert Leslie Hurst III (b) and the fanstastic Jeff "Train" Watts (d). In these performances, Marsalis seemed to be channeling Kenny Dorham, and his seven choruses in "Autumn Leaves" offer "raring turnbacks and rugged riffs, notably a 10-bar incursion in the fourth go-round" (Giddins).

Recorded in Washington DC, either 19 or 20 December 1986; on Live At Blues Alley.

Welliver, Stumps and Ferns.

Farley "Jackmaster" Funk's version of Isaac Hayes' "I Can't Turn Around," a track called "Love Can't Turn Around" that featured an over-the-top vocal by Darryl Pandy, was the first house single to make the British pop charts, while remaining a relative obscurity in the U.S.

It was a prime example of Chicago house, a style that emerged from the collapse of disco in the early '80s, and was pioneered by a number of Chicago-based DJs, including Funk and Jesse Saunders, who collaborated on "Love Can't Turn Around." House was defined by its never-altering 4/4 electronic beats and its endless repeating basslines, a combination that can prove ecstatic on the dance floor and unbearable when blasted by an upstairs neighbor at 3 AM.

Originally released as a 12" single on DJ International, featuring a number of different mixes; on Trax Classix.

John Adams, born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947 to a musical family (both parents were in swing bands), began composing in the minimalist style pioneered by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, though by the 1980s he had expanded his pieces to include a wider variety of music, from operetta to Romanticism to pop.

"Short Ride in a Fast Machine" is one of Adams' most popular works, in part due to its pace and brevity--it's often used as a concert-ender. Composed in 1986 to celebrate the opening of the Great Woods Summer Festival, the piece is succession of chordal passages that dance over a steady beat pounded out on wood blocks.

This performance is conducted by Simon Rattle and performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; on Harmonielehre.

The '80s were, of course, hip hop's first full decade, in which rap began as a novelty and ended as the most politically and sonically ambitious genre of pop music. It was radically removed from the music of the past, often eschewing the verse-chorus-verse structure, vocal harmonies and even instruments, yet often directly fashioned from pieces of old records.

Marley Marl, born Marlon Williams in Queens in 1962, was one of rap's first star producers, working with everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Roxanne Shante to Eric B and Rakim, for whom he produced their first great singles, including "Eric B is President." Marl started out using synthesizers to generate his beats, but by the mid-'80s he was employing samples of funk and soul records to a far greater degree, especially in the records he produced for his cousin, MC Shan. "He Cuts So Fresh," for example, samples from Isaac Hayes' 1971 "Ike's Mood I/You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". It's a record that rocks harder than most alleged rock & roll records from the same era, offering a primer for listeners on the DJ's role in hip hop.

Released as an Uptown Records 12" single in '86; on Definitive Electro & Hip Hop Collection.

Basquiat, Gris-Gris.

Australia's The Go-Betweens, over time, have become my favorite band of the '80s, though I never listened to them at the time--I don't think many of their records were even available in the U.S. The songs of the late Grant McLennan and Robert Foster, brought into being with the help of drummer Lindy Morrison, bassist Robert Vickers and, later, oboeist Amanda Brown, have a subtle power, a quiet resonance. I've often found that a Go-Betweens song that did nothing for me on first listen is wandering in my head some days later.

McLennan died earlier this year: his songs, while often featuring rousing choruses and hummable melodies, had an acerbity to them, a sense of loss, of time's transience. "The Ghost and the Black Hat," a lesser-played track off the Go-Betweens' 1986 record Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, is a case in point--it's an oblique death hymn, with railroads melting and dead husbands in the ground, all wrapped up in a shuffling, sprightly little melody.

Recorded in London; on Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express.

Monday, November 20, 2006

7 1/2

Well, 1986 is not even close to being done. Unlike other entries in this series, this one has to be written pretty much from scratch, so it'll be a bit longer before its arrival. So happy Thanksgiving, and to those overseas who don't celebrate our quaint American holiday, have a nice stretch of days.

And all right, for those desperate for this series to continue, here you go: a halfway point between jumps.


Human Switchboard, Who's Landing In My Hangar?
J. Walter Negro and the Loose Jointz, Shoot the Pump.
Art Pepper, Arthur's Blues.
Richard Thompson, The Knife-Edge.

Human Switchboard were from Kent, Ohio, and consisted of guitarist/singer Bob Pfeifer, Myrna Marcarian, who played farfisa organ and also sang lead, and drummer Ron Metz. The Switchboard, which formed in 1977 and began touring nationally by decade's end, faced the grim prospects for an "underground" rock group in the U.S. in the early '80s--getting great reviews but having no record companies interested in them, playing half-empty clubs, going broke. Eventually, the group collapsed.

Yet the band had a great driving sound, inspired in part by the Velvet Underground--they had a fatalistic, angry sense of mission, sometimes leavened by Marcarian's vocals and whirring organ. As Tom Carson wrote on the liner notes to their LP, the Switchboard had a sense of "3 A.M. desperation being exploded by rage or good times or both...while you were hearing it, it felt like the truth." Here's the ferocious title track of their only LP, Who's Landing in My Hangar? The record went out of print and has yet to be released on CD; Pfeifer eventually wound up running Hollywood Records in the early '90s; Marcarian is now with Ruby on the Vine.

Human Switchboard

J. Walter Negro and the Loose Jointz's "Shoot the Pump," a great lost early hip-hop/rock/Latin fusion masterwork, was brought back from the depths by Tofu Hut in early 2005. Read John's fantastic article, which is the one of the best things ever posted on an MP3 blog. It's a complex, sad story that references everyone from John Hammond and Chris Blackwell to the Clash and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

By the late '70s, the saxophonist Art Pepper had returned after some two decades of addiction and imprisonment. "Arthur's Blues," recorded on August 15, 1981, a year before his death, is one of his finest moments, with Pepper soaring, musing, wailing and ultimately finding deliverance through seven intense choruses. On Arthur's Blues.

In 1981, Richard Thompson was at loose ends. He didn't have a recording contract, and was unhappy with the tracks he had made recently with his wife Linda (eventually they would re-record them all to make Shoot Out the Lights). Looking to make a bit of income, Thompson started his own mini-label, Elixir, and recorded an all-instrumental LP called Strict Tempo! with the drummer Dave Mattacks. Most of the tracks were traditional songs (and Duke Ellington's "Rockin' In Rhythm") but the album's closer, "The Knife-Edge," was a Thompson composition in which RT plays acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, mandocello and bass. On Watching The Dark.

See you soon. And farewell to two great ladies: Ruth Brown and Ellen Willis.

Monday, November 13, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon.<
Rare Pleasure, Let Me Down Easy.
James Talley, Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?
Eddie and the Hot Rods, Teenage Depression.
George Harrison, Crackerbox Palace.
Anthony Braxton, Cut 3.
Max Romeo, Sipple Out Deh.
Boz Scaggs, Lowdown.
The Wild Tchoupitoulas, Big Chief Got a Golden Crown.
Arlo Guthrie, Grocery Blues.
Michael Hurley and the Unholy Modal Rounders, Sweet Lucy.
Joan Armatrading, Down To Zero.
The Real Thing, You To Me Are Everything.
Blondie, X Offender.
The Ramones, Listen to My Heart.
Air, Midnight Sun.

