Saturday, March 13, 2010

1979: Robert Fripp Edition

The Roches: Hammond Song


In 1979, King Crimson's Robert Fripp produced the first trio album of New York City folkie sisters the Roches. Fripp mostly keeps the production simple, focusing rightly on their signature vocal harmonies, but on the mesmerizing "Hammond Song", Fripp's guitar occasionally weaves its way into the musical tapestry.

Robert Fripp (ft. Daryl Hall): North Star


Here's another seemingly unlikely collaboration. In 1977, Daryl Hall recorded a solo album with Robert Fripp as producer. Hall's record label refused to release it (though they relented in 1980). Hall then sang on Robert Fripp's first solo album, Exposure, but Hall's record company once again got in the way. When it was released 1979, only two Hall vocals remained on the album. "You Burn Me Up I'm a Cigarette" is a '50s rock'n'roll thowaway, but "North Star" is another matter altogether. It's a beautiful, mesmerizing (there's that word again) melding of Hall's voice and Fripp's production.

1979: Sorrow in the Wind

Emmylou Harris (with The Whites): Sorrow in the Wind


To be sure, 1979 was a tremendously exciting year in punk and new wave music, as documented here all week so wonderfully by everyone. The overproductions of the 70s invited a backlash that changed the sound of popular music. But, there was other music that year. In country music, there was also a backlash against the same kind of production and commercial influences. The difference was that the backlash in country music never took hold.

This was the neotradtionalist movement. Perhaps it would have been more enduring if someone had found a better name for it. The idea was to go back to simpler, more acoustic-based music. And some of the results were stunning. The Whites had a wonderful album out that year, More Pretty Girls Than One. Unfortunately, that one has become impossible to find. But Emmylou Harris also had an album out that year, and she captured the sound perfectly on Sorrow in the Wind, with The Whites on guest vocals.

The album was Blue Kentucky Girl, and it is notable as well for a reason no one appreciated at the time. 1987 would see the release of Trio, a group consisting of Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton. That album proved so popular that a sequel was released in 1999. But Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, on Blue Kentucky Girl, was the first song they did together.

I should note that the neotraditionalist movement did not disappear altogether. Ricky Skaggs has kept alive first in his own work, and also more recently with his record label, Skaggs Family Records. The roster of artists includes The Whites.

1979: Jimmy Jazz

The Clash: Jimmy Jazz


I know that everyone who is even remotely interested in The Clash already has London Calling. In that sense there's little reason to post a song from the album. But can we close off a week about 1979 without paying tribute to what is, in my opinion and that of many music journalists and bloggers, the greatest record to come out of that year? Everyone already knows all the stories about this record so all I can add is my personal experience: John Cusack said that The Clash taught him how to "think for himself, to rebel and to work at being his own man". I don't think I can quite say that, but The Clash definitely taught me that there was an entire world of music that I had never imagined. To this day, thirty years later, I probably never go a month without listening to them. Hail to 1979, if for nothing else, for producing London Calling!

1979: Chemistry Class

Elvis Costello: Chemistry Class (Live Solo)


The music on Elvis Costello's third album, Armed Forces, is probably a little more accessible than that of his first two which was much more spare and angry. However, while the music of Armed Forces is more accessible and new wave, the lyrics were, if anything, more angry. This is where we begin to see the Elvis Costello we would see more of in the coming years. With references to torture tables, the final solution, Hitler, Checkpoint Charlie, the Murder Mile, and much more on this album, this is Costello at his angry best.

However, all of these references can also be viewed as metaphor for difficult relationships. The working title of the album was Emotional Fascism.

This is the album that introduced me to Elvis Costello, and I still love it today. This is a live version of Chemistry Class that's worth checking out.

Friday, March 12, 2010

1979: Bird Song

Lene Lovich: Bird Song


If you’ve seen my blog, Oliver di Place, you know that I do album reviews. If you check back, you might think that the first review I ever did was of Annabelle Chvostek. But it goes back much further.

I started college in 1979, and in my second semester, I joined the school newspaper as a music reviewer. As I started thinking about this post, I realized something for the first time. As the staffer with the least seniority, I must have been in line for the albums nobody else wanted. Indeed, the image above was waiting for me in the slush pile. And Lene Lovich certainly looks scary. So I don’t know what possessed me, but Flex was the first album I took to review. I opened it up when I got back to my dorm, and found diagrams of calisthenic exercises. What had I gotten myself into? Well, there was nothing for it at that point, so I put the album on. And Bird Song was the first song that greeted me. What was making those weird bird noises? Eventually, I realized that Lovich made those sounds with her voice, unaided by technological trickery, with just a touch of reverb. And I realized that I really liked the album. I still do. Lovich doesn’t sound so strange now, in a world with Bjork in it. And I can trace the lineage of this one back to Yoko Ono’s work in the 60s and 70s. But I loved the fact that Lovich was not afraid to be different. Those are still the kind of artists I look for.

