KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – …AND THE REST (PART 2)

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Here are four more wonderful records that reached the forty year milestone in 2017.

Artist: UTOPIA
Album: RA

By 1977 multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter/producer Todd Rundgren was already 10 years into a recording career which included nearly a dozen albums & several hit singles, as well as production/engineering work for The Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Badfinger, Hall & Oates, New York Dolls and numerous other artists. That same year he also produced Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, which I previously wrote about in Forty Year Friday here. After releasing two albums under the moniker Todd Rundgren’s Utopia where he explored synth-heavy progressive rock, the newly re-christened Utopia emerged with a lineup that would last through 5 albums in as many years: bassist Kasim Sulton, keyboardist Roger Powell and drummer John “Willie” Wilcox. Each member contributed songwriting & vocals on their first album but Rundgren was the focal point, and prog-rock was still their modus operandi. Highlights include the chugging synth-and-vocal-laden “Overture: Mountaintop And Sunrise/Communion With The Sun,” the quirky Queen/Sweet glam-pop of “Magic Dragon Theatre,” the heavy stomping rock of “Jealousy” (with great synth & guitar solos) and all 18+ minutes of “an electrified fairytale” called “Singring And The Glass Guitar” (featuring extended solos from all four musicians).

 

Artist: UTOPIA
Album: OOPS! WRONG PLANET

Utopia followed up Ra later that same year with the more streamlined sound of Oops! Wrong Planet, and the band was now more of a democracy rather than merely an outlet for Rundgren. Unlike its predecessor, which featured multiple long tracks, no song here exceeds 4-1/2 minutes. The other band members each handle lead vocals on two songs, and Sulton duets with Rundren on three others. Although it’s not as whimsical & over the top as Ra, it’s also not a middle-of-the-road affair, straddling the lines of rock, soul, prog & quirky pop. There are plenty of highlights here: the glam-stomp of “Trapped,” the tightly arranged melodic rock of “Love In Action,” the pretty ballad “Crazy Lady Blue” with Roger Powell on lead vocals, the melodic prog-pop of “The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell,” the slightly funky “Abandon City” (with a great hook at “you better run for your lives”) and the gorgeous soulful ballad “Love Is The Answer,” which became a huge hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley two years later.

 

Artist: BAD COMPANY
Album: BURNIN’ SKY

How does a world-conquering band respond when their first three albums reached the Top 5 and went platinum or multi-platinum? For Bad Company, the British quartet of vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Mick Ralphs, drummer Simon Kirke & bassist Boz Burrell (augmented by Burrell’s former King Crimson bandmate Mel Collins on saxophone), the answer was “give ‘em more of the same.” Often viewed as a huge disappointment in comparison to the three classics that preceded it, Burnin’ Sky is much stronger than its detractors would have you believe, even though it’s not quite as consistent and they started to repeat themselves a bit. However, when you have one of the all-time great rock vocalists and a killer guitarist still at the peak of their powers, even lesser material is worth hearing. It may have “only” cracked the Top 20 and sold less than half of their previous albums, but there’s a whole lot to love here: “Burnin’ Sky” (with its tight groove, sparse bass line, bright choruses & a killer guitar tone), “Morning Sun” (a pretty midtempo ballad with tasteful guitar work & Rodgers’ glorious voice), “Leaving You” (nothing new but I love the slow loping rhythm & the all-around great performances), “Heartbeat” (a chugging bluesy rocker), “Too Bad” (a riff-heavy stomping rocker) and “Man Needs A Woman” (a midtempo rocker with Collins blasting away on the sax). For some inexplicable reason, Atlantic Records decided not to include a single song from this album on the first-ever Bad Company compilation, 1985’s 10 From 6, whose title suggests 10 songs from their first 6 albums when it’s actually “10 from 5.”

 

Artist: JAMES TAYLOR
Album: JT

For his 8th album, and first for Columbia Records, James Taylor didn’t downplay his soft-rock sensitive singer/songwriter reputation, but he did expand his sound into a few new territories and delivered possibly the most consistent set of songs in his career. Aided by his usual crew of musicians, many of whom were ubiquitous on recordings throughout the ‘70s (like guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel & saxophonist David Sanborn), as well as guest vocalists Carly Simon (who was in a relationship with Taylor at the time) and Linda Ronstadt, the simply-titled JT has become the best-selling record of his career, and it’s not hard to understand why. The joy on display…in his voice, his songs & the overall sound of the record…is infectious, even on the quieter tunes. It’s one great song after another, starting with the bouncy Top 20 single “Your Smiling Face” and on to “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.” (an old Kortchmar song that’s more propulsive rock than Taylor is usually known for), “Another Grey Morning” (jazzy soft-rock), “Bartender’s Blues” (a country ballad about a bartender finally telling someone about his own woes, which was later covered by country legend George Jones), “Handy Man” (a subtly arranged cover of an old song from the late-‘50s that became a big pop & adult contemporary hit), “Looking For Love On Broadway” (a pretty song with a nice guitar figure), “Traffic Jam” (a fun & brief jump-blues with just voice & percussion) and one of my favorite James Taylor songs, the hymn-like “Secret O’ Life” (which suggests that “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”). I always feel more at peace whenever I finish listening to one of his albums, and the latter song does this for me more than any others.

