Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Temper into Tempest



Portland is full of 'em too.  

So when I read about Lucius, I thought "oh damn, another soggy washed out folk group" producing songs that sound like every other song from that environment.

And then I listened.

If I am drooling please forgive me.  Their sound, running the gamut from 60's girl group to 80's Abba is just perfect.  Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig - the two vocalists - are in fact Agnetha and Frida when they want to be.  And they certainly hit it out of the park with "Tempest".

We are two ships passing
How long will this last
We haven't had the time to work it out

But don't stop here, go listen to their killer R&B number "Turn It Around".  And anything else you can find by them because they are the real deal.

I am totally hooked.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I keep wasting my chance with you

Roy Wood is a real enigma to me.  He wrote some of the finest Beatle-ish pop singles ever for this band The Move, founded the Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne, released two amazing and critically respected solo albums, and hit the top of the UK charts multiple times with his 50's sax and rock band Wizzard.   From about 1966 until 1973 he was consistently on the British charts, and more importantly, writing challenging pop music in a variety of styles.   And then.... nothing.   Well not exactly nothing, he had a few released under his own names as well as the Wizzard successor "Wizzo", but clearly the times had changed and he was running out of steam.

For a time in the early 70s after Jeff Lynne joined The Move, Roy and Jeff were being touted as the logical extension of the defunct Beatles.   Why these two had a falling out we may never know.   Roy moved in a radically different direction with Wizzard from The Move and his solo work.  His new band was truly a two headed monster.  On one hand they released killer Spector-ish 50s/early 60s pastiches, but then put out one of the hardest, heaviest, most speaker-killing albums ever recorded with "Wizzard's Brew".   For me, I love it all and appreciate the wide range of his musical compositions.   If you get bored with one style, just wait a few minutes for the track.   I am eternally grateful that Mr. Wood was around during a time when such daring musical styles were accepted by the record buying public - at least in the UK.   I do not fault him for stopping when he did.   It was a great run and my vinyl and CD collection is better off for it.

The following tune was one of the singles released from his second solo album "Mustard".  Do not be fooled by the somewhat dated arrangement, for under the covers is one of the loveliest melodies he ever wrote, and the harmony work throughout is a combination of the Beach Boys and the Ronettes!  Here is what Geoge Starostin has to say about Any Old Time Will Do over at his old website - "will hardly be appreciated on first listen, but on subsequent ones the way Wood constructs his harmonies - from caring and tender falsettoto bitter and desperate tenor - will definitely win your heart over (if you have a heart, that is)"

Now and then I look out my window
But my only world is songs that I still can hear
Though I wait for you
My hours are few
I keep wasting my chance with you
So any old time will do

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Nights Go On and On

In the vein of great riff-based songs such as Pleasant Valley Sunday and Day Tripper, here is a tasty nugget from the Raspberries final LP Starting Over.   Play On has all the requisite components of a great power pop song - riff, a driving beat, and heavenly vocal harmonies in the chorus.   This is the one song on the LP that is a throwback to their early hits.   This album has always been way up there on my list of favorites, and is the most consistent long player released by the Raspberries.  That they came apart soon afterwards is a real shame.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Guide Me With Your Body Light

From the opening other-worldly guitar chords and drumming salvo, No One Knows announces that Badfinger ain't some Beatles-lite band riding on the Apple wagon.   From their second Warner Brothers LP Wish You Were Here, genius popmeister Pete Hamm provided perhaps the finest power pop ever produced by a band that already had a fine track record in that genre.  The story behind the album and its limited release is part of a story too sad for me to tell here.  Look up the details in Wikipedia if you are not already familiar.   Today I just want to bask in the glory of this amazing tune and the super album from which it comes.

Producer Chris Thomas helped the band achieve a mature sound - that along with the stellar songwriting - makes this record their finest long play issue.  He was initially brought in to salvage their last Apple release, Ass, then stayed on for their first two Warner's releases.  From start to finish this is a fine piece of work.  All four members contributed songwriting chores.

As for No One Knows, the guitar chords that I mentioned up top are difficult to describe.   Rhythmically widely spaced, they ring out and barely fade before the next one comes.  A piano riff comes in then the drums build as the chords repeat.   Leading directly to that glorious chorus with the slow guitar arpeggios injecting their counterpoint.

