Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Village People - Cruisin'" (1978)

“Cruisin'" by Village People (1978)

Release Date: September 25, 1978
Produced by Jacques Morali
Genre: Disco
Label: Casablanca
Chart Positions: #1 (Germany, Austria), #2 (Canada), #3 (US, Sweden, France), #5 (Norway), #6 (Netherlands, New Zealand), #24 (UK), #27 (Japan)
Certifications: 3xPlatinum (Canada), Platinum (US), Gold (Germany)

Singles: “Hot Cop” (#2 US Disco), “YMCA” #1 (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, New Zealand, UK, France, Ireland, Canada, Australia), #2 (US, Norway), #3 (South Africa), #10 (Japan)

Cruisin' is the third studio album by the American disco group Village People, released on September 25, 1978. Features the hits "Hot Cop" and "Y.M.C.A." which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

After the success of Macho Man, the Jacques Morali-produced Village People unleashed their biggest ever hit upon an eager public with the September 1978 release of their third LP, Cruisin'. Having already become symbols of the outrageous hedonism of the disco movement, the band now thrust their high camp into the mainstream, and what was once intended to draw people to the clubs now brought an entire nation to the milieu.

YMCA (1978)

The first single release “Hot Cop” did not fare well on the charts but did reach #2 on Billboard’s Hot Disco Songs in the US. Victor Willis sang the lead vocal on the song as it served to be his theme song as he played the part of the “Cop” in the band. It received a good amount of dance club airplay but not enough sales to propel it onto the pop charts. Less than two months later Village People quickly released “YMCA,” the band’s defining moment. The song seemed to be everywhere as it reached #1 in at least a dozen countries around the world and the top ten in another half dozen or so. “YMCA” sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Catchy, hooky, and singalongable, the song tongue-in-cheek-ily espoused the many, and often surprising benefits of paying a visit to that now immortalized club/hostel. It even spawned a dance complete with calisthenic arm movements -- clubbers were doing it, kids were doing it, even their parents were doing it. The only question was, did anybody actually ever listen to the lyrics? You haven't lived until you've seen your grandmother going to the Y.M.C.A. The song was a global phenomenon.

Village People (1978)


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Aretha Franklin - Young, Gifted and Black (1972)

“Young, Gifted and Black” by Aretha Franklin (1972)

Release Date: January 24, 1972
Produced by Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler
Genre: R&B, Soul, Southern Soul
Label: Atlantic
Chart Positions: #11 (US), #53 (Australia)
Certifications: Gold (US)

Singles: “Border Song (Wholly Moses)” #37 (US), #35 (Canada), “Rock Steady” #9 (US), #4 (Canada), #44 (Germany), “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)”(b-side) #73 (US, Canada), “Day Dreaming” #5 (US), #9 (Canada), “All The King’s Horses” #26 (US), #70 (Canada), “April Fools” (b-side)

Young, Gifted and Black is the twentieth studio album by American singer Aretha Franklin, Released on January 24, 1972 by Atlantic Records. The album is Top 10 Gold-certified and won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance of the year. It takes its title from the 1958 Nina Simone song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."

Aretha Franklin released eleven studio album during the 1970s, “Young, Gifted and Black” was her most successful of the decade as well as producing the most hit singles. In the whole of Aretha’s recorded output the album remains one of her finest efforts. It was cutting edge for the day with it’s blending of Gospel, jazz, funk and R&B creating a sound and style that rang true to the heart of Black-Oriented Radio of the 70s. But the album struck more than just the BOR listeners. It hit with the hippie movement of the time as well as with the college age generation. This was an album that spoke to many parts of the American culture. It’s not even so much because the songs are about protest or anguish because it is an album full of love songs, but it was the title of the album that struck a chord in many. Many people of the counter-culture were embracing the thought that being gifted and exceptional belongs to all factions of the US population. The title track says it all with its opening lyrics “To be young, gifted and black. Oh, what a lovely and precious thing.” Nina Simone (who wrote the song) followed that line with her cry to the world, “Open your heart is all I need.” This song was a cry for acceptance and love, pure and simple.

“Young, Gifted and Black” is an album full of highlights. Each song builds upon the previous. Quite honestly an album that merits play from beginning to end. Recorded over a seven-month period in 1970 and 1971, "Young Gifted And Black" captures Aretha Franklin at the peak of her artistic and commercial powers. Aretha Franklin was in her prime here, not only in terms of voice but also in terms of confidence -- you can just feel her exuding her status as the best of the best. The album represented a transitional period for Aretha, she was moving from her 60s R&B style to a more gentle soul sound, one could call her “smooth grooves” period. Earlier diehard fans may not have been keen to the idea initially but soon grew to love the new outlook from Aretha.

The album was like a who’s who of popular R&B, soul, jazz and pop music of the time including such luminaries as Billy Preston, Donny Hathway, Dr. John, Hubert Laws and Eric Gale. Aretha’s sisters Carolyn Frnaklin and Erma Franklin performed backing vocals for the album.