40 comments on “Forty Year Friday – …AND THE REST (PART 2)

  1. Murphy's Law
    December 1, 2017

    Oops! Wrong Planet sounds like one to add to the curiosity list. I picked up Deface the Music in a cut-out bin back in the day, but I didn’t connect with it at the time and ended up getting rid of it.

    I like Bad Company when I hear them on the radio but I never willingly choose them. I have 10 from 6, but I don’t know the last time I listened to it.

    My mother listened to his early albums around the house, but I never followed James Taylor – he was too square and quiet for my tastes back then.

    Like

    • I can understand why you didn’t enjoy Deface The Music since it had such a specific theme, but the great thing about the Todd Rundgren and Utopia discographies is that no album sounds like any others. If you don’t connect with one you might fall in love with the next one.

      Although I’ve loved Bad Company since I was a teenager, I tend to go hot & cold with them depending on my mood, but I always come back to Rodgers’ voice & Ralphs’ guitar playing. Let me know if you ever give 10 From 6 another spin. Would like to hear your thoughts.

      A lot of people consider James Taylor a bit square, and I suppose that applies to some of his music, but it’s hard to argue about the quality of his songwriting or that one-of-a-kind voice, which still sounds the same as it did nearly 50 years ago.

      Like

  2. kevin
    December 1, 2017

    I always meant to ask you if you are a TR/Utopia fan. I heard “Love In Action” one time on the radio, probably when it came out, but I never knew who sang it. About 10 years later I saw Todd on David Letterman play it. The only TR song I knew at that point was “Hello It’s Me” and I just assumed he was a 70’s soft rock guy. Seeing him on Letterman, rocking out, was an eye opener! I then proceeded to buy everything he ever released. Oops! Wrong Planet is probably my favorite, but every TR/Utopia album has a handful of gems.

    JT is a classic. “You’re Smiling Face” is an especially nostalgic moment for me.

    Like

    • critterjams
      December 1, 2017

      “I then proceeded to buy everything he ever released. ”

      that must’ve hurt the ol’ wallet! TR has a good 40 albums out there.

      Like

      • kevin
        December 1, 2017

        It took about a year or so!

        Liked by 1 person

      • A year to collect the TR & Utopia albums seems like a reasonable time frame. It had to be a costly undertaking but well worth the investment.

        Like

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        Kevin, you’re going to have to blog about your music collection one day!

        Like

      • Kevin’s actually an excellent musician/singer/songwriter. Perhaps he’ll share links to some of his music with you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        He has and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. 🙂

        Like

      • Okay, good. Glad you know his music.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        Absolutely. I’m thrilled he shared it with me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        I haven’t been able to persuade him to blog about his own material, so figured I’d try a different approach. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve gone on record buying binges like that. It’s costly but sometimes you just can’t stop the momentum. When I got into The Stones at the start of high school (in 1980). at one point I bought about 15-20 of their albums in a 6-month span. As soon as I saved up enough money from my newspaper delivery job I would choose another album to add to the collection. Those were exciting times.

        Like

    • Glad we agree about TR & Utopia. I can’t remember the first time I heard him, or them. It was probably in high school and I liked it, but I didn’t own anything until college or shortly afterwards. Not every song is a classic but the hit-to-miss ratio is pretty impressive. I also love that Utopia became a true band and not just an outlet for TR. The other guys’ voices & songwriting is so interesting. I feel the same way about Adrian Belew and The Bears. I love his solo albums & his work with King Crimson, which led me to The Bears. He’s just one of four talented guys in that group.

      I have a feeling James Taylor’s music inspires nostalgia in a lot of listeners. His songs & voice are unlike anything else.

      Like

  3. DanicaPiche
    December 1, 2017

    I didn’t know about Burnin’ Sky and now want to hear it.