I used to run into Warren from time to time during the 1970s. Once, at a nightclub called Reno Sweeney, we watched an entertainer named Genevieve White. This was just a few years after the Fillmore East had closed. Maybe Warren and I had thought the Fillmore, and all it represented, was going to be definitive for our generation, and here we were in a nightclub. Genevieve White had just sung a song called "Romance Is On the Rise."

"Romance is coming back, Warren," I said.

"You know what's coming back?" Warren said. "Everything. And then it's going away for good."

George W.S. Trow, Within the Context of No Context.

John Updike, of all people, wrote about disco in Rabbit Is Rich:

Peppy and gentle, the music reminds Rabbit of the music played on radios when he was in high school, "How High is the Moon," or "Puttin' on the Ritz": city music, not that country music of the Sixties that tried to take us back and make us better than we are. Black girls with tinny chiming voices chant nonsense words above a throbbing electrified beat, and he likes that...

Disco was an urban music at a time when the white middle class was scrambling to get out of the decaying cities; it was a public, surface-obsessed music in an era of dedicated self-rumination. It was performed mainly by gays, women, blacks and Hispanics, in a period when the face of rock music was four or five white guys with bad hair; its emphasis on faceless performers in the hands of master producers upturned the Beatles/Dylan-inspired cult of the singer-sage.

"To me, the beauty of music is its possibilities for mutation," August Darnell, 1981.

August Darnell, born in Montreal in 1950, and his brother Sonny Browder Jr. grew up in the Bronx, and in the mid-'70s formed Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, in which Browder played guitar while Darnell played bass and sang backup--the pair collaborated on the songwriting. The two recruited Cory Daye, one of the most underrated singers of the era, drummer Mickey Sevilla and vibes player Andy Hernandez, who they chose after Hernandez scored highest on a questionnaire whose queries included "What is your political affiliation?" and "Do you consider yourself straight or a brat?"

In the depths of one of the most aesthetically vile decades in recorded history, the Original Savannah Band looked back to classic swankness, using Fred Astaire, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Myrna Loy, and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross as their role models. Their music sounded as if somewhere it was still New Year's Eve 1955 at the Copacabana, but it was playful and modern as well. "'Dr. Buzzard's' was the first release in many years to suggest that the pop-music past was not dead, an object of nostalgia or ridicule, but held untapped freedom" (Milo Miles).

The band landed a contract with RCA, which apparently had to drag their first LP out of them. The record looked as if it would be a flop until a few key DJs began playing it, and the gay community in particular took it to heart. The group went on to release a couple more sub-par records, and Darnell, Hernandez and Daye left to form Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

The Tommy Mottola "blowing his mind/on cheap grass and wine" was the band's manager, and, yes, the future ex-husband of Mariah Carey. Find here.

Rare Pleasure is disco at its most ecstatic and anonymous. The studio creation of a producer named David Jordan, Rare Pleasure released only one single for Cheri Records, "Let Me Down Easy," a track whose pleasures are boundless. It and hundreds of other discarded disco and funk records would provide the DNA for the music of century's end: in 1988, the one-note piano riff that leads off "Let Me Down Easy" would turn up in a house track by David Morales.

First heard this one on Lee Caulfield's wonderful site. On Disco Spectrum 1.

After losing the presidency, Gerald Ford returned to his old lounge combo

By 1976, the economic expansion that had defined the postwar years in the West had hit a wall. The many miseries of the period are perhaps remembered now in Time magazine shorthand-- gas shortages, vicious inflation and rate hikes (the prime interest rate in early 1970 was 8%--by '79 it was 16%), and governments generally bankrupt, corrupt or both. It was also the beginning of what would become a three-decade outsourcing of manufacturing jobs in the United States to, ultimately, countries in which factory labor was a slightly better alternative to the gulag.

Country musicians were among the first to take notice--for example, take Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December," released just before the OPEC crisis in 1973. Throughout the rest of the decade, the fears, disbelief, stoicism and anger of the working class, many of whom felt that whatever gains they had made since the war were being washed away, were expressed mainly via Nashville, though only on occasion, as most mainstream country songs stayed far away from the grim facts on the ground.

James Talley, born in Tulsa in 1943, was a carpenter and social worker whose biggest heroes were B.B. King, Bob Wills and Woody Guthrie. He began recording for Capitol, starting in 1975 with the marvelous album Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money But We Sure Got a Lot of Love. Talley never broke into the country mainstream, in part due to his barbed, often political songwriting, but he soon found a cult audience that included the governor of Georgia. When Jimmy Carter was elected president, he invited Talley to perform at the inaugural ball. Yet a year later, Talley was without a record contract and eventually left music for a while to get into real estate.

"Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?" from 1976's Tryin' Like the Devil, is one of Talley's best tracks, in which Talley contrasts the popular memory of the 1930s with the malaise of the current decade, and wonders where the outrage went. And then there's the last verse, which Woody Guthrie would have been happy to write:

Now there's always been a bottom, and there's always been a top,
And someone took the orders and someone called the shots.
And someone took the beatin', Lord, and someone got the prize,
Well, that may be the way it's been, but that don't mean it's right.

Recorded in Nashville; on Tryin' Like the Devil which can be found on Talley's website. Thanks to David Cantwell for assistance in getting this track.

Judd, Untitled.

In pubs in North London and Essex, UK, during the mid-'70s, a group of young bands, bored senseless by the music of the day, began reviving soul and R&B songs from the previous decade. Like all reactionary movements, it was based on a general belief that the past held greater prospects than the dreary present, and out of the pub rock movement came much of what ultimately mutated into punk.

Eddie and the Hot Rods
, from Southend-on-Sea, played sharp, fast rock & roll and R&B. Eddie was actually a dummy propped up on stage during early gigs--the actual players were Barrie Masters (vocals), Dave Higgs (guitar), Steve Nicol (drums), and Paul Gray (bass). The band became known for its amphetamine-speed covers of everything from "96 Tears" to Bob Seger's "Get Out of Denver."

Signed by Island Records, the band headlined at the Marquee in London in 1976, with the Sex Pistols as their opening band. Even punk dogmatists admitted that while the band had little to do with the punk ethos, the Hot Rods' live show was often untoppable.

"Teenage Depression," an update on Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," is their finest moment. Released in October 1976; on Teenage Depression.

The Beatles, symbolically breaking up at the dawn of the 1970s, spent the rest of the decade showing their fallibility. Lennon paraded through a series of "eras," as if auditioning for his future biographers, undergoing primal scream therapy, going Maoist, getting drunk and recording old rock & roll songs, and at last going into semi-public exile until a lunatic shot him. Ringo just kept on being Ringo. McCartney carefully maintained his hold on the top of the charts, writing "pop for potheads," as Robert Christgau once said, and formed a pseudo-Beatles sequel band, minus any creative rivals and with his wife now installed onstage.

