Monday, December 10, 2007

A Century in Jumps (Slight Return)


Millie Jackson, If You're Not Back In Love By Monday.
Merle Haggard, A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today.
The Users, I'm In Love With Today.
Etoile de Dakar, Thiely.
Rose Royce, Do Your Dance.
John Cale, Memphis.
Philip Glass, Victor's Lament.
Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Perrine √Čtait Servante.
Anti Social, Traffic Lights.
Fox, Livin' Out My Fantasies.
Hank Jones Trio, Mona's Feeling Lonely.
Hot, Angel In Your Arms.
Air, G.v.E.
Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, Keep Me Turning.

I can't put my finger on it. I don't know exactly what is wrong. But something is very wrong with this country. Something has happened. And it is rotten. Young girls in high school are pregnant. People in parks get raped. Criminals, who are obviously guilty, are saved by all kinds of technicalities, all kinds of clever lawyers. And they go out and steal again. You know what I mean? And the judges, liberal judges, seem more interested in giving people their rights than doing justice...I am afraid to go out at night and so are most of my friends. So we sit at home and lock our doors. What's wrong? No wonder there's so much trouble with kids. Watch television all day--cops, robbers, murders, drug busts. What do we expect kids to do when this filth is on everyday?

Everybody talks about why the country produced Watergate and why defense contractors rob the government, and corporations don't give a damn about our rivers and streams. Everybody knows the answer but they don't want to talk about it. It makes America look rotten. The holy buck, that's why money, money...who cares about your neighbor or the consumer? America is the buck. Everyone is on the make, and why not? know the old capitalist saw, self-interest ultimately serves everyone. The cheapest product at the best price and all that stuff. Let's face it, we know it's a bunch of --Nobody believes any more that what's good for General Motors is good for America. What a laugh!

Excerpts from two callers on Boston talk radio, 1977, recorded and transcribed by Prof. Murray Levin in Talk Radio and the American Dream.

R&B and country music, or, to speak broadly, Southern black and white music, had had a quiet alliance for decades, inspiring everything from Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music to the Flying Burrito Brothers' take on "Dark End of the Street" to Al Green reviving Hank Williams. But by the late '70s, the musics were drifting apart, reflecting an estrangement in styles and a growing cultural separatism.

One last attempt to find common ground is Millie Jackson's take on Merle Haggard's "If We're Not Back in Love By Monday," itself a song about last-ditch reconciliations. Haggard's original is sung by a husband pushing his estranged wife to take a trip somewhere, leave the kids with the sitter, and try to work it out, mainly in bed. Jackson, however, removes herself from the game, only narrating--she's spoken to the couple and urges them to try and save their relationship. Jackson never reveals if she has a stake in the affair: maybe she's just a mutual friend, or a relative; maybe she stands to gain if the marriage fails.

And yet while Jackson gives a detailed itinerary of what the couple should be doing (room service, disco dancing), as she goes on, a mournfulness sinks into her singing. "Before you bury your love/just make sure you let it die" she says.

Released as Spring 175 c/w "A Little Taste of Outside Love," and also on the Ace LP Feelin' Bitchy.

And here's Haggard himself, sitting at the kitchen table after a long day at work, shuffling through a stack of bills, wondering when they put a lien on his life.

"A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today" was one of the last things Haggard recorded for Capitol, which left it in the can for almost two years; finally released in September 1977 as Capitol 4477 c/w "Blues Stay Away From Me"; on Lonesome Fugitive.

The Users have done only a handful of gigs and don't really have anything to raise them above the usual run of noisy kids. They play loud and fast, and the singer says "shit" as though his granny might be listening.

Review of the "Sick of You/I'm In Love With Today" single, Negative Reaction, 2 June 1977.

The Users--singer James Haight, bassist Bobby Kwok, guitarist Chris "Panic" Free and Andrew Bor on drums--had played a mere two shows before recording their first single, and even after playing (sporadically) for almost two years still didn't own any equipment. They managed to make one more single before falling apart in 1979.

"I'm In Love With Today" is rock & roll distilled to its basic ingredients, which, according to the Users, were "sex, drugs and frustration." Punk rock spat at the past while nicking most of its ideas from it, and saw no future ahead--it was vicious music of the present tense.

Released in June 1977 as Raw 1; on Raw Deal.

De Maria, The New York Earth Room

"Thiely" is dominated by the astonishing voice of the 18-year-old Youssou N'Dour: an unearthly, joyous wail, a muezzin's call.

The history of the Senegalese band Etoile de Dakar goes back to the nation's independence from France in 1960. A nightclub owner/promoter named Ibra Kasse assembled a local supergroup, recruiting members of the Guinea Band de Dakar (which played Latin-inspired music) and the guitarist-heavy Star Band de Senui. The combination, the Star Band de Dakar, performed rumbas infused with Senegalese rhythms, in particular the upright sabar drums.

