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).
Great selection here, Rich. I enjoyed learning more about Kansas and being reminded about Supertramp. I didn’t know Jackson Browne was the most sensitive of them. I like his solo acoustic releases although Running on Empty is still a favorite.
Thanks, Danica. Glad I could provide a little previously unknown info about Kansas and put Supertramp back in your mind. I don’t listen to them all the time but whenever I do I’m reminded what a great band they were, especially when Hodgson & Davies still worked together. Those Jackson Browne solo acoustic albums are fantastic. I wasn’t initially interested in them but when I picked them up a few years after they were released I realized what a mistake I had made.
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I like his solo acoustic albums so much they’ve pretty much obscured the rest of his catalogue for me. I’d have loved to have attended those shows!
I’m sure those acoustic shows were enjoyable for anyone who attended. I only saw him once, in the mid-’90s, and it was a nice combination of solo performances & band arrangements…and of course his voice was perfect. His 1993 album “I’m Alive” is one of my favorites, and he did several of its songs at that show. It doesn’t get much better than “Sky Blue & Black.”
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Great selection Rich, and not only because I love everyone of these albums especially the Harper, One of Those Days In England 2-10 is always a joy to hear especially live if you can find it. I always think that Roger wants to sound like Roy, his songwriting changed once Harper came into the orbit of Floyd in the late 60’s early 70’s.
Thanks, Neil. Glad we were 4 for 4 here, and I’m especially pleased that you love the Roy Harper album as much as (or possibly more than) I do. Not sure I’ve heard any live recordings of “One Of Those Days…” so I will seek that out soon. Great point about Waters likely being influenced by Roy and not the other way around. I completely agree.
Three of the four albums are great memories from my youth. I had never experienced the Roy Harper one before but the song you feature here sounds promising. For me, this was a good way to end the tour of 1977 but is there a part 4 in the pipeline?
Happy to hear that we share some common ground here. Back in ’77 I was only aware of a handful of songs from these albums, but I fully appreciated them all a decade or so later. Let me know if you decide to check out more of Roy Harper’s music. Would love to hear your thoughts.
This was not the end of Forty Year Friday. Be on the lookout for the final post next Friday.
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I will. I got the Kansas one because I thought it had “Carry On My Wayward Son” on it. Realized I was one album too late. “Point of Know Return” is a good one though.
I don’t remember the timing of Point Of Know Return‘s release, but I’m guessing it hit shelves not long after “Carry On My Wayward Son” got lots of radio play, so consumers were likely confused about which songs appeared on each album. At least you ended up with a great album, even if it’s not (in my opinion) quite as strong as Leftoverture.
I find Harper pretty hit and miss… Stormcock is amazing, but I found Lifemask almost unlistenable. I like him in romantic, melodic mode, but not in angry didactic mode.
I like most of his albums and don’t find any of them even close to unlistenable, but I understand why you feel that way. Often I enjoy the albums solely for the musicianship and his unique vocal style. I love his performance of “Short And Sweet” on David Gilmour’s live video from 1984. They co-wrote the song and I love the original, but it was great to hear Roy’s voice on that song.
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Do you like The Lords Prayer on Lifemask? That’s where he loses me.
Until revisiting Bullinamingvase for this series it had been about 4-5 years since I last binged on Roy Harper, so I don’t recall how I felt about “The Lord’s Prayer,” although I do remember really liking Lifemask. Even if I didn’t like that song it wouldn’t put me off his music. There’s so much to love in his catalog, before & since. HQ and …Jugula are two particular favorites.
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Point Of Know Return is the only Kansas album I ever owned. I bought it for the title track and “Portrait (He Knew)” ended up being my favorite. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since the 80’s.
Just recently I was listening to my Supertramp albums (Breakfast, Paris, and Crisis) and wondered why I never delved deeper into their catalog. Do you think Quietest Moments should be next?
I am a Roy Harper novice. I really got into Stormcock a few years ago. It’s brilliant. My favorite song of his is “South Africa” from Lifemask. Beautiful song. He has such an extensive catalog, I have a long way to go.
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Hi Kevin. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on Point Of Know Return if/when you revisit it for the first time since the ’80s. I wonder if it will inspire you to check out more of their albums. You can’t go wrong with anything they released in the ’70s. As for Supertramp, since you already have & like those three albums, I heartily recommend Even In The Quietest Moments. It may not hit you initially but it rewards repeated listening.