But what of George Harrison? Neglected as a songwriter during his time with the Beatles (although by the end of the '60s, his shelved songs were often better then the stuff Lennon and McCartney were offering), and having considered leaving the group as early as 1966, the Seventies should have been his for the taking. But after the 3-LP Grand Statement that was All Things Must Pass, Harrison seemed to peter out.

There were a number of reasons--his voice, never the strongest, gave out during a tour; he was sued for ripping off the Chiffons*. But most of all Harrison, at some point, seemed to realize the game wasn't worth it. While still putting out a record every couple years to keep up his contracts, Harrison spent more of his time hanging out with Monty Python, serving as the prime inspiration behind The Rutles parody, which in its way was more truthful about the Beatles than their official Anthology TV series.

"Crackerbox Palace," an ode to table-rapping childhood mysteries, is one of the best Harrison tracks from the late '70s. In typical fashion, Harrison sings about the Lord soon after quoting from a sex joke in Blazing Saddles. Also, this track goes in for personal reasons-- watching the video for this song (which I think aired on Saturday Night Live) stands out in the gauzy whirl of my childhood memories.

On Thirty Three and 1/3.

For jazz, the years after the death of John Coltrane in 1967 were some of the grimmest in the music's history. The black popular audience had already been turning away from jazz in favor of soul and R&B, and now the music's last main bastion of support--professionals, college kids and hipsters of all sorts--began deserting jazz as well. Many of its titanic figures were dying (Bud Powell in 1966, Coleman Hawkins in 1969, Ayler in 1970, Louis Armstrong in 1971, Ellington in 1974) and the future of jazz seemed either to be a move completely into wild, atonal free-form music or a hard, traditionalist swing back to standards, even Dixieland.

Miles Davis, sui generis as always, found a way out of the trap by making a string of electric jazz-funk records which were so ahead of their time they're still being absorbed today. In his wake, however, came the great "fusion" compromise, in which talented players dutifully performed improvisational takes on current hits like"So Far Away" or "You've Got a Friend." It was the beginning of jazz's current incarnation in the popular imagination as a sort of upscale mood music, as a cheap signifier of class and sophistication (take the cover of this hit 1980 LP by Grover Washington Jr., with its glass of chablis tastefully complementing the gold tones of the saxophone)

Some, however, headed out into the wilderness and returned with a new direction. Anthony Braxton, born in Chicago in 1945, was a former chess hustler and a multi-instrumentalist (he plays anything from the contrabass clarinet to the sopranino saxophone) who was among the many musicians affiliated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a Chicago-based group whose intent was to provide structure and support to a new generation of jazz players, and to encourage experimentation in all its forms, to push for a type of free jazz in which all options were open to players, even the choice to be as restrained as possible.

By 1976, Braxton was poised to be the avant-garde's breakout star. Where most of his contemporaries were recording for obscure European labels, Braxton signed with Arista, which gave him the budget to hire for the first time a large ensemble. "Cut Three" is the third track on side 1 of Braxton's first Arista LP, Creative Orchestra Music 1976. The official title, according to the LP sleeve, is the following bit of geometry:

Cut Three, as Francis Davis described it, is "a Midwestern circus march," complete with honking tubas and a glockenspiel. For a minute or so, all seems well--it's the sort of rousing march a band would perform on a village green or beer garden somewhere. Then, as much of the ensemble gets stuck playing an oompah figure over and over, three abrasive soloists emerge--the trumpeter Leo Smith "playing only those trumpet tones of no use in a march" (Giddins), the trombonist George Lewis and at last Braxton himself on clarinet, buzzing around the players like a hornet. And suddenly, order is restored, the sun comes out, the band marches off.

Recorded in New York in February 1976; on Creative Orchestra Music 1976, which was released briefly on CD in the '90s but can only be had for ridiculous sums today. The LP is pretty easy to find on Ebay, as I can attest.

Why do people go to movies like Jaws, The Exorcist or Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS? So they can get beaten over the head with baseball bats, have their nerves wrenched while electrodes are being stapled to their spines, and be generally brutalized once every fifteen minutes or so (the time between the face falling out of the bottom of the sunk boat and the guy's bit-off leg hitting the bottom of the ocean). That is what today, is commonly understood as entertainment, as fun, as art even! So they've got a lot of nerve landing on Lou [Reed] for Metal Machine Music. At least here there' s no fifteen minutes of bullshit padding between brutalizations. Anybody who got off on The Exorcist should like this record. It's certainly far more moral a product.

Lester Bangs, "The Greatest Album Ever Made," Creem, March 1976.

Guston, The Pit.

Max Romeo, born in 1947 in St D'Acre, Jamaica, first got attention for lascivious tracks like "Wet Dream" (which Romeo once claimed was about a leaky roof, in a lame bid to appease British censors).

Yet by 1972, Romeo had begun writing doom-tinged songs, inspired in great part by the violent election battle between the JLP Party (which had run Jamaica since its independence) and the socialist, Rastafarian PNP Party, which Romeo supported. The PNP's victory in '72 presaged an even more chaotic, vicious fight for power in 1976.

This election, during which Jamaica descended into virtual civil war, produced some of the finest reggae singles of the era--Culture's "Two Sevens Clash," Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves," Leroy Smart's "Ballistic Affair"--in which Rastafarian apocalyptic beliefs were infused with street-level reporting on the violence.

Romeo contributed as well, his finest track of the period being "Sipple Out Deh," a masterful Lee "Scratch" Perry production in which Romeo's vocals were supported by a colossus of tense rhythms. Romeo came to Perry with a lyric about how it was "dread out there," which Perry suggested should be changed to "sipple out deh" (it's slippery out there). This great Perry site marvelously describes the original mix: "Romeo's vocal sounds as if he's standing in a giant tin can, the backing vocals shimmer with ghostly echo, and the rhythm guitar sounds like a match being struck over and over again."

When Island Records head Chris Blackwell heard it, he gave Perry the go-ahead to record an entire album with Romeo. But the Island single version of "Sipple Out Deh" was retitled "War Ina Babylon," and the mix was altered dramatically, with Romeo's vocal recorded far more conventionally.

Recorded in Kingston; on War Ina Babylon (though I think that just has the remix, am not sure where "Sipple Out Deh" is).

Propaganda poster denouncing the Gang of Four

Boz Scaggs, born in Canton, Ohio, in 1944, had a musical career that could have doubled as a Rolling Stone-approved "history of rock": he started out at the University of Wisconsin, playing in rock & roll and blues bands with his friend Steve Miller, then went to London just in time for Beatlemania, then hit San Francisco at the peak of psychedelia. After catching the attention of Jann Wenner, Scaggs got signed to Atlantic and then Columbia, where he made a series of well-received but middling-selling rock/soul records.

But in '76, Scaggs broke through with an album perfectly poised for the times--a record of pure suggestion, rewarding its listeners' good taste, indulging in soul, disco, rock or ballads without committing to any of them. Silk Degrees is the '70s Los Angeles corporate sound at its peak, impeccably produced by Joe Wissert and performed by the studio mandarins who would soon form the group Toto. From it came a number of hits, including "We're All Alone" and "Georgia."

