Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Here are another four great records that reached the forty year milestone in 2017.
Album: POINT OF KNOW RETURN
The fifth album from American progressive rock sextet Kansas carried on (my wayward son?) the sounds & success of the previous year’s Top 5 multi-platinum Leftoverture with a combination of concise, radio-friendly material and some longer intricately-arranged songs, adding in one of the defining ballads of the ‘70s (or any decade, for that matter). The majority of songwriting was handled by guitarist Kerry Livgren & lead vocalist Steve Walsh, and they delivered one winner after another, making Point Of Know Return arguably the ideal entry point into their discography. The fast-paced “Point Of Know Return,” with its quick violin runs, the repeated “how long?” refrain and that great half-time breakdown section, is understandably one of their best-loved songs. The aforementioned ballad, “Dust In The Wind,” was a big departure for them, and a risky single release, but they ended up with a huge Top 5 hit. “Paradox” is wonderful uptempo melodic prog-rock with impressive instrumental interplay & strong vocals. They remind me of Foreigner on “Portrait (He Knew),” a low-charting single that deserved a wider audience. I love the subdued instrumental intro, the driving shuffle rhythm and the guitar & synth solos. “Closet Chronicles” is a 6-1/2 minute prog suite that moves through various tempos & moods. The remaining tracks may not have the consistently melodic hooks of the songs already mentioned, but the performances from Walsh, Livgren & their bandmates (guitarist Rich Williams, bassist Dave Hope, drummer Phil Ehart and violin/viola player Robby Steinhardt) make the entire album an enjoyable experience from top to bottom.
Album: EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS…
Two years prior to their world-conquering, chart-topping breakthrough album, Breakfast In America, British quintet Supertramp was still relatively unknown. Combining the talents of two very distinct songwriters, guitarist Roger Hodgson (with his instantly identifiable high voice) & keyboardist Rick Davies (sporting a gruffer, bluesier voice), the band was rounded out by the rhythm section of bassist Dougie Thompson & drummer Bob Siebenberg (the only American in the group) and sax/clarinet player…and master of ceremonies in concert…John Helliwell. Their fifth album, Even In The Quietest Moments…, was their highest charting release to date and spawned their first international hit single. “Give A Little Bit,” which has since become a standard for singer-songwriters, is a gorgeous acoustic-based pop sing-along that was written years earlier by a teenage Roger Hodgson, highlighted by his buoyant vocals & a great sax solo. Of the remaining six songs, three clock in between 6 & 7 minutes and one approaches 11 minutes, making them a favorite of progressive rock fans like me. “Lover Boy” is a dramatic midtempo piano ballad featuring Davies’ husky vocals & Hodgson’s impressive guitar soloing. “Even In The Quietest Moments” has a hypnotic quality, moving from a peaceful guitar-and-clarinet intro to a slow steady beat, remaining captivating throughout. “Babaji” has long been among my favorite Supertamp songs, with its slightly offbeat rhythm in the verses, brighter, steadier & super-catchy choruses and Hodgson’s incredible vocals. Album closer “Fool’s Overture” is a multi-part suite that takes in pretty piano, high-pitched synth, various sound effects (including crowd sounds, the chiming of Big Ben and a Winston Churchill speech), soaring vocals (at “so easy to fine,” “let’s take to the sky,” etc), a breakdown with the sound of wind blowing and two minutes of orchestral prog with synths & a strong melody. New fans discovering them (like I did) with their ubiquitous radio hits in 1979 hoping to find more of the same on the previous album were likely disappointed, but it rewards patient listeners, growing in stature each time it’s played.
Artist: ROY HARPER
Fans of ‘70s rock who enjoy perusing liner notes & album credits (guilty as charged) are likely familiar with the name Roy Harper thanks to his connections to Led Zeppelin (who included the off-kilter blues pastiche “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” on their third album) and Pink Floyd (Harper was the lead vocalist on 1975’s “Have A Cigar”), but the majority have probably never heard any of Harper’s own records. That was the case for me until I picked up his collaboration with Jimmy Page, Whatever Happened To Jugula?, in 1985, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Ostensibly a folk artist, Harper’s music is nearly impossible to categorize, using acoustic folk as a launching pad into other genres, and always topped off with clever (& often perplexing) poetic lyrics. His ninth studio album, Bullinamingvase, features the talents of bassists Herbie Flowers (David Bowie, Lou Reed and many others), Percy Jones (Brand X) & Ronnie Lane (Small Faces, Faces), drummer John Halsey (aka Barry Womble of The Rutles), guitarists…and members of Wings…Jimmy McCulloch & Henry McCullough and even some backing vocals from Paul & Linda McCartney. The centerpiece of the album is “One Of Those Days In England,” which shows up twice. The opening track is 3-1/2 minutes of bouncy melodic folk-pop with jangly guitar & some romantic lyrics which is a great entry point into the world of Roy Harper, while the closing track (subtitled “Parts 2-10”) is a nearly 20-minute suite that uses Part 1’s melody as a springboard for many other musical ideas. Whether it’s tinkling piano, sections with barely a trace of melody, portions that remind me of Roger Waters (especially at “you and me, mother”), an upbeat shuffle or even a rockin’ Faces/Stones groove, it holds your attention for its entire running time. Other highlights include “These Last Days” (moody, atmospheric & haunting) and “Cherishing The Lonesome” (a straightforward rock arrangement with melodic lead guitar bookended by pretty acoustic guitar & vocals). “Breakfast With You” is a funky rocker with a killer groove & cool bass line, but it’s dismissed by Harper as “pap” since he added it to the album only after the record company forced him to remove the then-controversial “Watford Gap,” a relatively silly stomping folk tune that criticized a popular British service station and its parent company. There are a few other Harper albums I would recommend over Bullinamingvase, but it’s still among his best work and includes one of the most definitive songs of his career.
Artist: JACKSON BROWNE
Album: RUNNING ON EMPTY
Jackson Browne was one of the (if not THE) most sensitive of the sensitive singer-songwriters to emerge in the early ‘70s. His romantic lyrics & catchy melodies won over music fans & critics while his matinee idol looks made him irresistible to women. By the time he released his fifth album, Running On Empty, Browne was 29 years old and apparently burned out from years of touring; the endless bus rides & string of hotels having taken a mental & physical toll on him. It’s a hybrid live/concept album with songs about the rigors of a touring musician, recorded in concert, at soundchecks, backstage, on the bus & in his hotel room. Browne only wrote two songs by himself, while the remaining songs were either covers or co-written with others. In spite of its difficult gestation, it became his biggest selling album, reaching #3 on the U.S. charts and going multi-platinum. Thanks to a handful of unforgettable songs and support from some of the same musicians who worked with James Taylor on JT, which I discussed in last week’s post (bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, as well keyboardist Craig Doerge, vocalist Rosemary Butler and the incomparable fiddle & lap steel guitar of David Lindley), it remains one of his most enduring albums. You can hear weariness in the lyrics of “Running On Empty,” even though the music is peppy & upbeat, and the stark acoustic folk of “The Road.” Driving midtempo rocker “You Love The Thunder” has country flourishes & strong harmonies from Butler. “Love Needs A Heart” recalls many of the piano-based ballads that appeared on his previous albums. The album closes with two inseparable songs that got tons of FM radio play when I was a teenager, and I’ve never tired of hearing them. “The Load-Out,”, which shines a spotlight on the roadies & crew members who get no recognition from fans, shifts from piano-and-voice to midtempo pop/rock with the full band, and segues nicely into a cover of the 1960 doo-wop song “Stay,” showcasing the vocal talents of Butler & Lindley (whose falsetto here always makes me smile).