Before I go, let me say a word about those calisthenics, and a final word about that slush pile. Later in the semester, Lene Lovich came to play at our school. She did jumping jacks as she performed, while her pigtails flailed about like weapons. And it didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but her keyboard player was Thomas Dolby. As for the slush pile, I continued to have good luck with it. My next review was of The Tourists; the band included Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox before they left to form the Eurythmics. I discovered ska with reviews of the Specials, Madness, and The English Beat. And finally, I reviewed Tommy Tutone an album before they had their hit with 867-5309 (Jenny).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

1979: The Droid

Jerry Goldsmith: The Droid


Ridley Scott's Alien is one of my favorite films of all times. While often labelled a science fiction film, it's really just a classic haunted house horror slasher in disguise.

Jerry Goldsmith's ingenious score plays a huge part in giving the film its harrowing quality, and when trying to think of ways to describe it all I could muster were random words such as oppressive, claustrophobic, chaotic, unpredictable, discordant, terrifying and sneaky.

Listen to the soundtrack really loud in headphones all alone in dark and you can almost feel the physical presence of alien itself in the room.

Scary stuff.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

1979: Moving In Stereo

The Cars: Moving In Stereo


I remember the music of 1979 vividly. I turned 19 at the end of that year. I think the years 18 to 25 are the most important in the development of a person’s musical taste. In 1979, I was working at my first job, and I had money to spend on albums. I also entered college at the end of that year, and my influences expanded accordingly.

So I remember 1979 as the year the music turned strange. The examples that have been posted so far mostly bear me out. But it is probably hard for our younger readers, (perhaps even our younger contributors!), to realize just what a break this music was from everything that had gone before.

My favorite example is the album The Cars released that year, Candy-O. Here was a band that had burst upon the scene only the year before with a pop-rock hit that included Just What I Needed and other hits. The Cars were immediately labeled a new wave band, but really that first album was fairly safe. But Candy-O was another matter. The music acquired a darkness that was new. You can hear it in the way Ric Ocasek approaches his lead vocals, as well as in the instrumental settings. The pop sheen of the previous album is gone, replaced by a sense of menace.

For many bands in 1979, this approach worked well. But The Cars were on a major label, and had an audience that expected something else entirely. So Candy-O was the only Cars album that sounded like this. I don’t think this was simply a bid to capture the new audience for new wave, however. Candy-O, and Moving In Stereo in particular, sound to me like a young band stretching their wings and seeing how far they could fly. For The Cars, the answer was, “not this far.” It’s too bad.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

1979: Rock Lobster

B-52's: Rock Lobster

I was one year old in 1979. I can't tell you that I disco danced with Michael Jackson to Off the Wall or worked for the "Clampdown" with the Clash. Or maybe I did... I don't know. I was still in diapers. But, just because I wasn't much aware of what was happening musically in 1979, doesn't mean that some of the songs from that year don't immediately transport me to a certain place or time.

One such song is "Rock Lobster" from the B-52's off the band's 1979 self-titled debut.

I attended college and grad school at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky (about an hour east of Lexington). Morehead is a fairly small town with limited options when it comes to late night eateries. That meant I often found myself heading east along I-64 in the morning's wee hours to a place called The Smokey Valley Truck Stop. It was the place to get a hot breakfast or double decker "Smokey Valley Burger" at 2AM.

The food was the primary draw... but the Truck Stop also had a juke box in the corner that always drew my attention. It held all the typical juke box fare... Bon Jovi, The Eagles, Garth Brooks, various "Hits" collections, etc... It also held the debut album from the B-52's.

That's where I came to love this song. I played it every time I went to the Truck Stop (which was pretty often) even if it did seem to annoy some of the other patrons who didn't want their stream of classic rock and current country interrupted by some abstract, seven-minute, new wave anthem about a ocean dwelling crustacean. I'm still not quite sure what this song was doing on that juke box, but I'm glad it was there.

1979: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Ramones: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker


As I look through my own library of 1979 albums I'm impressed that bands from the UK are disproportionately represented. So far all of our posts here this week have also been UK bands.

But there were some exciting things going on in the US at the time too. For example, who can talk about the late 70's without talking about The Ramones? After all, according to AMG, "The Ramones are the first punk rock band."