"No one knows how good I feel, when you let it glow"

The middle eight uses the opening mega-chords to punctuate Pete's glorious happy vocal.

"Come in closer with each sigh,
Knowing soon that we will fly"

Even the odd Japanese soliloquy over the instrumental version of the chorus seems just right.  Then those great Badfinger harmonies join in for another pass through the middle eight.

Power Pop does not get any better than this.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Because of All Their Tears, Their Eyes Can't Hope to See

I have been down the rabbit hole of Beatles' blogs of late, and as a result have spent undue time thinking about all sorts of FabFour related items.   One thing that has really taken me aback is the plethora of George Harrison songs that were rejected by John, Paul, and George Martin for inclusion on Beatles' LPs.  Perhaps the most shocking example is the song presented here today - Isn't It A Pity.   Written in 1966, George proposed it as a track for Revolver according to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, or possibly Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band per EMI engineer Geoff Emerick.  Not only was it rejected at that time, but was put down a second time in 1969 when George brought it up again during the Get Back sessions.   For me that was a stupendously bad decision by John and Paul.  It is one of George's most stunningly beautiful and deep compositions and could have been the best song on the LP that was eventually released as Let It Be.

George had so many pent-up songs in his side bag that when the group finally fell apart, his first solo release was chock full of tasty nuggets and he shot out of the gate ahead of his former band mates during the early solo years.

The version of Isn't It A Pity presented here is the most popular version, which appeared on the B-side of the My Sweet Lord single as well as the album.  There is a quieter reprise version at the end of the studio portion of All Things Must Pass.

The quality of George's songs was definitely on the ascent as the Beatles were coming apart at the seams.  The "what if" game in my head keeps playing through the options.   Clearly John was going to leave from the moment Yoko came on the scene, it was just a matter of time.  But could the other three have soldiered on without him?  I believe that they could have.  George was ready to step up to the plate, so to speak, but the management issues at Apple Corp. and the battle over who should manage it split Paul from the other three and doomed them from continuing as a recording entity.  In the short term it may have been a boon to George's career, but I cannot help but believe that even a few more years of McCartney and Harrison song-filled albums could have left us with even greater treasures.   Alas it was not to be.

Friday, August 2, 2013

You Just Ain't Been Tryin'

The songs on Big Star's "#1 Record" are evenly distributed by the two principal songwriters, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton.   The first song out of the gate is Chris Bell's Feel.   The intro chugs along for a few bars before his vocal line enters, almost pulling off a Robert Plant moment:

Girlfriend, what are you doing?
You're driving me to ruin.

Then for the chorus the melody drops down into a lower range with Beatle-ish harmonies:

I feel like I'm dying
I'm never gonna live again
You just ain't been trying
Getting very near the end

Followed by a saxophone frenzy.  Rinse and repeat.  All done with an elan totally unexpected of a rock band just getting out of the gate for the first time.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's Gonna Be Alright Now

Last week I caught the new Big Star documentary "Nothing Can Hurt Me" at our wonderful old restored Hollywood Theater movie house.   First let me say there were moments in this film where I found myself quivering and on the verge of tears.   Seeing all of the archive footage of a band that I have worshiped for 40 years was like finding the Holy Grail.  Considering that it was nearly impossible to find their official vinyl releases back in the day I was amazed at the amount of material still available. 

As much as I loved the movie and was eager to soak up every last word, there were some interviews that did not really shed any new light on the band and their music.   Interestingly enough it was the interviews with the family and friends of Chris Bell that had the greatest impact for me.   I was aware of his status as co-leader of the band on the first LP "#1 Record" but had no idea just how depressed and sad he was as a result of their chart failure, as well as his feelings of being usurped by Alex Chilton.

The musical fragments presented in the film left a lot to be desired.  First of all, nothing was played in its entirety.  And then some major songs were completely left out, such as Back of a Car from "Radio City" which for me is the ultimate power pop song of all time.   For a long time fan like me it was not such a problem, but for someone just learning about the band I am afraid it might leave them wondering what all the fuss was about.