The first single, which was released a full year and two months before the album was an inspirational cover of Elton John’s “Border Song (Wholly Moses).” Franklin took the song to #37 in the US and #35 in Canada.

The album’s second single “Rock Steady” was originally released in February 1971 on the Criteria record label. It was later re-released in October 1971 on Atlantic Records and became a top ten ht reaching US #9 (as well as #2 on the R&B charts). Aretha Franklin wrote the uptempo funk song which was made all the more poignant with Donny Hathaway's swinging organ. The b-side “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” charted due to heavy airplay on R&B radio stations and reached #73 on the pop charts and #9 on the R&B charts.

The third single is one that many consider to be the album’s highlight, “Day Dreaming,” another Aretha Franklin original composition reached #5 on the US pop chart as well as #1 on the R&B chart. The song achieved a rare feat for Franklin in that it was also a hit on the Easy Listening chart reaching #11. The song sold more than a million copies and was certified Gold by the RIAA (“Rock steady” was also a gold certified hit). The legendary Natalie Cole recorded “Day Dreaming” and was her last single release before her untimely passing. Corinne Bailey Rae also recorded the song which showed up on her debut album from 2006 as a bonus track.

"Day Dreaming"

The fourth and last single from the album is “All The King’s Horses” another Franklin original composition. This one reached #26 on the pop charts and #7 on the R&B charts. The b-side “April Fools” (A Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune) received a small amount of airplay.

In total five songs from “Young, Gifted and Black” charted on the US singles chart.

Nina Simone and poet Weldon Irvine, who contributed the lyrics, wrote the title track “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”. Simone told Irvine she wanted lyrics that "will make black children all over the world feel good about themselves forever." Franklin never released the song as a single but it did receive it’s fair share of airplay in the early 70s and has become one of Aretha's best known recordings. Aretha started the song out slow with a deliberate pace of a traditional spiritual, and rises to triumphant highs punctuated with dramatic stops and starts. The song is accented in a crescendo of church choir celebration. Aretha knew this song had a meaning deeper than the others on the album. Nina Simone wrote the song based on a stage play named "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," which was written in tribute to Lorraine Hansberry's writing and poetry. Hansberry is best known for her 1957 play "A Raisin in the Sun," the story of a black family living under racial segregation in Chicago that tries to better themselves after an insurance payout following the death of the father.

Franklin’s soulful cover of the Beatles’ “The reinvented Long and Winding Road” features Beatles sideman Billy Preston on the organ. Aretha put a bit of a funk twist to her recording of the Delfonics’ “(Didn’t I) Blow You Mind.”

Aretha Franklin (1972)


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weather Report - Tale Spinnin' (1975)

“Tale Spinnin’” by Weather Report (1975)
Release Date: May 1975
Produced by Wayne Shorter, Josef Zawinul
Genre: Jazz Fusion, Jazz, Jazz-Rock
Label: Columbia
Chart Positions: #35 (US), #3 (US Jazz), #12 (US R&B)
Certifications: N/A
Singles: N/A

Tale Spinnin' is the fifth album by Weather Report, recorded and released in 1975, featuring the addition of Leon "Ndugu" Chancler on the drums. Ndugu was recruited after Josef Zawinul heard him play with Carlos Santana. After the record, Ndugu was asked to join the band as a permanent member, but declined in favor of continuing to work with Carlos Santana.

“Tale Spinnin’” finds Weather Report sporting a more Latin tinged sound with a funk undercurrent. It was the combination of Ndugu on drums and Alphonso Johnson that brought the funk rhythm to “Tale Spininn’” in a way that moved them into a “world” music sound before “world” music was even a genre. But most important in creating this “world” music style was Joe Zawinul’s increased precision in his use of synthesizer and much more pronounced than on previous albums. Zawinul experiments with an array of unusual instruments such as the melodica, which is a hand held keyboard that is played by blowing through a mouthpiece and pressing the keys. He also plays a West African talking drum, a two headed drum whose pitch can be regulated to mimic the tone and phonics of human speech. Other instruments he introduced to the album are xylophone and cymbals. Finally we have Wayne Shorter whose masterful performance of soprano and tenor saxophone sets the mood and ambiance of the music.

"When it came time to record "Tale Spinnin'," Joe Zawinul commented, "We didn't have a band and we had to make a record." It was a drummer that the band needed. Zawinul and Wayne Shorter rehearsed all the music with a drummer but Zawinul was not happy with the results. Weather Report was in the studio rehearsing while Jean-Luc Ponty was next door recording his album "Upon The Wings of Music." Ndugu Leon Chancler, on hiatus from Santana, was playing drums for Ponty. It was during a break that Zawinul and Shorter asked Chancler if he would like to do a session with them. That session lasted a week. These recordings became "Tale Spinnin'."

Although the album is full of highlights none of the songs were released as singles. Though several did receive airplay on FM album oriented jazz radio stations in the 70s.