"Lowdown," however, is the album's highlight. The musicians, drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist David Hungate, keyboardist David Paich and guitarist Fred Tackett, all wrote their own parts, then played live while Scaggs provided a guide vocal, nailing it in three takes. Hungate's rolling, snapping bass lines, the centerpiece of the song, were inspired by the Meters.

Recorded in Los Angeles; on Silk Degrees, one of those records that every household seemed to own in the late '70s, if my childhood was remotely typical.

The Mardi Gras Indians are a still-obscure American cultural institution. The Indians, who generally are black men from New Orleans' inner city neighborhoods, are the secret Mardi Gras tradition, a once-violent, exuberant parade that emerged when blacks were often unable to march in the mainstream Mardi Gras events early in the 20th Century. The association with American Indians--the leader of each "tribe" is called the Big Chief--was a tribute to the Indians' assistance to blacks escaping slavery.

The awesome Home of the Groove provided earlier this year a thumbnail sketch of the tribe known as the Wild Tchoupitoulas, who recorded an album for Island Records in 1976:

"George Landry, aka Big Chief Jolly of the Wild Tchoupitoulas from Uptown New Orleans, was the Neville brothers’ uncle and a big inspiration to them. Most of the tracks are his compositions, based on traditional Mardi Gras Indian songs and featuring their often cryptic chants combining words from various languages of their heritage. With a groove that’s guaranteed to make you move, [it] goes back to the days when African-American groups masking as Indians actually did injury-causing battle with each other as they’d meet on the streets Mardi Gras day. By the 1950’s, those conflicts had become ritualized competitions between “tribes” to see who could make and display the most elaborate, beautiful suits (costumes). But, in their songs you will still hear references to “gangs”, “the battleground”, “won't bow down”, “get the hell out the way”, and other confrontational subject matter...

Now, in post-diluvian New Orleans, this tradition may die out, as its neighborhoods have been destroyed

The Wild Tchoupitoulas LP was recorded in New Orleans and produced by Allen Toussiant, with backing by the Meters, and support vocals by the Neville Brothers: in short, this is the essential New Orleans record of the past thirty years.

Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the hobby market?

Almost a year ago [we] developed Altair BASIC...The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however: 1) most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) the amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the times spent on BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?...Most directly, the thing you do is theft.

I would appreciate letters from anyone who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.

Bill Gates, general partner of Micro-Soft, "open letter to computer hobbyists," 3 February 1976.

Oldenberg, Clothespin.

For whatever reason, I've never liked much of the folk music of the '60s, the mainstream stuff in particular--Baez, Judy Collins, Ian and Sylvia, Peter, Paul & Mary, etc. I know these records have a great deal of meaning to many people, especially those alive at the time, but there's perhaps a cultural barrier preventing me from enjoying them.

However, for what it's worth, I love much of what the folkies did in the '70s. Perhaps it's a sense that the spotless idealism has given way to a harder sense of reality, that some folks seemed to recover their senses of humor, that a growing realization that things were not working out to plan resulted in a heightened sharpness of observation. Joni Mitchell and John Prine's '70s masterpieces like Court and Spark or Sweet Revenge, for example, seem to embody this change.

Like all sons of famous fathers, Arlo Guthrie has mainly lived in his old man's shadow (was Jean Renoir the only one to escape this curse?). Yet Guthrie, who started out as the happy face of hippiedom, the gentle alternative to the histrionic likes of Jerry Rubin, made a number of fine, underrated records in the '70s in which he balanced protest songs (like "Victor Jara," an ode to the slain Chilean singer) with quieter human observations.

"Grocery Blues" is a goofy satire in which Arlo takes the kids down to the grocery store and finds that every act he makes, including keeping the freezer door open too long, now has a cost. At last, he grabs the kids and flees, declaring that "I don't mind no woman's lib/But if my woman don't want to go down to the store/the family isn't gonna eat no more."

On Amigo, one of his best records. Recorded in North Hollywood in June 1976.

"The '70s were low on glory and short on wonder. Utopian hopes that beguiled many of us for the century's first seven decades soured, curdled, became tarnished and generally turned ugly in the '70s. It became clear that what was looming on the horizon was not the city of gold but the river of shit." Peter Stampfel, 1991.

Peter Stampfel was a revivalist goof who was part of the '60s Village icons the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs. Jefferey Frederick was a rising folk singer who by the mid-'70s was heading the Clamtones, the best bar band in Portland, Oregon. Michael Hurley was a classic American eccentric, a sort of folk counterpart to Captain Beefheart.

For two days in a recording studio in Boston, the three men, who had worked with each other over the years, and a few other musicians came together to make a record called Have Moicy! Interviewed some twenty years later, Hurley seemed amazed by its power: "So many people have told me that they love it, it changed their life, it turned them on to old-time asskickin' hillbilly, it led them to a superior love life, it brought them much wealth and still remains a favorite after 20 years or 10. Everytime I listen to it, it sounds more together; it sounds like a bunch of loonies too."

A collection of tall tales, vignettes, and stomps, and populated by bank robbers, hash-smoking celebrants, barroom brawlers and talking newts, Have Moicy! is a record whose joys can't be described, only imbibed. Stampfel's yelping masterpieces like the teenage serenade "Griselda" sit alongside Hurley compositions like "Sweet Lucy" and "Driving Wheel", while the smooth, sardonic Frederick (who died far too young in 1997) offers tracks like "Robbin' Banks" ("you tell the teller thanks").

I couldn't choose just one, so enjoy Hurley's drunken travelogue "Sweet Lucy" and the truly essential "Jealous Daddy's Death Song," in which a dying man curses the guys who are going to bed his nubile wife as soon as he's in the grave, as sung by Modals' guitarist Paul Presti (with Stampfel on backing vox). A couplet from each:

I got on the phone, my mama spoke,
"Sorry son, but your mama's broke."


I know you can't wait until I'm dead
to try to drag her off to your waterbed

On Rounder's Have Moicy!.

Tanner's Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000.

As time creeps onward at its petty pace, it seems that Joan Armatrading will be marked as one of the most influential musicians of her time. She was never a huge popular success, but her disciples--Tracy Chapman, Ray LaMontagne, India.Arie, etc.--have ruled in her name. Neo-folk radio stations (which are ever-popular up here in New England) simply ought to rename their format "the children of Joan Armatrading."

Armatrading, born in 1950 in St. Kitts but raised in Birmingham, UK, began making records in the early '70s, but her breakthrough was her self-titled 1976 record, from which "Down to Zero" is one of the best-known songs. Inspired in part, to my ears at least, by Van Morrison, it's a compelling track sung by Armatrading with command and dignity.

On Joan Armatrading; Armatrading's 2007 tour dates.