The Star Band persisted in various incarnations until the late 1970s, when N'Dour, a prodigy who had been singing publicly since he was 12, joined them. Around this time the band was also amending its sound, using a small taba drum (also known as the "talking drum") to create a denser, polyrhythmic base.

In 1977, N'Dour bolted, forming a new offshoot group--Etoile de Dakar--with much of the Star Band's players. These included tama player Assane Thiam, guitarists Badou N'Diaye and Alpha Seyni Kante, Babacar Faye (percussion), Matar Gueye (sabar drums), Abdou Fall (timbales) and, backing N'Dour, the singers Alla Seck, Hadji Faye and Eric N'Doye. Embraced by a generation of young Senegalese delirious to have, in N'Dour, their own pop star, the band put out a series of cassettes that became the soundtrack of the late '70s in Senegal as well as much of Western Africa.

In the '80s, Etoile de Dakar would splinter again and N'Dour would move on to become a global pop figure, but tracks like "Thiely" preserve them forever at the peak of youth and unity. Recorded at the Jandeer Night Club, Dakar, Senegal; on Music In My Head.

Queen's Silver Jubilee, Southlakes, UK

Rose Royce's "Do Your Dance": a call for its listeners to get on the floor, offering the means through a few simple steps and a groove that simply demands a response, and carrying the DNA for three decades' worth of dance/hip-hop tracks in its genetic code.

Rose Royce was a Los Angeles-based studio group that began as Edwin Starr's backup band. Through Starr they met Norman Whitfield, who used them for a number of sessions in the early '70s, including the Undisputed Truth and the Temptations. Whitfield began putting together material for what was supposed to Rose Royce's debut LP, but what wound up being the soundtrack to Car Wash. The title track became the hit that put Rose Royce into the pantheon of '70s official pop cultural memories, as regurgitated on VH1 specials and so forth.

"Do Your Dance" was a follow-up single in '77, meant to show the band wasn't a Hollywood fluke; thirty years on, it's a pretty convincing argument. Rose Royce was lead singer Rose Norwalt, Kenny Copeland (trumpet, vox), Henry Garner (d), Terral "Terry" Santiel (congas), Lequeint "Duke" Jobe (b), Michael Moore (sax), Freddie Dunn (trumpet) and Michael Nash (keybs).

Released as Whitfield 8440 as a two-sided single (this is an edit, sadly--try to find the nine-minute version); on Very Best.

What the hell is John Cale doing to Chuck Berry's "Memphis"? Turning one of Berry's most poignant songs into a guitar grind with the occasional squalling viola. Where Berry sounded numbed, telling in painstaking detail the hard facts of his divorce, Cale sounds deranged, to the point where you know the operator is calling the cops as soon as he hangs up. A friend, hearing this for the first time, asked if it was Grand Funk Railroad, which Cale may have taken as a compliment.

Released on the "Animal Justice" EP, Illegal IL 003, in September 1977 c/w "Chicken Shit" and "Hedda Gabler"; later collected on Sabotage/Live.

A year after his breakthrough Einstein On the Beach (which finally allowed Philip Glass to stop having to drive cabs and fix dishwashers to support himself), Glass composed the soundtrack to North Star, a film about the sculptor Mark di Suvero. "Victor's Lament," named after a steel I-beam structure that di Suvero made for Muhlenberg College, puts Glass' minimalism into the context of rock & roll-- it seems at times to be a variation on Ray Manzarek's organ solos in the Doors' "Light My Fire."

On North Star.

Truman Capote at leisure

"Perinne Etait Servante" is an ancient Burgundian song, whose subject at first blush appears to be the classic medieval situation of the lecherous friar and the naive servant. But it's far more gruesome. Perinne, the servant of the village priest, has her boyfriend come over after dinner; the boyfriend suggests that they embrasser; the priest, seeing them, hides in the pantry...where he is stuck for six weeks, completely forgotten. When his household finally remembers him, they find his corpse in the pantry, eaten by rats! The song had a revival in the '40s when Les Compagnons de Chanson turned it into a gurning farce.

The McGarrigle sisters, from Quebec, offer "Perinne" as a rousing sing-a-long--it's almost a Christmas carol. On Dancer With Bruised Knees.

Jimmy Carter walks the South Bronx

Sid Vicious: "Before I started playing, I never really noticed the bass--couldn't tell it from a piano. I heard records as just a wall of sound. I'd have to think before I could pick anything out."

Charles M. Young: "It's true you hate the traditional rock stars who've made big names for themselves?"

Vicious: "I absolutely despise those turds. The Stones should've quit in 1965. You never see any of those cunts walkin' down the street. If it gets so you can't see us that way, I don't want it."

Young: "But the entire American music industry is poised to turn you into the next big thing. They'll suck out any integrity the band has."

Vicious: "But how can they? I only know one way to live. That's like now."

from Young's "Rock Is Sick and Living in London," Rolling Stone, October 1977.