“Between The Thighs” brings the funk out in an enormous way most notably with in Shorter’s sax solos brining on the brass in an urban way as never before heard on a Weather Report album accompanied by Zawinul’s funky keyboard spells and synthesized idiosyncrasies. This is one of the album’s more dramatic entries. “Freezing Fire” continues in the same vein with a more pronounced otherworldly arp synthesizer performance by Joe Zawinul.

The album closes with the mesmerizing ballad “Five Short Stories” in which each note is carefully crafted and precisely communicated with skill and emotion.

The album’s most prominent highlight is “The Man In The Green Shirt,” this song displays the complex compositions that Joe Zawinul is capable of producing. Leon Ndugu Chancler's drum patterns sweep through the album with a quick and steady tempo. Just as impressive is Alphonso Johnson’s amazing bass that rips through the song like the fluttering of a falcon’s wings yet contains a sort of pacifying effect that sends a warm feel to the soul. Driving the song again is Joe Zawinul’s smooth groovin' achievements on the synthesizer, though this time with an even more fascinating and incredible force. The song skyrockets into a stratosphere that takes you beyond the world of music and into a futuristic galaxy of human emotion and comfortable numbness.

On the original LP inner sleeve, Zawinul explained the background behind "The Man In The Green Shirt":
"I was in Saint John in the Virgin Islands on the 4th of July and there was this incredible old man, black and old, the blackest eyes you ever saw. Now everybody was dancing and nobody paid any attention to him; he was wearing a long green shirt. The music was unbelievable-they had the St. Thomas Steel Band, the original one, the best in the world. The man in the green shirt was there, out there dancing by himself, and I've never seen anyone dance like this incredible old black man in my life. It was his age, his maturity, his wisdom."

The Man In The Green Shirt (1975)

Eric Kriss wrote the following review in September 1975 for Down Beat Magazine:
“After several years of experimentation–both successful and unsuccessful–Weather Report has arrived, so to speak, at the crossroads of space conceptualization, a magical point at which all the musicians seem to feel each other without effort. The result is this brilliant album, Tale Spinnin’, a mixture of folk song and sophisticated jazz in a charming, unpretentious synthesis… Most of the compositions, even those written by Zawinul, bear the unmistakable stamp of Shorter’s thinking. Like Shorter’s recent solo release, Native Dancer, the melody lines are crystal clear and seem to be suspended over a canyon of flowing rhythms… I highly recommend this LP, especially to those who haven’t listened to Weather Report lately. My imagination has been captured, and that doesn’t happen often.”

Weather Report (1975)


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks (1975)

“Blood On The Tracks” by Bob Dylan (1975)

Release Date: January 17, 1975
Produced by Bob Dylan
Genre: Folk Rock, Classic Rock
Label: Columbia
Chart Positions: #1 (US, Canada, New Zealand), #2 (Norway), #4 (UK, Australia), #5 (Netherlands), #35 (Japan), #45 (Germany), #54 (Ireland)
Certifications: 2xPlatinum (US), Platinum (UK, Canada)

Singles: “Tangled Up In Blue” #31 (US)

Blood on the Tracks is the fifteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on January 20, 1975 by Columbia Records. The album marked Dylan's return to Columbia Records after a two-album stint with Asylum Records. Dylan began recording the album in New York City in September 1974. In December, shortly before Columbia was due to release the record, Dylan abruptly re-recorded much of the material in a studio in Minneapolis. The final album contains five tracks from New York and five from Minneapolis.

In a 1975 radio discussion with Mary Travers, Bob Dylan stated that “Blood On The Tracks” was a personally painful work. He has claimed it was not autobiographical yet many of the songs seem to mirror what he was experiencing during the break-up of his marriage.

“Blood On The Tracks” is one of Dylan’s best selling albums having reached #1 in the US, Canada and New Zealand. The album reached #2 in Norway as well as #4 in the UK and Australia.

Initially, Dylan considered recording Blood on the Tracks with an electric backing group, and contacted Mike Bloomfield who had played lead guitar on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited album. When the two met, Dylan ran through the songs he was planning to record, but he played them too quickly for Bloomfield to learn. In the end, Dylan rejected the idea of recording the album with a band, and instead substituted stripped-down acoustic arrangements for all of his songs.

Dylan had finished recording and mixing, and, by November, had cut a test pressing on the album. Columbia began to prepare to release the album before Christmas.

Dylan played the test pressing for his brother, David Zimmerman, who persuaded Dylan the album would not sell because the overall sound was too stark. Robert Christgau also heard the early version of the album and called it "a sellout to the memory of Dylan's pre-electric period". At his brother's urging, Dylan agreed to re-record five of the album's songs in Sound 80 in Minneapolis, with backing musicians recruited by David. The new takes were accomplished in two days at the end of December 1974. Blood on the Tracks was released into stores on January 20, 1975.

While recording the album Dylan kept a tiny notebook in which he worked out lyrics and other aspects of the songs that became the album "Blood On The Tracks." This notebook and others numbering up to around 6,000 pieces have been kept in a secret archive for several decades. He sold this archive for $20 million in 2016.