The Real Thing
, the greatest Philadelphia Soul band to ever come out of the UK, had its origins in Liverpool. Lead singer Eddie Amoo's first gig was in 1962, serving as an interim act between Beatles sets at the Cavern. Amoo was in a doo-wop R&B group called the Chants, which, like most other black UK acts, was often recorded and marketed as if they were a white pop band, which proved frustrating and meant the Chants never had any decent material. By the early '70s, the Chants were mainly playing cabarets.

The British songwriter Ken Gold, who loved soul music, had been frustrated in his attempts to find any UK acts willing or able to perform his R&B and soul material, so at last he went to the U.S., placing songs with Aretha Franklin and Jackie Wilson. He triumphantly returned to the UK and again found no one interested in his songs, including a newly-written piece Gold thought was a sure-fire hit.

By '75, Amoo had left the Chants and was working with his younger brother Chris, Ray Lake and Dave Smith in a new group called The Real Thing, and their luck turned at last. Tony Hall, a classic British theatre impresario, began managing them, and Hall, looking for decent material for his group, got in touch with Ken Gold and asked if he had anything. The result was The Real Thing's take on Gold's "You to Me Are Everything," a lovely pop-soul record that became an enormous UK hit in 1976, the first number-one hit by a black British group.

And naturally, the single flopped in the U.S., only hitting #64 on the pop charts. Released in June 1976; on Very Best Of.

Punk rock, American style, began as an excavation, with a generation of bored kids digging up the pop music that had been buried by FM radio and album-oriented rock--Phil Spector singles, surf rave-ups, girl-group hits, garage rock LPs. Taking these records (and the sado/masochism, violence and general trashiness that was beneath the surface of a lot of them) as their cues, the new bands remade the past in their own image.

"X Offender" was the first single released by the New York band Blondie, who likely need no introduction. Chris Stein, guitarist and longtime companion to singer Debbie Harry, described the song as being "vaguely biographical--a homage to Spector." Originally called "Sex Offender" and produced by Richard Gottehrer (who had been part of the Strangeloves), it's a giddy ode to bondage, fetishism, policemen fantasies and other joys.

Recorded in New York and released in May 1976 as Private Stock 097. On Definitive Story of CBGB.

The Ramones (who really, really need no introduction) were Blondie's counterweight--goony where Blondie was glamorous, brutal where Blondie was campy. Queens' finest cultural export, the band formed in 1974 and made the Bowery club CBGB's into, for a time, a stage for the entire world.

"I don't get the Ramones," a high school friend once said (one who was into Rick Wakeman and Marillion records, mind). "It all sounds like it could have been recorded in a garage somewhere." Which, I suppose, was the best compliment the band could have ever received.

"Listen to My Heart," a track in which the Ramones come close to their bubblegum roots, is one of the lesser-played tracks off their first record The Ramones, which was recorded in New York between February 2-19 for $6,200, and released in April 1976.

Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone have all died over the past six years, which really is one of the more depressing facts to recount.

Brown, The Entry of Christ into Chicago in 1976.

For me, the greatest group of the Seventies is a trio of jazz musicians whose work, thirty years later, remains almost utterly ignored. When I was collecting their records in the late '90s, I once thanked a fellow who sold me an LP, as the thing was in near-mint condition. "Yeah, that's the great thing about those avant-garde jazz records--no one ever played them, so they're all in sweet shape," he wrote back.

Air was Henry Threadgill, who, like Anthony Braxton, could play nearly everything under the sun, ranging from the alto saxophone to a device he called the "hubcaphone," a sort of gamelan made out of hanging hubcaps; the bassist Fred Hopkins, the true heir to Charles Mingus; and the brilliant drummer Steve McCall. All three were born in Chicago, and all became affilated with the AACM in the '60s.

By 1975, the trio, along with a lot of their Chicago colleagues, had moved to New York, where the jazz loft scene was raging. In the days before NYC's gentrification, places like TriBeCa were wastelands in which anyone could rent a huge loft for peanuts, and so these lofts became jamming sites, recording studios and rehearsal halls for jazz musicians who in some cases had nowhere else to go.

Air began recording in '75, and "Midnight Sun," off their second record in 1976, shows what the band was routinely capable of. While Threadgill's alto sax playing is compelling, it's Hopkins and McCall (both of whom died in the late '90s) who give the track its guts. Hopkins' bass comes to dominate the performance, doubling with Threadgill the six-note figure that serves as the piece's motif, then repeating the figure while Threadgill solos. Hopkins' solo, supplemented by cannonfire from McCall, sounds like a giant snapping ropes.

Recorded in New York on July 15, 1976; on the Why Not LP Air Raid.

The state of the Air catalog is pretty pitiful. The first two records, Air Song and Air Raid, have never been released on CD, while 1977's Air Time appeared briefly (I saw it in Tower Records once, though it might have been a bootleg); their first major-label record, 1978's Open Air Suit, was never put out on CD, and 1979's Air Lore, their finest record, appears on disc once in a blue moon. Needless to say, the final records from the early 1980s are out of print also. If ever anyone was in need of a good CD anthology, this band is just crying out for it.

"Someday a real rain will come"

*edited, see comments.

Monday, November 06, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Joel Grey, Wilkommen.
Albert Ayler, Our Prayer/Spirits Rejoice.
John Lennon, He Said He Said (She Said She Said).
The Other Half, Mr. Pharmacist.
France Gall, Les Sucettes.
The Walker Brothers, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore.
Willie Bobo, Fried Neck Bones and Some Homefries.
Howard Tate, Ain't Nobody Home.
Bobby Lee Trammell, If You Ever Get It Once.
Loretta Lynn, You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man).
Jackie Wilson, Whispers (Gettin' Louder).
Steve Reich, Come Out.
Hopeton Lewis, Take It Easy.
The Four Tops, Standing in the Shadows of Love.
Merle Haggard and the Strangers, I'm A Lonesome Fugitive.
Bob Dylan and the Hawks, Like a Rolling Stone (live, Royal Albert Hall).

Luminaries come and go faster than a speeding bullet. Fads and fashions flame up and burn out in a week. The last six years have been so filled with places, people, and things you have forgotten about that this seems a good time to call for a halt. We have had enough! Enough!

And so we benevolently announce that the Sixties are over. Let six years be a decade. Let the next four be a vacation.

David Newman and Robert Benton, Esquire, August 1966.

"The 1960s," the most self-mythical decade of the 20th Century, seems impossible to reduce to a mere dozen or so songs. (And I love a great deal of the music of the period, despite the fact that, as someone born just after the whole shebang expired, I have, for much of my life, endured the previous generation's endless fascination with itself. My favorite example is the time, during an argument on a message board years ago, when a self-described Boomer said something like, "Your generation has piercings. Ours had peer-sings.")

Anyhow, 1966 is the decade's hub--as Peter Fonda's corrupted ex-hippie character says in Soderbergh's The Limey, talking to his troublingly young girlfriend about the lost decade: "It was just '66 and early '67. That's all there was."

So: Wilkommen. Bienvenue. Welcome.