    Like

    • Danica, are you familiar with any other Bad Company albums? At the very least every record collection should have their first two releases. Burnin’ Sky isn’t quite on the same level but it’s still pretty damn good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        Did they have a self-titled album with a black cover? I believe that’s the one I used to have.

        Like

      • Yes, that was their self-titled debut album. I consider that and its follow up (Straight Shooter) essential. My college cover band was called Straight Shoot’r in homage to that record (we included a couple of Bad Co. songs in our sets). Not sure why we went with the apostrophe in the name. Must have seemed clever at the time. The bass player & I formed another band after that called Jam Sam’wich. Sense a theme here?

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        What I’ve heard from them I really like.
        Did Jam Sam’wich have a garage type of sound?

        Like

      • No…just basic rock and blues covers. That band didn’t last long.

        Liked by 1 person

      • DanicaPiche
        December 3, 2017

        That’s a great sound!

        Like

  4. 80smetalman
    December 1, 2017

    I have always wanted to explore Utopia before 1980’s “Adventures in Utopia” album and now I have an excuse to do so. “Burning Sky” isn’t one of my favourite Bad Company albums either, I much prefer its successor, “Desolation Angels.”

    Like

    • The Utopia & Rundgren discographies are all over the place, musically speaking, but if you do your research you will probably find a lot of albums that will be right up your alley (while others will likely fall flat for you). The two featured in this post are well worth checking out, but you have to have an affinity for synths & over-the-top prog-rock to appreciate Ra.

      I also prefer Desolation Angels but Burnin’ Sky is still a strong album that doesn’t deserve its reputation as a disappointment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. stephen1001
    December 1, 2017

    It appears Todd Rundgren was not bored in 1977!

    Like

  6. Alyson
    December 1, 2017

    “I always feel more at peace whenever I finish listening to one of his albums” – I listened to all of the clips and have to agree with what you said about James Taylor. Simply beautiful.

    I think you probably know what I’m going to say about the others however – Not in my collection and they really weren’t my thing back in 1977! I did write recently about England Dan & John Ford Coley though and featured the song Love Is The Answer – Didn’t seem to get very high in our UK charts at all but one of my all time favourite songs. I knew it was written by Todd Rundgren but didn’t know about Utopia until now. Someone who has had a phenomenal career it seems with many strings to his bow. Sadly, no Todd Rundgren anecdotes – There’s always next week!

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. I’m glad you were able to play all the clip, and that you feel the same about that JT song. If hearing his voice doesn’t put a smile on your face you might need to seek professional help. Haha.

      Not surprised that Rundgren & Utopia weren’t on your radar back then (or even now). I remember your post about England Dan & John Ford Coley. During the ’70s I was only familiar with “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” (which still makes me immensely happy whenever I hear it) but had no idea they had other hits. It wasn’t until years later that I heard “Love Is The Answer” and made the connection.

      I’ve already selected the albums for next Friday. There are two Brits included, yet I have a feeling you might have an anecdote about one of the American artists. Eager to find out if we have another musical connection.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        December 3, 2017

        Hi – There is something about IRLTSYT that makes me really happy too. I think it’s mainly the line about the warm winds blowing the stars around – just sounds idyllic and we don’t get many warm winds in the evening where I live, ever.

        Ooh, a chance of another anecdote – I’m curious now. I have a feeling, going by previous picks, your British artists might be prog rock and not my bag but will await the big reveal next week!

        Like

      • Ah yes, those warm winds blowing the stars around. Just reading those words puts me in a good mood.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. billyshakes
    December 2, 2017

    To be honest, though I was an early listener to music, these songs are just a little to far back for me. At first glance, I hear a lot of Styx type sounds in Utopia. I’ve never been a huge Todd Rundgren fan. I didn’t like his production for Hall & Oates (a big fave) and outside of Bang the Drum, I’m ambivalent to his own music. I will say that I didn’t realize Love is the Answer was a TR song. Nonetheless, I think the vocal performance by England Dan & John Ford Coley was better than that I’ve heard on this album. I just think his range is limited. It is a classic case where a great songwriter might not actually be the best person to sing the song.

    You know, I’ve heard Burnin’ Sky on the local Classic Rock radio station since I was in high school. I guess I never realized it was Bad Company. I own 10 from 6 and love it. I played it a whole lot in high school but I never realized it was missing this song. It could have (and should have!) easily replaced Movin On’, Electric Land, or Live for the Music. I could do without those tracks. (Side note, is Paul Rodgers just the generic fill-in classic rock singer? Goes from Free to Bad Co. to The Firm to Queen….Certainly a great singer who can fit into many bands in the genre. I’m sure that means he is a pretty good guy to hang around with.) I think I’ll be visiting iTunes later this evening to snag Burnin’ Sky and maybe check out the rest of what this album has to offer.