“Tangled Up In Blue,” the albums only single release, was a minor hit reaching #31 in the US but failed to chart anywhere else. The Telegraph has described the song as "The most dazzling lyric ever written, an abstract narrative of relationships told in an amorphous blend of first and third person, rolling past, present and future together, spilling out in tripping cadences and audacious internal rhymes, ripe with sharply turned images and observations and filled with a painfully desperate longing."

During the song Dylan sings "some are carpenter's wives," which was a reference to Laura Nyro. NYro had been part of the New York music scene in the late 1960s and was very much inspired by Dylan. You may remember some of the hits she wrote such as "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" (both hits for The Fifth Dimension), "And When I Die" (Blood Sweat and Tears, "Eli's Coming" (Three Dog Night) and "Stoney End" (Barbra Streisand).

The sixth verse, which begins: "I lived with them on Montague Street," is a direct reference to John Lennon. Lennon had moved into Ringo Starr's Montague Square apartment in 1968 (with Yoko) after Cynthia kicked him out.

Dylan wrote "Tangled Up In Blue" in the summer of 1974 at a farm he had just bought in Minnesota. He had been touring with The Band earlier that year. Dylan sometimes introduced this on stage by saying it took "10 years to live and 2 years to write." Dylan said he wrote this song after spending an entire weekend mesmerized by Joni Mitchell's album "Blue."

"Tangled Up In Blue"

Album highlight “Shelter From The Storm” has been covered by several musicians through the decades. Dylan got the title from a line in Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Who'll Stop The Rain?": "I went down Virginia, seekin' shelter from the storm..."

In his April 1975 review for The New Republic J.T. Lhamon Jr writes, "The last verse of the last song on the album describes how the performer finds his highest art by attending to himself in order to attend to others: 'Life is sad, life is a bust / All you can do is what you must / You do what you must do and you do it well / I do it for you, ah honeybaby, can't you tell?' And that's it right there: that immediate consistent and thorough involvement with an audience both characterizes rock as the primary popular form of our time and determines it's promising esthetic."

Bob Dylan (1975)


Friday, May 19, 2017

Nicolette Larson - Nicolette (1978)

“Nicolette” by Nicolette Larson (1978)

Release Date: September 29, 1978
Produced by Ted Templeman
Genre: Soft-Rock, Country-rock, Pop-rock
Label: Warner Brothers
Chart Positions: #15 (US), #1 (Canada)
Certifications: Gold (US, Canada)
“Lotta Love” #4 (France, Canada), #8 (US), #11 (Brazil), #22 (New Zealand), #61 (Japan), #1 (US Adult Contemporary)
“Rhumba Girl” #15 (Canada), #47 (US), #19 (US Adult Contemporary)
“Give A Little” #104 (US), #38 (US Adult Contemporary)

“Nicolette” is Nicolette Larson’s debut album and was released in September 1978 shortly after her 26th birthday.

Larson came to public attention singing backup for Neil Young on American Stars 'n Bars and Comes a Time. Her first charting single was Young's composition "Lotta Love" which reached #1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.

Eddie Van Halen appears uncredited on guitar on "Can't Get Away From You". Michael McDonald and Linda Ronstadt are both credited for providing backing vocals.

There were three singles released from the album, the first was her breakthrough, which to this day remains he biggest hit. “Lotta Love” was written by Neil Young and was first featured on Neil’s 1978 album “Comes A Time” which featured Nicolette Larson singing backing vocals. Nicolette’s version of the song was released shortly after Young’s version. Nicolette took Neil’s simple down home song and turned it into an upbeat sparkling song that contains this tone of optimism about it. A 12” single disco mix of the song was released to favorable response from dance club DJs and the song was played in clubs throughout North America. Having been a worldwide hit it looked as if Nicolette was well on her way to worldwide superstardom. Alas the following singles did not fare as well. She had a few subsequent minor hits but nothing that took storm, as did “Lotta Love.”

"Lotta Love"

The second single “Rhumba Girl” received minor airplay in the US and Canada but did not catch on like the former hit. “Rhumba Girl” was written by Jesse Winchester is a Canadian-American singer/songwriter he has had several hits in Canada including 1970’s “Yankee Lady” and 1981’s “Say What” which was a hit in both the US and Canada. The third single “Give A Little” came and went before anybody could notice it.

A soulful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” is a true album highlight which should have been released as a single. Larson proves with this song that she was a gifted vocalist that could tackle most any genre of song.