Kander and Ebb's Cabaret is, as you likely know, set in Weimar Germany just before the Nazi takeover. The host of the cabaret in which the play is set is only known as the Emcee, performed on stage and in the 1972 film by Joel Grey. In "Wilkommen," the opening number of the play, the Emcee welcomes his audience to a spectacle that could sum up the '60s as well as it does Weimar--"So? Life is disappointing? Forget it--in here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful!"

Ian Buruma, writing recently on Weimar, said of the Emcee: What is so brilliant and disturbing about Grey's act is its air of boundless cynicism. Nothing is real about his character. He is utterly without feeling...he trades in sexual innuendo but is sexless himself. He is a hollow man who knows that survival rests on people's worst instincts...

Cabaret premiered in New York on November 20, 1966. Find on original cast recording.

The saxophonist Albert Ayler, a hierophant of free jazz, and his brother, the trumpeter Don Ayler, came from Cleveland, and during the early 1960s served in the jazz avant-garde, mainly playing small clubs and recording LPs for the then-obscure label ESP. While Ayler's music seemed cacophonic to some listeners at the time (there is a legend that "jazz experts" told the BBC to erase a live Ayler recording because his music was so bad), Ayler disagreed: "We are trying to rejuvenate the old New Orleans feeling that music can be played collectively and with free form." The Aylers looked back, before Jelly Roll Morton and his tight arrangements, or Louis Armstrong's cult of the soloist, to a half-mythical music in which all players could solo simultaneously, while still conversing. Theirs was a volatile music, a kiln in which anything could be fused--ragtime melodies, anthems, prayers.

Gary Giddins, as usual, sums it up: "[Ayler] scared the hell out of people, yet radiated a wildly optimistic passion. The optimism was manic...he never found the acceptance here that he won in Europe—some folks figured he was putting everyone on, among them true believers who were mortified by his later au courant compromises. Yet even in flower-child mode, he carried a cello and howled at the moon; he was never cut out for the Fillmore."

Along with Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" from Woodstock in 1969, Ayler's pairing of two of his original themes--"Our Prayer" and "Spirits Rejoice"-- in a performance in Lörrach, Germany, toward the end of 1966 is the closest that a musical performance came to encapsulating the violence and chaos of the time. Ayler and Hendrix seem like shadowy reflections of each other--one world famous, the other a cult figure, but both veterans, both re-inventors of their instruments who had to leave the country to find their audiences, both dead prematurely in 1970.

"Our Prayer/Spirits Rejoice" begins with a funeral march and erupts into a bugle call to wake the dead--bits of "La Marseillaise" are in there, as well as "Maryland, My Maryland." It's one of my absolute favorite recordings--a sublime, beautiful, shattering work.

Recorded by South Western German Radio on November 7, 1966 with Michel Samson (v), William Folwell (b) and Beaver Harris (d). On the now out-of-print Lörrach, Paris 1966.

Ruscha, Standard Station.

I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few and leave men by the thousands and millions smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism in the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For in a day when Sputniks and Geminis are dashing through outer space, and the guided ballistic missiles are causing highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can ultimately win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at Illinois Wesleyan University, 10 February 1966.

It is March, or April 1966: the man wandering through his Weybridge mansion doesn't really know. He sleepily shifts from room to room, occasionally stopping to pick up something left on the floor--a box with a winking electronic eye, a plastic monkey's head, a crayon drawing by his son, who he hears running a few rooms away.

Passing a window, he looks out onto the grounds, where a pair of gardeners are shearing a hedge. Is it dawn? Teatime? He's tired in any case. At last he finds the small walk-in closet that has become his workroom and sits on a stool, tuning his guitar absently. He steadies the tape recorder upon a stack of books, and turns it on.

A phrase has been in his head--the summer before, taking a break before Hollywood Bowl shows, the Beatles were hanging out in a rented mansion off Mulholland Drive. Peter Fonda had showed up with the Byrds, and after everyone but Paul had taken acid, Fonda was sitting on the couch talking nonsense. Something about the time he shot himself accidentally as a kid and his heart had stopped three separate times. "I know what it's like to be dead, man," said with the stoner's irritating conviction.

So John Lennon begins playing, the same chords again and again, trying to return the phrase to life. "He said...I know what it's like to be dead....I said.." What did I say back to him? Nothing. No, wait, 'Who put all that shit in your head?'. Fonda had lifted up his shirt then, to show his old wounds. A few more strums and then, gone. Tape machine off.

Lennon, happy to have a bit of a challenge, keeps working at it over the next few days. He tries changing the key; he slows it down; he stresses the first two syllables ("HE SAID...I know what it's like to be dead"). At some point, Lennon changes the pronoun--"she said" has more portent, a voice of someone who has gone beyond the veil, a high priestess of acid. Lennon drives on, at last filling in the first verse--B-flat to A-flat to E-flat, using his old rejoinder to Fonda, "Who put all that crap in your head?" And then, tape recorder off again, for good.

"I'd like to see a butterfly fit into a chrysalis case after it spreads its wings"

A few months later, one day in June, in fact the last day of the sessions for the Beatles' latest record, Lennon introduces the song as a last-minute addition. The band spends all day rehearsing it. The rhythm track requires three takes: Ringo in particular gives an inspired performance, echoing Harrison's lead guitar with some sharp kicks during the last line of the verse, and deftly handling the bridge with its unstable time structure, moving from 3/4 to 4/4 time apparently at a whim (much more info here). Then Lennon overdubs his lead vocal. The track is mixed, mastered, placed as the last song of Side 1 of an LP that ships in early August, just as Beatles records are being burned and stomped to pieces in the southern United States in reaction to Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" quote.

So a half-remembered phrase, a daydream sketch, now heads out into the world, to be consumed by untold millions, some of whom seek prophecies and clues in the spinning grooves that now contain the song.

The "She Said" demos have not been released officially, but can be found on bootlegs like Revolving. The official track, recorded in London on June 21, 1966, is on Revolver.

While some popular histories have it that until the British Invasion, American rock & roll was in the grave, that is not quite the case--in the early '60s, there was a strong local scene in nearly every decent-sized city, making incidental music for dances, hot rod races, beach parties and roller skate derbies. The main requirements were speed, loudness, an ability to learn new hits quickly and a strong, if sloppy beat. What the Beatles, and later the Stones and the Yardbirds, did was galvanize these garage bands to be more ambitious than they ever intended: in some cases, this meant performing letter-perfect imitations of British rock (the Knickerbockers' "Lies" being a prime example), or trying to reclaim the electrified American blues that the UK bands were playing, or just pretending to have taken drugs, or perhaps actually taking drugs.

1966 was the year it all came together…out of the British beat, the folk scene, blues and everything else that was now on the table, a strange alchemy took place. A kind of pure garage rock emerged, snotty and arrogant, fueled by fuzz and frustration,” Greg Shaw.

“Mr. Pharmacist” was the first single released by a Los Angeles-based band called The Other Half. This track is a garage masterpiece, with a sneering punk vocal by Jeff Nowlen, blunt drug references and, of course, the required manic rave up--the middle section in which the band thrashes away as if on fire. (Lead guitar is by Randy Holden, who later joined Blue Cheer).