As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the last time I binged on Roy Harper was about 4-5 years ago so my recall of his music isn’t as good as it should be. I remember liking Stormcock a lot. Will have to revisit it, and numerous others, soon. He’s got such an interesting discography. I love the fact that every album has a unique sound, and there are always great cameos from well known musicians.
Of this selection I really only know Jackson Browne and Supertramp. As has happened before in this series it wasn’t until the following year that we got to know about some of these albums in the UK and I remember really liking Jackson Browne’s version of Stay which did well in our charts in the summer of ’78. As for Supertramp, their album Breakfast in America was a real favourite in the summer of ’79 but it wasn’t until I met my other half that I got to know about some of their earlier output. I have just asked him and apparently his favourites are indeed Even In The Quietest…. and Crisis…. He’s just played the song Lady for me which is his favourite from those albums.
I would love to share an anecdote but it’s hard – Don’t know if I’ve mentioned before but the really good friend whom I spent most of my free time with in ’77/’78 and whom I shared most of this music with died 16 years ago, so not able to reminisce about any of it with her which makes me sad. She did love Jackson Browne though.
I figured those were the two artists you would know & like from this post, and assumed that Jackson Browne made more of an impact on you. All the girls I knew back then loved him, as much for his looks as his music. Wasn’t sure what kind of impact his music made in the UK so it’s good to know that his version of “Stay” was somewhat of a hit. Did they play it with “The Load-Out”? I can’t imagine the two of them separated. DJ’s loved it because they had a long song to play while they did…well, whatever ’70s DJ’s did. 😀
I was completely unaware of Supertramp until Breakfast In America, which you couldn’t escape here in 1979. I get so nostalgic for that time anytime I hear one of those songs. I still remember thinking that Roger Hodgson was a woman when I first heard them. Somehow he still has that same voice. Would love to see him live sometime, but my gig-going is limited for various reasons (mostly being cheap & lazy).
So sorry to hear about the loss of your friend 16 years ago. Can’t imagine what it’s like for you when you hear music (or anything else) you would have discussed with her. I’m fortunate that all of my music-obsessed friends are still here, and I never take it for granted. Saw several of them when I went back to New York for a week recently. One of the reasons I started this blog was because most of those friends had either moved or were raising children or something else kept us from meeting like we did in our 20s & 30s. I needed to connect with other music lovers and this seemed like the best option. Needless to say I’ve gotten more out of it than I ever expected.
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Well guessed – I thought for a second you wrote that Jackson Browne made an impact because of his “locks” whereas personally I always thought they tended to be a bit lank! As for the other song, no, it was always just Stay that was played on the radio and it wasn’t really until that song popped up in Dirty Dancing that I found out about the original version.
Yes we had blanket airplay of Breakfast In America over here too in 1979 and my dear friend did own the album. We were joined at the hip for about 5 years between ’76 and ’81 so shared just so much music – I often think of her when I watch re-runs of old pop music shows as memories and music go hand in hand don’t they? You are right though – These discussions on the blogosphere make up for not having as many like-minded friends as we get older (and get lost in work and domestic chores). None of my old work colleagues/friends or family know about my blog (other than my other half) and like with your place, a lot of work has gone into it, so I think they’d be shocked at the volume of posts in such a short time – Enjoyed it though.
Haha, “looks” vs. “locks.” I think Jackson Browne had both in ample supply, and I say that (in the words of George Costanza) with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality. Strange to think about “Stay” on its own without “The Load-Out.” Strange how some songs become so intertwined that you can’t imagine one without the other. Santana’s “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid” come to mind. I’m sure there are many others. Hmm, a good idea for a blog post in the future, perhaps.
Couldn’t agree more regarding the tight connection between music & memories. I’ve always marveled at how even music that makes me sad, or evokes sad memories, still has healing qualities. Guess I’ve had a penchant for melancholy since I was a kid.
It’s strange for me to imagine my friends & family not knowing about my blog, but I give you credit for keeping those parts of your life separate.
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No, just the single Stay with us – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3bUg8wsgVE
Coming up to Christmas is a time when I tend to get sad listening to certain songs as you start to think about all those people no longer with us and how things have changed. Don’t think it can ever be as exciting in your fifties as it all was when you were a kid or in your teens/twenties but depends on what is going on in your life at the time I suppose. Just had a thought though – Not sure if you celebrate Xmas and can’t remember now if it’s come up before – Sorry.
As for the family and friends thing – I ended up keeping it to myself as back in the early days no-one seemed interested. Got to realising we all have passions and hobbies so if I’m not particulary interested in my friends sporting hobbies why should they be interested in mine – Horses for courses an’ all that!