That said, I intend to makeup for my paltry postings for this band - only one in six years - and today want to start with one of my favorite tunes from #1 Record - Alex Chilton's Give Me Another Chance.   This song is so hauntingly beautiful in every little detail, from the opening verse melody and gentle acoustic strumming to the delicate harmonies surrounding these lines:

    I'm gonna be alright now, be OK.
    You know I just woke up and I see the way
    Don't give up on me so fast
    I see it's me that's wrong at last
    Give me another chance

And then the middle eight comes in and I just come apart:

    Its so hard, just to stay alive each day, I really can't go on this way, oh no, oh no.

This film reawakened my love this band and reminds me just how powerfully their music has affected me over the years.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Winter's tune for a Summer Day

This is a shout out to fellow blogger and all around good guy Who Am Us Anyway?.   Thanks for checking in on me via this blog over the last few months.  My health issue has improved greatly, and although I must be vigilant from here on out, I am pretty much back to living a normal life.  Having never had any serious health problem until last year - not even a broken bone - this has all been quite humbling.  But life is good and I am out to make the best of it.

Today's gem is a lost pysch classic from 1968 by the studio assemblage known as Sagittarius, led by producer/song writer Gary Usher.  He collaborated with Brian Wilson during the early years of the Beach Boys, penning the lyrics for 409 and In My Room.   When released as a single in 1968, today's tune My World Fell Down bumped its way up to #70 in the US charts.   None other than Glen Campbell provided the lead vocal, and another Beach Boy touring member Bruce Johnston added backing vocals.   A few months later when the record company demanded a full LP, the song was cut to remove the musique concrete middle section.

From the opening piano diddle I was hooked the first time I heard this.  The delicacy of the verse melody is contrasted with the Beach Boy-like chorus, and then the chamber pop section blows right into the found audio section.   It's all a bit silly and yet the overall effect is quite stunning.   Yet another attempt at a little pop symphony. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

She would cook their dreams while they were dreaming

Ok, this is definitely guilty pleasure time.   My obsession with the songs of Jimmy Webb has led down many strange alleys, including the pop song cycle "The Magic Garden" by the Fifth Dimension, Thelma Houston's "Sunshower", and Mr. Webb's ongoing work with Art Garfunkel and Glen Campbell.  But by far the oddest of his collaborations was his second album with Richard Harris.  "The Yard Went On Forever" from 1969 was the follow up to the previous year's "A Tramp Shining", itself (in)famous for the #2 US hit "MacArthur Park".  I will not be an apologist for that song as it has always touched a soft spot in my heart with its florid imagery of wanting and loss.

So the 45rpm single released from TYWOF was the title song, and it seems clear that Mr. Webb was on a mission to top the over-the-top production of his previous hit with Mr. Harris  Based on the results I would say he succeeded in spades.   The lyric content alone takes this one into another dimension.  The domestic bliss of Kansas City/Nagasaki housewives and their ironing boards is shattered by all sorts of natural disasters - tornadoes, volcanoes, etc.  Since Jimmy spent a considerable part of his youth in Oklahoma, I understand his meaning here.  A perfectly tranquil day in the life can quickly turn into a crazy scurrying for the shelter during twister season.  

Here is an excerpt from the 4 1/2 star review of The Yard Went On Forever at  AllMusic
"the lyrics are dazzling in their cascading imagery, the music is richer and more vividly conceived and recorded, and the entire album works magnificently, juxtaposing grandeur of expression and intimacy of feeling at different moments..."

Musically the song serves as the prelude and source of the musical motifs for the rest of the album.   The opening two note piano chord in its highest register becomes a recurring theme throughout.  And then a gospel choir quietly enters with "Is everybody safe?  Has everybody got a place to hide?".  This is a foreshadowing of the destruction that is to come.  Then Richard Harris enters with a lovely verse (thankfully written well within his range) that warns of the singing of women from around the world (Pompeii, Kansas City) as their worlds come to an end.  At the words "on doomsday" a staccato orchestral section comes shrieking as a lead in to a children's choir singing words from Psalm 130 and the Catholic mass:

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine
Donae nobis pacem

As this repeated section dies away, the true center of the song enters, and for a brief few minutes calm and order are restored to the universe.  But tranquility can only last so long, so the opening sections come back for another round of the end of the world.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Making it all right with me

The  Hollies took a sideways journey after the departure of Graham Nash.  They released an album "Hollies Sing Dylan" which sank like a stone.  Six months later came "Hollies Sing Hollies" which was 100% written by band members.   Almost equally negelected, though the US version contained their big hit single from the same period "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother".  The next two albums showed tremendous growth which was immediately severed when lead singer Allan Clarke left for a solo career.  But just before his departure they recorded Clarke's "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress".  Reports vary as to whether any of the other Hollies are even on the record.