Of course, the garage spirit soon got corrupted and professionalized, so that a decade later, a new generation of amateurs would have to start all over again. The Fall, for example, laid claim to "Mr. Pharmacist" and turned it into one of their best-known tracks. The original was recorded in Los Angeles and released in September 1966 by GNP Crescendo. On Nuggets.

Godard filming Masculin-Feminin

France Gall
was a cute, blonde French moppet who was adopted by the songwriter/performer Serge Gainsbourg to be his vehicle to reach the teenage masses. The partnership worked wonders--Gall's version of Gainsbourg's "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" won the 1965 Eurovision competition, while their collaboration on "Laisse Tomber Les Filles" created one of the finest pop singles of the decade.

However, unfortunately for Gall, her mentor was also a bit of a pervert. So in 1966, Gall received Gainsbourg's latest composition, a song ostensibly about a young girl's love for sucking lollipops, but whose lyrics, when listened to with even a hint of a dirty mind, appeared to be an unabashed ode to, well, something else:

While the creamy sugar
Flavored with anise
Sinks in Annie's throat,
She's in heaven.

Poor France didn't catch on, even when during the video for the track, she had to perform with dancing phalli and models deep-throating lollies. When she eventually found out, she was understandably angered and ended her partnership with Gainsbourg, who went on to whole new dimensions of sleaze.

That said, "Les Sucettes" is a marvelous piece of pop music whose pleasures ought not to be diminished by the sordidness of its origins. On Les Sucettes.

The producer Phil Spector once called his singles "little symphonies for the kids", and by 1966, this style of ornate, baroque studio pop--filled with booming drums, reverb all over the place, choirs, instruments stacked upon each other like folding chairs--was at its peak. (You could argue that the end of monophonic sound helped kill the style, as something like "Be My Baby" simply doesn't work in stereo).

The Walker Brothers, a trio founded in 1964, were actually not brothers, and were an American group whose greatest successes came in the UK. Indeed, for a brief moment after the Beatles stopped touring but before Sgt. Pepper was released, the Walker Brothers inherited their popularity, issuing a few colossal hit singles. The finest was their reworking of a flopped Frankie Valli track, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," turning it into a Spector-esque pop cathedral of sound, anchored by lead singer Scott Walker's baritone.

Released in March 1966. On Portrait.

Porter, The Mirror.

Willie Bobo, born in Spanish Harlem in 1934, had become one of the top jazz and Latin percussionists by the late 1950s--his specialties were the congas and timbales. He worked with everyone from Tito Puente to the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quartet to Mary Lou Williams, who allegedly gave him the nickname "Bobo" (his real last name was Correa).

By the mid-'60s, Bobo was leading his own group and recording a number of LPs for Verve that offered a mix of Latin soul, boogaloo, mambo and salsa. A prime cut from his 1966 LP Uno, Dos, Tres was "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries," a tune that Carlos Santana soon grabbed.

Recorded either on January 22 or April 25-26, 1966, with the percussionists Osvaldo Martinez (who provides the guiro), Victor Pantoja, Carlos "Patato" Valdez and Jose Manguel, while Bobby Brown is on multiple saxophones. On Willie Bobo's Finest Hour.

I like to think that 70 years ago, roughly the same number of spectators assembled in the Grand Café as are gathered here tonight. Our slight advantage is that at this moment, 10.35 in the evening, some 400 million others are doing exactly the same the world over. What are they doing, whether in aeroplanes, in front of television sets, in film societies or in the local cinemas? They are drinking words. They are fascinated by images. Like Alice in front of Cocteau’s beloved looking glass, they are, in other words, wonderstruck.

The cinema, in fact–-and hence, doubtless, its popular appeal–-is a little like the Third Estate: something which aspires to be everything. But let us not forget the film is nothing if it is not seen, in other words if it is never projected...

Here, too, in this neighborhood cinema, children come each Sunday to match their youth against that of the cinema’s masterpieces. And were Proust to happen by, he would have no difficulty in recognizing Albertine and Gilberte in the young girls sprawling in the front row, thus adding a new chapter to Time Regained.

Jean-Luc Godard, speech at the Louis Lumière Retrospective, Cinémathèque Française, 12 January 1966.

Howard Tate, a soul singer in whose '60s records “the basic Al Green vocal concept arrived about three years early” (Dave Marsh), was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1939. In classic soul fashion, Tate began as a church singer, working with Garnet Mimms in a gospel group, and was singing R&B by the early '60s. Mimms introduced Tate to Jerry Ragovoy, who signed Tate for Verve Records and set him up with some of New York's top session musicians, including Paul Griffin and Chuck Rainey.

One of the first results was the fantastic single “Ain’t Nobody Home,” written by Ragovoy and Mort Shuman. It is soul at a bedrock level, with Tate knowing exactly when to push and when to ride the groove, while spicing the track with falsetto leaps.

Recorded in New York on April 22, 1966. On the out-of-print Get It While You Can. Howard Tate is still touring.

Warhol, Self Portrait.

Bobby Lee Trammell, born in Arkansas in 1940, was a rockabilly maniac with a bad streak of luck. In 1956, after Carl Perkins listened to him sing, Trammell headed to Memphis to see Sam Phillips, who judged that the kid was too raw and who told him to keep rehearsing. Unwilling to wait, Trammell went to California, where he managed to record a few singles. Rick Nelson loved the first, "Shirley Lee," but Trammell turned Nelson down when Rick asked him if he had any new compositions. Trammell also continually got in trouble with concert promoters for inciting his audiences to riot.

By the mid-1960s, still looking for his break, Trammell was billing himself as "the First American Beatle," and recording a number of singles for tiny labels like Sims and Alley. For the latter, sometime in 1966, Trammell offered a burst of pure, wild rock & roll called "If You Ever Get It Once," in which the old Sun Records spirit suddenly reappeared. The single went nowhere, unfortunately, but Trammell kept on the road. When he at last retired in the 1990s, Trammell wound up serving for a few years in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

On Arkansas Twist.

Arbus, A Young Brooklyn family going on a Sunday outing.

Loretta Lynn, born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, in 1935, lived a life very much like a country song--see the film Coal Miner's Daughter for the details. The heir of Kitty Wells and Jean Shepard, Lynn, by the mid-'60s, had begun recording songs hilarious in their candor and blunt in their attitude toward the typical country subjects of drunkenness and adultery.

A typical Lynn heroine has no use for cheating husbands or, worse, their trashy mistresses--"You Ain't Woman Enough (to Take My Man)" is a fine example, sung by Lynn with grit and sass and enveloped in Owen Bradley's seamless Nashville Sound producton.

Released in September 1966. On You Ain't Woman Enough.

Jackie Wilson's "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" is the start of a wave of great singles recorded by Wilson in the late 1960s, the finest perhaps being the ebullient "Higher and Higher." "Whispers" is an odd beast--its ominous tone and hints at paranoia are undercut by Wilson singing, with all seriousness, "Peaches!"