So strange to hear “Stay” begin out of nowhere like that.
I’m Jewish and my wife is Catholic so we celebrate Hanukkah & Christmas (to varying degrees of observance). I’ve never taken offense to anyone wishing me a Merry Christmas and don’t understand why that upsets some folks. It’s a gesture of good wishes. How can that be a bad thing?
Good point about people not being interested in your hobbies & vice versa. A lot of my friends share my music obsession so it was a no-brainer to share my blog with them. As I learned from years of playing in bands, I don’t go for the hard-sell. I let them know about it and then they decide if they’re interested. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how supportive many of my friends have been, and occasionally I’ll find out that someone I haven’t been in direct contact with for years (but am connected to via social media) never misses a post.
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Thanks for clarifying – Just occurred to me today.
As for the friends reading our blogs without declaring themselves, maybe that’s happening and I just don’t know – If I did I would hold back a bit on what I write about though so just as well I write for total strangers who have weirdly become really good, albeit virtual, friends!
With all the nonsense that happens on social media between complete strangers, this community of blogging friends has been an oasis.
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So true – Not seen anything negative on any of the music blogs I follow. YouTube on the other hand can be vile!
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Yes, Kansas. Some good stuff.
1977. If not here, have you covered the two best albums of 1977 anywhere? Rush’s A Farewell to Kings and Jethro Tull’s Songs From the Wood?
Nice to know you enjoy some of Kansas’s music, Phillip. Their ’70s releases were all fantastic, and there’s plenty to enjoy after that as well, even if it’s not in the same league.
Of course I covered those albums. No discussion of the best music of 1977 would be complete without them. Both posts were written in March, and you commented on both of them. Here are the links:
Rush – A Farewell To Kings
Jethro Tull – Songs From The Wood
So many blogs, so many comments; thanks for reminding me!
I have at least three Kansas albums: Leftoverture (great name), the first album, and Point of No Return. I think that the first half of the former is better than the second half, though all of both albums are good. That first half is really good 70s prog. Apart from Kansas and Simon and Garfunkel, there aren’t many if any bands up there with the best British bands. 😐 Point of No Return has “Dust in the Wind” as the atypical, but standout and popular, track, and the others are of more uniform quality. Some good 70s hard-rock guitar sounds on that record!
Apparently many of the members of Kansas went into Christian music. They have existed in various incarnations, including one with Steve Morse, since their glory days. I’ve never seen them live.
There is a video (on VHS—one copy in existence) I made for a friend for his birthday. I play “Horizons” from Genesis’s Foxtrot and “Dust in the Wind”: no vocals, just myself on classical guitar (I know, the original version has different guitars) and my then girlfriend playing the vocal line on flute.
You’ve got three great Kansas albums. Hard to find fault with any of them. I was only aware of Kerry Livgren moving toward Christian music, which might be why he initially left the band. Didn’t realize any other band members did the same thing.
Not sure I agree with your comment about most American artists not stacking up to their British counterparts. I suppose that might be true when it comes to prog-rock, which I would have assumed you were referring to until you mentioned S&G.
When was that VHS tape recorded? Do you still have a copy or is your friend’s copy the only one? Something to consider posting whenever you launch your blog.
“Didn’t realize any other band members did the same thing.”
I think some of them even have a church or something.
“Not sure I agree with your comment about most American artists not stacking up to their British counterparts.”
As my history teacher used to say, just an observation, not a judgement. There are not that many American bands in my list of favourites.
There is only one copy of the tape, but I know where it is. As to whether I should post it, I don’t know. 😐
The history of Kansas is almost as complicated as that of Yes, also with the similarity that most of the good albums were by a classic lineup (one with Kansas, two or three with Yes).
From Wikipedia: “Livgren has resumed work on one of his most ambitious works to date, titled Cantata: The Resurrection of Lazarus. It is an epic, orchestral and vocal composition based on the Biblical story told in John, Chapter 11, and is still in production. It has been in development for more than 20 years and features a large ensemble cast. Numerous vocal talents are being considered for the roles.”
This could almost be straight from Spinal Tap. 🙂 “Lick My Love Pump”, anyone? 😀
Apart from Livgren, also Hope: “Today, Hope is a retired Anglican priest. He retired from Immanuel Anglican Church, a member congregation of the Anglican Mission in America, in Destin, Florida in 2013. He is currently the head of Worship, Evangelism and Outreach.”
John Elefante, who sang with the band for a while after their classic phase, was also a vocal Christian (pun, as always, intended).