 Nicolette Larson (1978)


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)

“Autobahn” by Kraftwerk (1974)

Release Date: November 1, 1974
Produced by Ralf Hütter, Conny Plank, Florian Schneider
Genre: Electronic, Avant-Garde,  Krautrock
Label: Phillips, Vertigo
Chart Positions: #4 (UK), #5 (US, Canada), #7 (Germany, New Zealand), #9 (Australia), #11 (Netherlands), #27 (Sweden)
Certifications: Gold (France), Silver (UK)

Singles: “Mitternacht,” “Kometenmelodie 2,” “Autobahn” #3 (France), #4 (New Zealand), #9 (Germany), #11 (UK), #12 (Holland, Canada), #15 (South Africa), #16 (Netherlands), #20 (Ireland), #22 (Belgium), #25 (US), #27 (Belgium), #30 (Australia)

Autobahn is the fourth studio album by German electronic band Kraftwerk, released in November 1974. The 22-minute title track "Autobahn" was edited to 3:27 for single release and reached number 25 in the US, number 9 in Australia and performed even higher around Europe, reaching number 4 in the UK and number 7 in Germany. This commercial success came after the band had released three experimental and purely instrumental albums.

The album possesses many ironies in it music. The arrangements are precise to the point of suggesting mechanism yet able to showcase the group's gift for simple, wistful melodies. Kraftwerk is able to capture and make beautiful the sensations of everyday activity - such as going for a drive along the highway (or autobahn if you may).  The album is based on the very first road opened in Germany in 1932, a year before Hitler's ascension to Chancellorship. The album however has nothing to do with Hitler and everything to do with an enjoyable trip on the autobahn.

Autobahn is an electronic album that includes violin, flute, piano and guitar used along with synthesizers. Autobahn is where the group's hypnotic electronic pulse genuinely came into its own. The main difference between Autobahn and its predecessors is how it develops an insistent, propulsive pulse that makes the repeated rhythms and riffs of the shimmering electronic keyboards and trance-like guitars all the more hypnotizing. Within Autobahn, the roots of electro-funk, ambient, and synth pop are all evident -- it's a pioneering album. The album brought Kraftwerk into the spotlight charting in high positions throughout the world with its highest peak positions in the UK (#4) and US (#5). he album cover, which features a colorful drawing of a motorway on a summer day, was painted by Emil Schult, who also co-wrote the lyrics to the title song.

Autobahn (Single Edit 1974)

There were three singles released from the album the first “Mitternacht” (Midnight) went almost unnoticed and failed to chart. The second single, an instrumental track, “Kometenmelodie” (Comet Melody 2) also failed to chart. Finally it was the third single “Autobahn” that burned up the charts around the world. “Autobahn” is a 22 minute long that was crafted to reproduce a journey on the German motorway. Band member Ralf Hutter recorded the passing cars in the background by dangling a microphone out of the window of his old grey Volkswagen, as it traveled down the autobahn. However, these recordings were not suitable for the song, so they recreated the car sounds using synthesizers. The song was was edited to a more modest 3 minute and 28 seconds running time and was released to the US market while a differently edited version of 3 minutes and 8 seconds was released in the UK. There has been confusion as to what Kraftwerk sings in the vocals. Some people have thought they were saying “fun, fun, fun on the autobahn,” but they were actually singing, "wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn" which means "we drive, drive, drive on the Autobahn.” The song was a huge hit reaching the Top 30 in more than a dozen countries around the world including its highest peak positions in France (#3), New Zealand (#4) and Germany (#9).

The influence of "Autobahn" only continued to grow with influence as each year has gone by. Hints of the Kraftwerk sound began to show up in the music of the artists such as David Bowie, Africa Bambaataa and Depeche Mode. 

Kraftwerk (1974)


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Commodores - Hot On The Tracks (1976)

“Hot On The Tracks” by Commodores (1976)

Release Date: June 1976
Produced by James Anthony Carmichael and Commodores
Genre: R&B, Soul, Funk
Label: Motown
Chart Positions: #12 (US), #28 (Canada), #39 (New Zealand)
Certifications: N/A

Singles: “Just To Be Close To You” #7 (US), #12 (Canada), #62 (UK), “Come Inside,” “Let’s Get Started,” “Fancy Dancer” #39 (US), #2 (France), #65 (Canada)

Hot on the Tracks is the fourth studio album by the Commodores, released by Motown Records in 1976. It includes the Top Ten single "Just to Be Close to You". The album was the band's first to top the R&B albums chart, where it stayed for six non-consecutive weeks, and peaked at number twelve on the pop albums chart.

Song after song this album never strays from its focus of funk and R&B jams. Several songs groove with a tight dance beat that gets you movin’. This was their last album that was pure funk and soul.

This was Commodores' last album true funk and soul album before taking the complete dive in pop and adult contemporary sound such as the classics "Easy" and "Three Times A Lady." "Hot On The Tracks" has a wonderful tight quality - never slick or too smooth, but just nicely put together - commercial, but not so much that it loses it's soul. It's a mixture of funk and sweet soul, done with a focused well crafted approach, and enough of a blend of the two style to keep things interesting.

Just To Be Close To You (1976)

The first single “Just To Be Close To You” was Commodores’ second Top Ten hit hot on the heels of “Sweet Love.” "Just to Be Close to You," initially met with strong resistance from pop radio stations. The song stayed at number one on the R&B chart for two weeks, and reached number seven on the US singles chart in the fall of 1976. The second single, a great funk groove, “Come Inside” failed to chart though continued the reputation they built on delivering heavy jams blended with soulful vocal harmonies. “Let’s Get Started,” the album’s third single reached #3 on the US Dance charts bringing a great dance jam to the table. The hard stompin’ guitar led jam; “Fancy Dancer” was the fourth and final single from the album. The song soared to the Top 40 reaching US #39 and #2 in France.