Anti Social's "Traffic Lights" is the ultimate punk record: a barely-released 7" single (c/w "Teacher Teacher") by a band hardly anyone saw perform, and whose members, all ciphers, vanished soon afterward, never to be heard from again.

This site details two men's obsessive search to find out any concrete fact about the band. All there was initially were rumors and clues--an article in a Birmingham newspaper about the band offering £15,000 to anyone willing to be guillotined on stage; a neighbor recounting how the band's manager had been killed in a car crash--and more than a decade of searching yielded nothing.

Then when it was reported that John Peel had a copy of "Traffic Lights" in his box of singles, the truth about Anti Social finally came out--it's a wild tale involving biker fights, a fake suicide attempt and audiences getting sprayed with animal entrails. Check out the link above for more.

Released as Dynamite 1 in December 1977.

Hanson, Woman With a Dog.

The band Fox was the conjunction of an Australian singer named Susan Traynor and Kenny Young, who had co-written "Under the Boardwalk." Traynor had been in folk groups and Young had been in various rock bands--in the mid-'70s, after they met, Traynor changed her name to Noosha Fox and began wearing glam clothes, as though she intended to be the female Bryan Ferry.

Fox seemed to be a constant battle between Noosha Fox's charisma and Young's desire to run a more straight-ahead rock group. So after Noosha had been stuck as a backing vocalist for much of the band's second LP, which was a flop, the band reinstated her in 1976, when she sung "S-S-S-Single Bed," their biggest hit.

The space opera valentine "Livin' Out My Fantasies" is one of Fox's last recordings--there's definitely a Rocky Horror Picture Show influence to this track, for good or ill. On Blue Hotel, the last Fox LP.

more fashion masterpieces from the 1977 JC Penney catalog here

Hank Jones, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, before the end of World War I, is a jazz pianist who is one of the music's last ties to the past--he's played with nearly everyone, from Coltrane to Hot Lips Page, and at age 89 is still on stage; the late Milt Hinton, who started out with Cab Calloway, was one of the finest bassists in history; the drummer Bob Rosengarden is the jazz equivalent of Ringo Starr--solid, underrated, dependable, with a host of friends, winding up routinely at the heart of extraordinary things.

In 1977, the three were playing together in Florida, and decided to make a record, calling up the producer Hank O'Neal. I'll let him take over, from his liner notes on an LP simply called The Trio:

Much in the same way I know damn well the fancy Cuisinart in my kitchen won't be spinning in the year 2000, I'd bet anything the old cast iron skillet that has been in the family since the '20s will still be working just fine. Some things are durable and virtually timeless; this record falls into that category.

Amen. Enjoy Hinton's "Mona's Feeling Lonely," a showcase for both Hinton and Jones' playing, but the rest of the LP is equally as good. It's the sound of men so comfortable with themselves, and each other, that every sound they make seems correct.

Recorded in New York on 17 October 1977; on The Trio, one of my favorite records. From O'Neal's 2003 addendum to the liner notes (included when the album was finally released on CD): "The original release of this record sold a few thousand copies in the '70s. The CD will sell a few thousand copies, now that it is reissued. It is still as good as it was when it was released, maybe it is even more relevant, and is a decent value for the cost of the CD. It is not afflicted with the bloat or pretentiousness that is hurting much of the record industry." And now it's an MP3 download for $9, which, for European/Asian readers, is like pocket change these days, right?

Storeowners defending their turf during NYC blackout, 13 July 1977 (more photos here)

Another soul/country fusion track on Millie Jackson's Feelin' Bitchy was Tommy Brasfield's "Angel in Your Arms,"in which the singer, after finding out that her man's been catting around on her, plans a bit of lusty revenge. The Los Angeles-based trio Hot--Gwen Owens, Cathy Carson and Juanita Curiel--had the biggest hit with the song, occupying the ground between Jackson's funk version and Barbara Mandrell's straight-up country rendition from a few years later.

Released as Big Tree 10085 c/w "Just Cause I'm Guilty"; on Have a Nice Day Vol. 20.

Thirty years on, teenagers are still trying to kill you

Air was Henry Threadgill, who played everything from the alto saxophone to a device he called the "hubkaphone," 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 had come to New York by the mid-'70s. 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.

"G.v.E" is from Air's third LP, Air Time. It begins with Threadgill crashing away on the hubkpahone while Hopkins and McCall repeat the same figures on bass and cymbals, until Threadgill takes up the bass flute and at last offers the main theme--a gorgeous, simple melody inspired by composer Hopkins's research into the music of Burundi.

Recorded in Chicago on 17 November 1977; on Air Time, which at last is released on CD! Buy it.

Resnais' Providence

Finally, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's "Keep Me Turning": reconciliation, longing, resignation, appreciation of simple pleasures ("stack up the potatoes"), renunciation of futile dreams ("They saw the Messiah/but I guessed I missed him again").

On Rough Mix.

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