So they found a new lead singer, husky deep voiced Swede Mikael Rickfors.  They released a single "The Baby" in early 1972 on Polydor, a new label for them.  Their previous record company Parlophone released "Long Cool Woman" at the same time, and although it barely scraped the charts in the UK it become a gigantic #2 hit in the US.   Their new single did slightly better in the UK but was completely overwhelmed elsewhere by "Long Cool Woman".

The remaining members refocused around Rickfor's dark sound and in late 1972 released what I consider to be their finest record, "Romany".   Alternating between folky ballads and hard rockers, it constructs a mood piece that holds together from start to finish. The only single released from this LP is "Magic Woman Touch", and it blends the Hollies harmonies of olden days with a 70's folk rock sound.   Mikael's voice is the antithesis of Alan Clarke.   Like a smoky fine aged Scotch, it grabs hold and won't let go.   This tantalizing tune speaks to the magic chemicals that are produced by what we call "love".   Who hasn't experienced that rush that becomes all consuming?

I know there's been a change in me
Ask me why I don't know
My friends no longer speak to me
Pass me by I don't know

Cast your spell upon me one more time
I wanna feel your magic woman touch

The promise of this fine album came to naught.  A second LP with Rickfors was released only in Germany (thanks to my brother John for getting me a copy - it is quite good).  Then pressures from the record company brought back Allan Clarke, which sent Rickfors back to Sweden.  Such a waste.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

your mama calls you Billy your father calls you silly

In 1971 The Hollies released a glam / hard rock single about a cross dressing rock 'n roll singer.  "Hey Willy" was their only foray into this territory and it really is a hoot.  With a Led Zeppelin-ish rhythm section and guitar riff, it really does not amount to much but there are some charms to be found.   Foremost is the crazy drumming from Bobby Elliott, one of the most unsung rock drummers ever.   Some of his fills are just amazing, a 'la Keith Moon.

The lyrics are obviously poking fun at the Bowie/Bolan, and the sentiment expressed reminds me of The Guess Who's "Glamour Boy", a big poke in the eye at the whole glam/glitter movement.

Hey baby you're dressing like a lady
The fellows call you Sadie
but you really are a pretty one

You don't care what they say about your hair
'Cos the bank man's smilin'
every time he sees you comin' yeh

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Yet the years haven't really been wasted

What 60s Brit Pop group had a 1970 hit with the following opening line?

"Oh Woman get your head out of curlers.  Time to get your butt out of bed"

Well of course that would be the recently Graham Nash-less Hollies with there little ode to all things redneck, "Gasoline Alley Bred".   In fact it made it to number 14 in the UK charts, although it did not even dent the top 100 in the US.  It is absolutely one of my favorite 70s Hollies numbers.  In my estimation it is way better than "Long Cool Woman" because you actually get to hear the trademark three part Hollies harmonies in the chorus.   And furthermore it offered a great chance to hear Mr. Nash's replacement - Terry Sylvester - who trades the verse lines with Allan Clarke.  He has a fine strong voice and it fits in perfectly with the Hollies sound.  There is that snazzy little piano plinking that accentuates the end of each of the lines in the chorus.  And best of all, Tony Hicks serves up some really lovely guitar work, including the unforgettable opening picking routine.

This was released about the same time as their LP "Confessions of The Mind", known in the US as "Moving Finger" with a different running order.  Until this week I had not listened to the album in years.   Well ladies and gents, let me say that it is really a fine piece of work.  Studded with killer string and horn arrangements, a few rockers, and those Hollies harmonies, it is truly one of their finer moments in the long play variety.  Not quite up there in my estimation with "Romany" but certainly it all hangs together as a piece.