Commodores (1976)


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Led Zeppelin - Houses Of The Holy

“Houses Of The Holy” by Led Zeppelin (1973)

Release Date: March 28, 1973
Produced by Jimmy Page
Genre: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Blues Rock
Label: Atlantic

Chart Positions: #1 (US, UK, Canada, Australia), #3 (Austria, Netherlands, Japan), #4 (Norway), #8 (Germany), #9 (New Zealand, Spain), #11 (Finland), #12 (Portugal), #15 (Sweden), #17 (Italy), #20 (Switzerland, Belgium), #24 (Denmark), #29 (France)
Certifications: 11xPlatinum (US), Platinum (UK, France), Gold (Germany, Argentina, Spain)

Singles: “Over The Hills and Far Away” #51 (US), #63 (Canada), “D’yer Mak’er” #20 (US), #2 (France), #7 (Canada, Poland)

One of the most iconic record covers of the 1970s is Led Zeppelin’s fifth album, Houses of the Holy, released on 28 March 1973 by Atlantic Records. It is their first album composed of entirely original material and it represents a turning point in musical direction for the band, who had begun to record songs with more layering and production techniques.

This was Led Zeppelin's final studio release on Atlantic Records before forming their own label, Swan Song Records, in 1974. It was also the only Led Zeppelin album that contained complete printed lyrics for each song. Although intended for release in January 1973, delays in producing the album cover meant that it was not released until March, when the band was on its 1973 European tour. They had trouble designing and printing the unique album cover by the artistic company Hipgnosis, with the band completely rejecting the initial artwork and the first prints of the final artwork accidentally coming out with a strong purple tint. When they finally got the artwork correct, the album was banned from sale in many locations because of the naked children on the cover who pay homage to the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.

The Houses of the Holy album cover was not a small army of naked children with wigs on, it was only two kids, a brother and sister, who were photographed over the course of ten days at dawn and at dusk. One of them went on to become a world famous TV presenter, Stefan Gates, of the BBC’s popular Cooking in the Danger Zone show.

Gates, who was five at the time said in an interview years later, “For the Zeppelin cover we went to Ireland during the Troubles. I remember arriving at the airport and seeing all these people with guns. We stayed in this little guest house near the Giant’s Causeway and to capture the so-called magic light of dawn and dusk we’d shoot first thing in the morning and at night. I’ve heard people saying they put wigs on several children. But there was only me and my sister and that’s our real hair. I used to love being naked when I was that age so I didn’t mind. I’d whip off my clothes at the drop of a hat and run around having a great time, so I was in my element. My sister was older so she was probably a bit more self-conscious.”

Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page (like all Zeppelin albums), the album featured sophisticated layered guitars, the addition of obscure instrumentation, and other rich production techniques. The album featured styles and sub-genres not heard on previous Led Zeppelin albums, such as funk, reggae, and doo-wop. The album is an indirect tribute to their fan base, who were showing up in record numbers to their live shows.  It perfectly straddles the bands early, more blues-based period from their later work, which consisted of more richly produced studio albums that tilted more towards pop and modern rock. Bass player and keyboardist John Paul Jones temporarily left the band for a few days during this album’s recording but soon returned and stayed with the band until the end.

There were also several recorded songs not included on Houses of the Holy but released on later albums such as Physical Graffiti and Coda. “Physical Graffiti” contained the songs “The Rover,” “Houses of the Holy” and “Black Country Woman.” While “Coda” contained “Walter’s Walk.”

In 1976 Led Zeppelin released their first live album named “The Song Remains The Same” the opening track of “Houses of the Holy.” Prior to the album's sessions the song had been rehearsed with the working title "Worcester and Plumpton Races," which was a reference to Page and Plant's homes. Successive titles were "The Overture" and "The Campaign." Finally as Plant was fine tuning the lyrics the title "The Song Remains The Same" was born.

"The Rain Song" was written in response to a conversation Jimmy Page had with George Harrison. Harrison asked Page why Led Zeppelin had never recorded any ballads.

The first single release “Over The Hills and Far Away” was a moderate hit in North America reaching #51 in the US and #63 in Canada. This evolved from the Yardbirds song "White Summer," an acoustic solo by Jimmy Page. Many of the same riffs and chords are in it. After The Yardbirds broke up, Led Zeppelin continued to play "White Summer" live. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant originally constructed the song in 1970 at Bron-Yr-Aur, a small cottage in Wales where they stayed after completing a gruelling North American concert tour. The song was first called "Many, Many Times", as shown on a picture of the original master on the Led Zeppelin website.