I have not listened to It's Alive, The Ramones's 1979 double live album, in at least twenty years, but as I thought about this week's theme I blew the dust off of the proverbial record sleeve and gave it a spin. Man, this show moves. Nearly every song squeals out of the starting gate and goes for broke until it ends abruptly only a couple of minutes later. The pauses between the songs are usually no more than two or three seconds, during which you hear Dee Dee scream off a count for the next song.

This is not Mozart. This is the most fun band in the world playing at the height of their powers.

Now, clear away the afternoon cobwebs and play Sheena Is A Punk Rocker. In a few seconds you'll be reliving every college party you ever went to.

1979: La Chute Edition

The Fall are still going strong as we speak-ah, so it boggles the mind a bit when you realise they put out their first two albums way back in 1979. Live At The Witch Trials, which was not a live album at all of course, was let loose on an unsuspecting public in January, while follow-up Dragnet got its release in October of that glorious postpunk year. Their line-up had already changed by then, which would happen lots of times in the cult band´s future career.

Only inimitable vocalist annex lyricist Mark E. Smith has been a constant factor throughout-ah. "I don´t sing I just shout, all on one note..." Inspired by the pioneering Pistols of course, but also by garage- and Krautrock, rockabilly, Beefheart and the Velvets, he´s a true Manchester original. For over thirty years now, the former docker has personified the Fall´s unique musical outlook: uncompromising, cynical and often wickedly funny. Or as he proclaims in Two Steps Back: "Everybody likes me, they think I am crazy, I pull my string and I do my thing..."

Monday, March 8, 2010

1979: Landlord

The Police: Landlord


The Police came to the height of their popularity with 1979's Regatta De Blanc, turning the buzz of their stylistically broad, borderline New Wave-slash-Rock debut Outlandos d'Amour into something more palatable yet still unique enough to mark a true moment in the development of modern music. As proof, we offer the fact that Regatta charts higher on the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (though 1981's Ghost in the Machine charts even higher), and that the album hit #1 in both the US and Britain, where Outlandos never made it past #6. Added bonus: most people don't remember, but the track which gave the album its title even won the band their first Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental the following year.

But though I love the whole disc - the mellow reggae funk of Walking on the Moon and Bring on the Night, the subtle strains of lesser-known gems such as The Bed's Too Big Without You, oddity Does Everyone Stare, and the high-energy rock n' roller It's Alright For You - rather than rehash such a well-traveled album, we turn tonight to B-side Landlord, a perfectly new wave punk racetrack complete with unbroadcast-able lyrics and a not-so-subtle violence that serves as a perfect antidote to the album's first single, the radio-ready Message in a Bottle.

The contrast between the A-side's pop-rock bounce and jangle and the B-side's thrash and grunt tell a story of mass marketing and the band's move towards the mainstream; to be fair, the Police were never really that Punk, but it's still not hard to figure out why the track wasn't chosen for inclusion on the album itself. Still, it's a keeper, even if the only way to pick up the studio version these days is via the Message in a Box completist's collection.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

1979: Disorder

Joy Division: Disorder


Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook famously saw an early Sex Pistols show in 1976, then borrowed money the following day with the intention to start their own band. Ian Curtis soon joined as lead vocalist, and what would soon be called Joy Division was born.

I've never heard any pre-Unknown Pleasures live performances by Joy Division, but apparently they were an aggressive punk band before they started recording in the studio. Neither of their studio LP's are punk albums, though. Instead, they are more expansive, more atmospheric, and more reminiscent of the post-punk sound that would fully develop in the coming years with bands like The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen.

Tragically, Ian Curtis was a depressed and broken man. He suffered from often uncontrollable epilepsy. His relationship with his wife was disintegrating. He had expressed to his band mates and others that he wanted to die. Then on May 18, 1980 he killed himself in his own home. His band mates expressed regret that they didn't take his cues and cries for help more seriously.

1979: Concrete Jungle

The Specials: Concrete Jungle


In my opinion, our leader here at Starmaker Machine couldn't have picked a better year on which to focus our collective efforts this week. I can hardly think of a year when there was more explosive, sweaty, real, unpolished excellence being produced in the UK and the US music scenes.

I grew up listening to my Dad's music: Elton John, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, and the like. These are great artists, for sure. But the first time I heard Safe European Home by The Clash, it felt like an atom bomb went off in my brain. For the next decade there was no going back to the safety of my Dad's record collection. The Specials were another band that I listened to until the needle on my record player practically wore out.

These are the years when modern music was born.

Enjoy Concrete Jungle from The Specials eponymous first album.