How much do I love this song?  When their voices swell in the lead up to the chorus each time around, I get goose bumps.  Furthermore there is a little coda with a high chorus of "gasoline... gasoline alley" that just hits me in the right spot.  To add to the charming pathos, the lyrics make it clear that the protagonist knows that he and the little woman are forever trapped by their roots.

"I know that we could have made it.  We had ideas in our heads.    And I wish somehow we could have saved it.  But we're Gasoline Alley bred."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Makes Me Feel Glad That I'm Not Dead

I heard this song for the first time a couple of years ago over at the always fabulous Art Decade.  An almost indescribable combination of Native American peyote chant, trance, and sunshine pop.  From
Harpers Bizarre 4 (1969), this never fails to put a smile on my face. 

It was written Native American jazz saxaphonist Jim Pepper.  The production is truly transplendant, with tinkling bells and tom toms, and later in the song a very simple but lovely guitar line provides a counterpoint to the vocals.

I am smiling ear to ear.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tell Me Again What You Told Me Before

It is always a good day when I discover a new "nugget" from the late 60's.   Being a fan of Dave Edmunds for many years it is a bit odd that I never investigated his first band, Love Sculpture. Today while browsing on YouTube I chanced across a tune from their second album Forms and FeelingsIn The Land of The Few starts off with what sounds like a clavichord - and within seconds I was hooked.  Then a Who-like verse kicks in, to be followed by a chorus that has to be heard.  Just phenomenal, almost like a 17th century baroque melody.  Also packed in is a jangly middle section and one of Mr. Edmunds white hot guitar solos.

I am verklempt.  How did I not know about this song before now?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Feel Only Me

I know the biggest question in the back of you mind is "what is Mr. Pleasant's favorite John Lennon song not written by John Lennon?"  And the answer is a doozey because frankly it is a song forgotten by everyone in the universe.

Well, before I tell you who and what, let me just say that you really have to give this a listen before you make a judgement.   The song is a beautiful amalgamation of Imagine-period melodiousness merged with Help-period group harmonies.  And shades of "We Can Work It Out" - it even has a harmonium!

So here is the deal.  The recording artists had a short-lived TV variety show back in the mid 70s, and one of the members was married to Goldie Hawn for a period of time.  Of course I a referring to the Hudson Brothers and their one and only top 40 hit - So You Are A Star.    Apparently the brothers had a real penchant for Beatles-ish power pop, but were never given a chance on their insipid TV program to show what they could really do.  So the only evidence is this one song, but it is truly gorgeous, and clearly a loving tribute to Mr. Lennon.  It just makes me swoon every time I hear it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Some Are Bound to Glory

In 1973 there was a short lived reunion of all five original Byrds.   The one LP they produced never registered on my radar. The story goes that each of the songwriting Byrds (Crosby, McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman) withheld their best materials for their own solo projects. Drummer Michael Clarke brought along two Neil Young songs.

A few years ago I chanced upon their cover of an at-that-point unrecorded Neil Young nugget.  (See the Sky) About to Rain is a miraculous song and this performance captures Neil's sense of loss and yet also succeeds as a Byrd's number.  When the wall of chiming guitars and mandolin enters at 2:40 the bliss becomes heavenly.

See the sky about to rain,
broken clouds and rain.
Locomotive, pull the train,
whistle blowing
through my brain.
Signals curling on an open plain,
rolling down the track again.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Waiting for the Operator on the Line

The dreary late 70's found the pop music scene in a real funk.  Pre-punk, post-Beatles, and the very last days of the vanished 45rpm 7" single.  From that bleak period there were a few real gems to be heard on top 40 radio.  One of my favorites is the Electric Light Orchestra's Sweet Talking Woman.  Jeff Lynne managed to combine the unusual chords and vocal harmonies of the Beatles with a Motown influence and his usual violin flourishes.   I am not the world's biggest ELO fan but this song really floats my boat.


One of my new year's resolutions is to post more blog entries this year.  So I am starting a new theme.  Artists that write/record music in the style of other musicians.  The first entry is near and dear to my heart.   Here is Todd Rundgren channeling Carole King - I Saw The Light.  Discuss.