"D'yer Mak'er" (1973)

The second single “D’yer Mak’er” did better on the charts reaching US #20, #2 in France and #7 in both Poland and Canada. The title is a play on the word "Jamaica" when spoken in a British accent. The name of the song is derived from an old joke, where two friends have the following exchange: "My wife's gone to the West Indies." "Jamaica?" (which has a similar pronunciation as "D'you make her?") "No, she wanted to go". This song was meant to imitate reggae and its "dub" derivative emerging from Jamaica in the early 1970s. Its genesis is traced to Led Zeppelin's rehearsals at Stargroves in 1972, when drummer John Bonham started with a beat similar to 1950s doo-wop, and then twisted it into a slight off beat tempo, upon which a reggae influence emerged. The distinctive drum sound was created by placing three microphones a good distance away from Bonham's drums. Led Zeppelin had a curious history of single releases in America. While the band was active, they released just 10 singles, which typically did just well enough to get a mention from Casey Kasem on American Top 40. "D'yer Mak'er" was one of those singles (backed with "The Crunge"), peaking at #20. Zeppelin was never a "singles band," so these releases were intended to drive sales of the albums, which they did. They often sold well enough to make the charts, however, leaving poor Mr. Kasem to wonder how to pronounce the title to this one.

The third single “The Ocean” was released only in Germany and Austria and charted only in Germany at #8. "The Ocean" refers to the sea of fans seen from the stage at Led Zeppelin concerts, to whom this song was dedicated. The voice on the intro is drummer John Bonham. When he says, "We've done four already, but now we're steady and then they went, 1... 2... 3... 4...," he is referring to the takes. They had tried to record it 4 times prior but couldn't get it right, so as a pep talk he said his famous line. In the last line, the "Girl who won my heart" is Robert Plant's daughter Carmen, who was 3 years old at the time.

The album is filled with highlight after highlight, “The Crunge” is a funk tribute to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown and evolved out of a jam session built around Bonham’s off-beat drums and a bass riff by Jones. This song was used as the b-side to the single “D’yer Mak’er.” “Dancing Days” used as the b-side to “Over The Hills and Far Away” was the closest that Led Zeppelin ever came to writing a pop song. It was inspired by an Indian tune that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant heard while traveling in Bombay.

"Houses of the Holy (1973) Inside Gatefold Artwork

Led Zeppelin (1973)


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Joni Mitchell - Blue (1971)

“Blue” by Joni Mitchell (1971)

Release Date: June 22, 1971
Produced by Joni Mitchell
Genre: Folk
Label: Reprise
Chart Positions: #15 (US), #9 (Canada), #3 (UK), #24 (Norway)
Certifications: Platinum (US), 2xPlatinum (UK)

Singles: “Carey” #27 (Canada), #93 (US), “California” (No chart data)
Best Tracks: ALL TRACKS. Again Joni gives us a solid collection of music.

“Blue” was Joni’s fourth studio album and her first to reach the Top Ten in her native homeland Canada.  “Blue” is regarded, by music critics, to be one of the greatest albums of all-time.

The pivotal experience in Mitchell's life that drove the emergence of the album was her relationship with James Taylor. She had broken up with Graham Nash and begun an intense relationship with Taylor by the summer of 1971, visiting him on the set of the movie Two-Lane Blacktop, the aura of which is referred to in "This Flight Tonight". The songs "Blue" and "All I Want" have specific references to her relationship with Taylor, such as a sweater that she knitted for him at the time, and his heroin addiction. Despite his difficulties, Mitchell evidently felt that she had found the person with whom she could pair-bond in Taylor, and was devastated when he broke off the relationship. She retreated to the studio to record Blue.

In 1979 Mitchell reflected, "The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either."

Mitchell continued to use alternate tunings on her guitar to allow easier access to augmented chords and notes in unexpected combinations. Due to the stark and bare revelations in the album, when it was first played for Kris Kristofferson he is reported to have commented, "Joni! Keep something of yourself!

Two singles were released from the album “Carey” was Joni’s follow-up single to her classic hit “Big Yellow.” In Canada the song fared well reaching #27 on their singles chart. Mitchell has stated that the "Carey" in question was a memorable character named Cary Raditz (or "Carrot" Raditz), a cane-carrying chef with bright red hair that she met in Matala during her European odyssey of 1970. At times it was rumored the song was about James Taylor. The second single “California” was recorded while Joni was living in France but longing for the creative climate she had experienced in California. In the song she expresses the depth of her longing for California by singing that if she was back in California she would even be willing to kiss a policeman, despite considering herself a member of the counterculture.

Little Green

“Little Green,” an album highlight was written by Joni about the daughter she had given up for adoption in 1965, when she was a poor folk singer in Toronto. The existence of her daughter, originally called Kelly Dale, was not publicly known until 1993, when a roommate from Mitchell's art-school days in the 1960s sold the story of the adoption to a tabloid magazine. Mitchell commented on the situation in an interview quoted in a 1998 article: "I was dirt poor. An unhappy mother does not raise a happy child. It was difficult parting with the child, but I had to let her go." Mitchell was reunited with her daughter, Kilauren Gibb, in 1997.