But forget the lyric. The core of this track, besides Wilson's typically phenomenal singing, is the fantastic rhythm section: Motown regulars Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson, delivering a propulsive groove that just slams the song home.

Recorded on August 8, 1966 and released in September; on Greatest Hits.

In 1964, a black youth named Daniel Hamm was arrested and convicted after the Harlem riots for a murder he didn't commit. Hamm had been beaten during the riot, but as the police were ignoring his pleas to be taken to the hospital, Hamm, to convince them, squeezed one of his bruises until he bled. In a tape recording made later, Hamm said, simply, "I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them."

Two years later, the composer Steve Reich, who had been commissioned for a benefit funding the retrial for the Harlem Six (as Hamm's group of defendants were known), went through ten hours worth of tapes related to the riots, testaments of defendants, police, mothers, witnesses. "Everyone you could imagine," Reich said later. "This one phrase seemed emblematic. The speech-melody is everything. It then generates all kinds of variations upon itself melodically and on the meaning of the word..."

Reich re-taped the fragment "come out to show them" on two channels. The channels quickly slip out of sync, echoing and reverberating, the voices splitting into four, then eight, becoming a canon of sorts, until the words become incomprehensible, human speech reduced to its most basic tones and rhythms, as though offering a sonic portrait of how an infant's mind learns speech.

On Early Works.

"Rocksteady" was a transitional phase of Jamaican music, serving as the vestibule between ska, the music of Jamaica's early independence years, and reggae. Where ska was harsh, with a demanding skanking rhythm, rocksteady was slower in tempo, with a more supple groove (the bass, for instance, moves from its old role of simply providing a bottom end towards becoming a lead instrument, hitting on the off-beat and anchoring the guitar). It was the music for a new generation of country kids filling up the Kingston slums--the rude boys.

Hopeton Lewis' first session with the producer Winston "Merritone" Blake resulted in this single, which reportedly sold 10,000 copies in a weekend. It's perhaps the quintessential rocksteady track, with minimal instrumentation (no horns, for example), an irresistable groove, a soulful vocal by Lewis and a lyric that dwells on nothing but the present.

On This is Reggae Music.

Daniel Ellsberg in South Vietnam, 1966


Handmade posters by South Vietnamese well-wishers, waved at Lyndon Johnson during his two-hour, 24-minute visit to South Vietnam, 17 October 1966.

The tiny Vietnamese, whose hips are no wider than a Texan's thigh, gazes up, always up, at the phenomenon, and somewhere behind his eyes there is wonder. He sees his little towns spread and shake with violent life…in places like Pleiku and Ankhe half a dozen saloons open up every week. Bar girls wiggle into town, dressed at midday as for midnight. It is rather like the set for one of the old style, clear-cut Westerns. You catch yourself expecting to see John Wayne ride in any moment.

Anthony Carthew, "Vietnam is like an Oriental Western," New York Times Magazine, 23 January 1966.

"Standing In the Shadows of Love" is the middle work of a trilogy of masterful pop records made by some core Motown players--the Four Tops and the production/songwriting team of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland.

In 1966 and 1967 the Tops and Holland/Dozier/Holland made a series of psychological thrillers, in which lead singer Levi Stubbs seems to be staring into the abyss. The first, “Reach Out I’ll Be There," is ultimately redeemed by its message of friendship and hope, but its sequel, “Standing in the Shadows of Love," just slips into darkness. As the Tops themselves say, “it may come today, it might come tomorrow/but it's for sure I ain’t got nothin’ but sorrow.” The last of the trio, 1967’s "Bernadette," a masterpiece of betrayal and obsession, finds Stubbs going further into the labyrinth.

A typical Motown recording from its golden age, "Shadows"' production and arrangement are brilliant--listen to how the track is crafted to keep surprising the ear while also keeping you on the dance floor. James Jamerson's bass serves as a suspension bridge, Benny Benjamin offers drum salvos, and the Tops sing a fatalistic acceptance of despair, while the track is flavored with bits like the odd 'clip-clop' rhythm at the beginning, the bongos appearing out of nowhere during the middle eight, or the ominous flute high in the mix at certain moments.

Released November 28, 1966; on Ultimate Collection.

Friedlander, New York City.

Merle Haggard, born in Bakersfield, California, in 1937, grew up learning how to play music and be a thief. The latter ultimately got him sent to Folsom Prison, where he began to turn himself around. By 1962, he had begun recording with Tally Records, and a few years later, he had landed at Capitol, where he became, after Hank Williams, the most influential singer-songwriter in postwar country music.

Haggard, along with Buck Owens, is said to typify the "Bakersfield sound"--the rougher alternative to the smooth country-pop being crafted in Nashville. As with most things, there's some truth and some legend to the claim, as not all Nashville tracks were soft, while some of Haggard's material is as polished as country gets.

"I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," also known as "The Fugitive," is one of my favorite Haggard songs, masterfully sung and impeccably played. And "Mama used to pray my crops would fail" is probably the best country lyric ever written.

Recorded August 1, 1966 and released in November--it would become a #1 country hit. On The Lonesome Fugitive.

Marden, The Dylan Painting

In the early months of 1966, Bob Dylan spent much of his time befuddling and enraging his fans. In New York on an off week, he went on the radio to angrily belittle kids who were wondering why he wasn't singing protest songs anymore, and in the spring, he embarked upon a chaotic Australian/European tour.

By the time the tour hit the UK, in May 1966, the performances had become ritualized. The audience would sit absolutely reverent and silent during the first acoustic set, in which a stoned Dylan would trail through ten-minute renditions of songs (some, like "4th Time Around," yet to be released on LP). An intermission, and then Dylan would return with a group of Canadian rock & roll players and would be, at times, loudly booed, cursed, and harangued. The most infamous night came in Manchester, preserved on a set officially released a few years ago, when an outraged fan screamed "Judas!" between songs.

In retrospect, the whole situation seems bizarre, with both Dylan and his betrayed folkie fans starring in some improvised touring drama. Like a number of events in the '60s, it seemed a strange irruption of the medieval--a wild, unprovoked outpouring of spirit, like a sort of tarantism--into the modern world, but there was also the sense that everyone was putting on a show for television and the news magazines.

All we have left are the recordings.

This version of "Like a Rolling Stone" is the last tune of the penultimate performance of the tour, from the Royal Albert Hall on May 26, 1966. Dylan begins with something he had never done before--he introduces the band by name ("they're all poets," he adds.) Dylan keeps talking--he's obviously exhausted, possibly sick and near a nervous breakdown, offering just half-loops of thought: "If it comes out that way, it comes out that way." Or "This song here is dedicated to the Taj Mahal." At last, rallying himself, he thanks the crowd for its efforts, and kicks off.

This version of "Rolling Stone" has a weary majesty to it, a sense of climbing a mountain one last time. At times, it sounds like it may never end. But at last it does, and the band walks off. One last show, and Dylan would fly home, get in a motorcycle crash, retreat, regroup, and never quite make music like this again.

On bootlegs like The Genuine Royal Albert Hall Concerts.