Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Nearly every Friday since the start of 2017 I’ve been writing about one (and occasionally two) of my favorite albums from 1977. It’s been an immensely enjoyable opportunity to look back on an incredible year of music, and (just like last year, with the Thirty Year Thursday look back at 1986) it kept me connected with readers, friends & fellow bloggers during an extremely busy time in my life. For more than two years I’ve been unable to focus on the original purpose of this blog (revisiting the complete catalogs of the lesser-played artists in my collection), so this has been a wonderful outlet for generating conversations with my fellow music lovers. As of last week I’ve covered 47 albums from ’77 over the course of 41 posts. There are still numerous albums I didn’t get to discuss but, as 2017 draws to a close and blogging time remains limited, I’ve decided to showcase four of them at a time across a handful of posts, with brief summaries and an audio sample for each.
As I explained toward the end of Thirty Year Thursday: Much like Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells, who were credited in the Gilligan’s Island first season theme song with “…and the rest” before being properly acknowledged as “the professor and Mary Ann” in subsequent seasons, these are records that are arguably as good as the ones I’ve already highlighted and, under different circumstances, would have been featured in their own posts. Below are the first four “…And The Rest” titles, all of which were featured in previous posts. Next week I’ll shine a light on four new-to-KamerTunesBlog albums.
Artist: THE KINKS
Originally posted in Part 6 of my Kinks series:
As their RCA contract came to an end, The Kinks signed with Arista Records under strict orders from label boss Clive Davis to drop the concepts of recent years & record songs that were radio-friendly and marketable to an American audience. Ray even moved to New York City for several months to get a feel for the culture & musical trends. Although their full-on return to commercial success was still a couple of years away, they started laying the groundwork with their Arista debut, Sleepwalker. While not quite as concise as the previous record, it’s still an easy record to digest even though many fans of their late-‘60s to early-‘70s golden era still dislike the slicker direction their music took. I, on the other hand, have no problem with this change in their sound, and I liked Sleepwalker a little more each time I played it.
Essential Tracks: “Life On The Road,” “Sleepwalker” and “Juke Box Music”
Other Notable Tracks: “Mr. Big Man,” “Stormy Sky” and “Life Goes On”
Artist: THE BEACH BOYS
Album: LOVE YOU
Excerpts from Part 7 of my Beach Boys series:
The “Brian’s Back” concept (used to promote 15 Big Ones in 1976) applies more to their next album, Love You, since Brian Wilson wrote or co-wrote every song, and he seems more engaged with the musical and vocal arrangements. Album opener “Let Us Go On This Way” has an interesting organ & horn arrangement with a steady beat and synth backdrop, and nice harmonies during the one-line chorus (“God please let us go on this way”). “Johnny Carson” is weird, but in a good way. The cool electric piano and staggered vocals contain elements of art-rock (i.e. Roxy Music, early 10cc) and point toward the synth-pop craze that was still a few years away. “Solar System” is strangely intoxicating, even if the lyrics (“Solar system brings us wisdom”) are once again a bit too simplistic. My favorite song on this album is “The Night Was So Young,” showcasing a wonderful arrangement with a bed of synths and some weeping guitar stabs. Brian’s & Carl’s voices blend beautifully, and the best part might be, “Is somebody gonna tell me, why she has to lie-ie-ie.” I would consider this among the best work they’ve ever done. I feel nearly as strongly about “I’ll Bet He’s Nice,” which has cool squiggly synths and a catchy melody, with Dennis, Brian and Carl sharing vocal duties. Brian duets with his then-wife Marilyn on “Let’s Put Our Hearts Together.” His raspy vocals convey the pleading nature of the lyrics as he pursues his woman, and her strong voice is a nice counterpoint. Like 15 Big Ones before it, the rest of the album is a bit hit-and-miss, with some songs coming across as nothing more than glorified demos. I would probably rank this on the same level as its predecessor, and both albums work well together on the 2-fer CD released in 2000.
Artist: PETE TOWNSHEND & RONNIE LANE
Album: ROUGH MIX
Originally posted in Part 4 of the One And Done series about my favorite one-album artists:
The Who has long been among the handful of artists I consider my “favorites of all time,” and their chief songwriter, Pete Townshend, has had a solo career that’s nearly as impressive as his day job. I came to The Small Faces and Faces (two distinctly different British bands which consisted of mostly the same musicians across two different decades) sometime in the ‘80s, but it was years later when I realized the importance of their bassist/songwriter, Ronnie Lane. My first exposure to him was the A.R.M.S. benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in 1983 that featured the talents of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck & Eric Clapton, raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, the disease that was slowly crippling him and would eventually kill him in 1997. Over time I’ve realized what a great songwriter he was and what a wonderful earthy voice he had. I’ve had this one-off collaboration between these two musical giants for many years, and each time I play it I enjoy it a little more than I did before. There’s a folky vibe throughout, with country influences as well, and the cast of musicians is impressive: the aforementioned Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart, John Entwistle, and many others. The album is packed with highlights: “Keep Me Turning” (a pretty Townshend tune), Lane’s rollicking “Catmelody,” “Street In The City” (with its lovely string section), Townshend’s classic rocker “Heart To Hang Onto,” the instrumental title track with Clapton on lead guitar, and the best-known song here, “My Baby Gives It Away.”
Artist: THE SEX PISTOLS
Album: NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS
Originally posted in Part 3 of the One And Done series:
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not much of a punk rock fan, so the inclusion of The Sex Pistols in this series might come as a surprise to some of my readers & friends. I was in my pre-teens when punk was in its heyday and I enjoyed bands like The Ramones and The Clash, but only the songs I heard on the radio or at friends’ houses. I didn’t buy any of their albums nor did I have the same reaction to punk that I did to so many other genres. What little I knew of The Sex Pistols, it was clear that they weren’t in my musical wheelhouse. I first heard their only studio album when I was in my early-‘20s, expecting a collection of noisy, tuneless, aggressive songs with amateur musicianship yet, much to my surprise, it was the exact opposite. Sure, Johnny Rotten’s sneering vocal delivery is an acquired taste (one which I acquired more than 25 years ago, and renewed recently when I gave his later band Public Image Limited a shot), but musically they’re incredibly tight, thanks to the solid drumming of Paul Cook and the inventive guitar work of Steve Jones. Co-producers Chris Thomas and Bill Price gave the record a commercial sheen that a typical underground punk band would never be able to achieve (nor would they want to). There are plenty of great songs here, from the awareness-raising abortion song, “Bodies,” to classics like “God Save The Queen” & “EMI” and especially my favorite track, “Pretty Vacant.” I may never be passionate about The Sex Pistols but for a non-punk guy I find this album immensely enjoyable.