In his review for Rolling Stone Magazine, Timothy Crouse wrote regarding the song "All I Want," The accompaniment - James Taylor and Joni strumming a nervous, Latin-flavored guitar part over a bass heartbeat that throbs throughout the song - perfectly expresses Joni's excitement and anticipation."

The title track, "Blue," was supposedly penned for James Taylor. Blue is a nickname she gave Taylor during that time period.

James Taylor and Joni Mitchell (1971)


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gladys Knight and The Pips - Neither One Of Us (1973)

“Neither One Of Us” by Gladys Knight and the Pips (1973)

Release Date: March 1973
Produced by Joe Porter, Johnny Bristol, Clay McMurray, Nick Zesses, Dino Fekaris and Hal Davis
Genre: R&B, Soul, Pop
Label: Soul Records (Motown)
Chart Positions: #9 (US)
Certifications: N/A

Singles: “Neither One Of Us” #2 (US), #5 (Brazil), #9 (France), #11 (Canada), #31 (UK), “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” #19 (US)

“Neither One Of Us” is Gladys Knight and the Pips ninth studio album and their first to make it into the US Top Ten. The Soul Records label released the album shortly after the group left the label for Buddah Records while the title track was rising up the charts.

Two singles were released from the album including the title track “Neither One Of Us,” the song rose to #2 in the US and was a hit in various parts of the world including France, Brazil, Canada and the UK. The song also topped the US R&B charts for four weeks, their fourth of ten to top the chart. It was preceded by the O’Jays’ “Love Train” and followed by The Temptations’ “Masterpiece.” “Neither One Of Us” was written by Jim Weatherly who also wrote “Midnight Train To Georgia” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” both hits for Gladys and the Pips. In March 1974, at the Grammy Awards ceremony, Gladys Knight & The Pips won their first Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for "Neither One of Us (Wants To Say Goodbye)." That same night, they won a second Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for "Midnight Train to Georgia".

Neither One Of Us

The second single “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” was a minor hit reaching US #19 and #2 on the US R&B chart.

The album contains a dusky and smoky slower soul ballad rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life.”

Famed songwriter, arranger, musician Michael O'Martian composed the musical arrangement for the tracks "Who Is She" and "Neither One Of Us."

Gladys Knight and The Pips (1973)


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

David Bowie - Heroes (1977)

“Heroes” by David Bowie (1977)

Release Date: October 14, 1977
Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Genre: Art-Rock, Rock, Experimental Rock, Ambient
Label: RCA
Chart Positions: #35 (US), #3 UK, Netherlands), #6 (Australia), #13 (Norway, Sweden), #15 (New Zealand), #19 (Austria, France), #34 (Switzerland), #38 (Italy), #44 (Canada, Germany), #57 (Japan)
Certifications: Platinum Gold (UK, Canada)

Singles: “Heroes” #24 (UK), #8 (Holland, Ireland), #9 (France, Netherlands), #11 (Australia), #14 (Austria), #17 (Belgium, Italy), #19 (Germany, Denmark), #20 (Spain), #34 (New Zealand), #37 (Sweden), “Beauty and the Beast” #7 (France), #30 (Belgium), #39 (UK)

+++ 70s Music: Album by Album certifies David Bowie's "Heroes" as one of the great albums of all-time. +++

“Heroes” was David Bowie’s 12th studio album and his third installment of the Berlin Trilogy, which also includes 1977’s “Low” and 1979’s “Lodger.”

The album was recorded with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, "Heroes" continued the ambient experiments of Bowie's previous album Low (released earlier that year) and featured the contributions of guitarist Robert Fripp. Of the three albums, it was the only one wholly recorded in Berlin.

Upon its release, it was met with positive critical reception and was named NME Album of the Year. The title track remains one of Bowie's best known and acclaimed songs. David Bowie composed all the lyrics and music with the exception of “Heroes,” “Moss Garden” and “Neuköln” were co-written with Brain Eno and “The Secret Life of the Arabia” co-written by Brian Eno and Puerto Rican guitarist Carlos Alomar.

Every track on the album was a first take. According to producer Brian Eno, the first take of every song ultimately need up being the best one.

Two singles were released from the album; “Heroes” which was a hit throughout the world and though it is considered a classic in the US the song never made it on to the US singles charts. Written by written by Bowie and Brian Eno, “Heroes” was inspired by the sight of Bowie's manager Tony Visconti embracing his girlfriend by the Berlin Wall, the song tells the story of two lovers, one from East and one from West Berlin. Visconti can be heard in the song banging on a metal ashtray that was found in the studio. The song was also released in German and French. The German version is called "Helden" and the French is called "Heros."


The second single “Beauty and the Beast” was a minor hit in select countries in Europe.

One of the album's most popular tracks "V-2 Scneider" was written as a tribute to Florian Scnieder, a co-founder of the German electronic band Kraftwerk. Bowie has said Kraftwerk influenced him heavily in producing his Berlin albums.

David Bowie (1977)

Dvid Bowie (Heroes Tour 1978)

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