    As to the JT stuff….it is good. I like Your Smiling Face probably better than Handyman. As you say, it is just buoyant and makes one smile. Most of “The Section” is playing on this album. These guys were legends. Too bad more people don’t know who they are. Check out the album they did with Pat McGee recently. He’s a Virginia songwriter who had minor success in the late 90s and early 2000s but never hit it as big as some of the folks that opened for his band (Train, Sister Hazel, etc.) Anyway, Pat crowdfunded an album to record his new songs with these guys (Kunkel, Kortchmar, Sklar, Wachtel, etc.) Great to see them paying it forward to guys who were inspired by their playing. Music is a great merry-go-round in that way!

    Like

    • Hi Billy. I can definitely hear the Styx similarities in some of Utopia’s songs. There was definitely a connection among many of the American artists tackling prog-rock back then. I love Rundgren’s voice and love the fact that he can handle so many different styles, so although I don’t agree with your assessment I also understand why you don’t particularly like his voice. I’m sure his bank account was helped out a lot by other artists covering his music, so he wouldn’t be offended by your appraisal.

      “Burnin’ Sky” definitely deserved to be included on 10 From 6, and I agree that one of those three songs could have been omitted to make room for it. I think because it was released in the early days of the CD era they were still limited by LP space, so they could only get 10 songs on an album. Had it been released as a CD-only title a couple of years later, it would have been a much stronger compilation.

      I know what you mean about Rodgers going from band to band, but there’s nothing generic about him (you probably didn’t mean it as an insult). He’s objectively one of the strongest rock singers of the last 50 years, and somehow he still sounds as good as he did back in the Free days. I get the sense that he is a likeable guy which is why everyone loves working with him.

      Thanks for letting me know about Pat McGee. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that album. It’s always great to hear those “Section” guys still delivering the goods. British singer Judith Owen, who is married to Harry Shearer and has opened for & played with Richard Thompson, has used many of those musicians on her recent albums. She’s also toured with Leland Sklar. I love her voice & songwriting, and I’ve seen her solo (and with Shearer) numerous times, but have never caught one of her shows with those legendary musicians. I hope to remedy that soon.

      Like

  8. billyshakes
    December 3, 2017

    Absolutely no slight intended regarding Paul Rodgers. That’s twice I’ve been imprecise with my words here. I’ll have to bring my A-game next time I comment. It says volumes for Paul that he gets the call from band after band. So what does a classic rock band do when it looses its lead singer? If their first thought is, “Call Paul Rodgers,” and you are he, then you are a happy man. I mentioned it above but it is worth restating, he is probably a pretty cool dude to hang with too. So often, these guys care just as much about having someone gel with the band (especially a well-established band) that they’ll probably settle for less to get a good “fit.” In Paul’s case, I think they get the best of both worlds.

    Completely forgot about TR’s stint with the “New” Cars. While I think Ben Orr is irreplaceable (moment of silence), I thought Todd brought energy and excitement back to the band. At least they generated enough buzz to get the original band together back again. Not Tonight is as good as many original Cars tracks.

    On Lee Sklar, I saw a great interview with him at a guitar show like NAMM or similar. You know, he’s got that great white beard. So, where do you put the lapel mike on a guy whose beard stretches halfway to his navel? Well, if you are Leland Sklar, you just clip it to your beard about chest level. Too cool.

    Like

    • Nothing wrong with your words. It was clear that you’re a fan & appreciate his voice. We forgot to mention his short-lived one-album band The Law (his project with drummer Kenney Jones). It’s pretty forgettable but worth hearing at least once just for Rodgers.

      I thought the New Cars was enjoyable but in many ways it was like Queen + Paul Rodgers: nice to hear those songs again but maybe not the right combination of musicians. I’m glad the surviving Cars reunited for Move Like This. It didn’t quite reach the heights of their original six albums (how could it without Ben Orr?) but it was still nice to hear them playing together again.

      Great anecdote about Mr. Sklar. Thanks for sharing. That beard is so long & thick that he’s probably got a couple of lapel mikes stuck in there. 😀

      Like

  9. kevin
    December 4, 2017

    Thanks for the compliments, Rich. You and Danica are two good eggs!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. keepsmealive
    December 7, 2017

    Great stuff, all albums I’ve never heard… this is a truly excellent series, Rich. Superb work!

    Like

  11. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – …AND THE REST (PART 3) | KamerTunesBlog

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