10 things about 70’s music

1. The Moody Blues have the distinction of releasing the only non-compilation album to reach #1 on the Billboard Chart with 4 different lead singers and 4 different songwriters on the first side of the album. The album is “Seventh Sojourn” (1972).
I think the RRHOF is a big joke, and one of the reasons is that the Moodies aren’t in it, after having sold 50 million albums worldwide and having been awarded 14 platinum and gold discs. Not to equate sales with merit, but the Moodies were a great band and wrote songs which resonate still.

2. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” was David Bowie’s vehicle into the highest echelons of rock and glam (“Hunky Dory”, the previous record, was better, but I digress). To this day, Bowie hasn’t had a bad word to say about his mates in that band, always referring to their excellence in that realm. Sadly, bassist Trevor Boulder and drummer Woody Woodmansey, envious of their own perceived lack of attention compared to guitarist Mick Ronson and Bowie, decided that they could carry on the Spider’s name without Bowie and Ronson, ala Sgt. Pepper without The Beatles (see the movie of the same name). So in 1976, an album was released called ‘The Spiders Form Mars” featuring Woodmansey, Boulder, a couple of guys names Dave Black and Pete McDonald, and what sounds an awful lot like post-Grace Slick-era Starship or Survivor. The album tanked. Awful stuff. From the back of the album cover:
“Born from the rib of the rock god Bowie, the Spiders have an honoured name on the tablets of rock.  Immortalised in the Ziggy Stardust saga, the band which backed David Bowie to stardom now have their sights set upon higher things for themselves.”

3. By 1970, Paul Revere and the Raiders (calling themselves “Raiders” by this time) were a band thats heyday had long passed. Their only #1 hit, “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” (1971), was actually meant to be a Mark Lindsay solo release, but was released under the band moniker. But before that, in 1970, they released “Collage”, one of the great lost albums of the decade. Filled with some furious instrumentation (The Raiders were all excellent, versatile, and tragically underrated players) and songs about shagging nubile groupies in Missoula hotel rooms (!), the album, like so many gems of that time, sank without a trace as rock became more tightly linked to commerce.

4. Want to stop a party? You don’t have to revert to “Metal Machine Music” by Lou Reed. No, crank up Jeff Lynne’s two-sided disco single from 1977, “Doin’ That Crazy Thing/Goin’ Down To Rio”. The cover comes with instructions on how to perform the line dance called “That Crazy Thing”. I tried it. It’s not that crazy. The music itself sounds like one guy trying to rile up a crowd with a disco lampshade on his head. Recorded at the height of ELO’s popularity, the reasoning behind this, in light of Lynne’s subsequent ushering of his band into disco territory anyhow (“Xanadu”, “Doscovery”) did nothing for his reputation.

5. Lou Christie Sacco was just one in a long line of his contemporaries to try becoming more relevant and edgy as his teeny-bopper fame waned. In 1971 he recorded “Paint America Love”, an excellent song cycle about his youth in Pennsylvania, ecology, and world peace. As naive as these things sound now, and even in 1971 after the collapse of flower power, his exuberance, commitment to the material, and talent really shine thru. Del Shannon, Bobby Darin, Dion DiMucci all tried to rebrand themselves in various guises, dropping their idol names in favor of their real ones or adapting singer-songwriter sensibilities or recording “hip” material, but Chirstie’s album shines through. He is an interesting story in the annals of pop music. He co-wrote all his 60’s hits with a woman 20 years his senior (Twyla Herbert). There’s an unfinished quality to the album, as if he ran out of money, but the title track combines soul and pop smartly. Orchestrated, well-produced, seminal. And almost totally forgotten.

6. “Kiss Alive” was a highlight in what was, to me, the decade of the live album. They were cheap to make, worked on two levels (as a career summary and a means by which to share long-touring band’s most effective comminicating of power–the live show) and made a tidy profit most times. But one of the most influential live records of the decade was not live at all! According to the album’s producer Eddie Kramer, the entire album was overdubbed, except for the drums. Where artists like James Brown would overdub audience noises onto what were essentially live studio performances, bands like Led Zeppelin crafted live albums out of multiple appearances at one venue. “The Song Remains the Same” was recorded in 1973 and crafted by Jimmy Page out of multiple Madison Square Garden shows to sound seamless. Frank Zappa and King Crimson, on the other hand, would record everything they did live, overdub in some places, and edit out the crowd noise to create a new studio album. “Chicago IV” is a 4-album live set that went to #3 in 1972, unadorned by studio trickery, but virtually impossible to sit through. For my money, two unadulterated live albums that really transcend the form (!) are Gentle Giant’s “Playing The Fool” (1978) and Rennaisance’s “Live at Carnegie Hall” (1976).

7. It was unavoidable that the Osmond Brothers would be compared (unfavorably) to the Jackson Five. Player for player, musician for musician, singer for singer, the Osmonds were the more talented family, save for one. Multi-instrumentalists with impeccable harmonies, what were they to do? In fact, like the Osmonds, the Jackson family’s recorded output after their initial burst onto the scene is pretty spotty going. Without the Motown machine backing them, and without a herculian talent fronting them, they chose the only road afforded them by their ties to old showbiz. Unfortunately, once they achieved that success, once they had the ears and eyes of a generation waiting for their next candy-coated confection, they decided to talk about their religion. In concept-album form. Thus, we have 1973’s “The Plan”. The rock tunes sound insincere, the ballads were too slick for their own good, and the short links between songs were confusing and bereft of meaning. Religion and rock just don’t mix. Rock music and Mormonism combine to create the sonic equivalent of old man smell. The tepid reaction that greeted the record must have scared every artistic aspiration out of them for good. They’re in Branson now. Here is a video promo for the album.

8. Like the Spiders From Mars, the remnants of Alice Cooper tried to cash in on their most successful outing before their lead singer left (with the band name). That’s how the 1977 release “Battle Axe” by Billion Dollar Babies got made. And it, too, is terrible.

9. For about a month in 1976, Parliament Funkadelic toured with not only Bootsy’s Rubber Band, but a reconstituted Sly and the Family Stone. Captured on video, this version of “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” might make your computer disintegrate. When George Clinton yells “Hey Sly….” at about the 6:50 minute mark, it’s a call for Sly Stone to join Parliament and Bootsy on stage. Holy crap.

10. I am guessing that one reason that artists reached their peak sales/popularity via live albums in the 70’s had to do with a perfect storm of touring made more Bachanalian by the likes of Led Zeppelin/The Who/The Stones–you know, when dinasaurs roamed the earth, an opportunity to test every song in their discography for effectiveness on an audience, picking the best of the best of those songs, and tailoring new recording technology to best reflect what that experience might be for a new audience. Heretofore marginal artists like Humble Pie, Cheap Trick, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Foghat, Pat Travers, and especially Peter Frampton all spent years touring shitty bars, opening for other less worthy fly-by-night acts, honinng their skills, learning what worked and what didn’t, and hitting it big with live albums. By the time these live albums were recorded, there was no question which songs worked and which ones didn’t. It’s what happened AFTER they kissed the gold ring that told the real story. Especially telling are the stories of Cheap Trick and Frampton. Cheap Trick’s catalog up to and including “Heaven Tonight” included songs from as early as 1975, and once the ringers were gone, once a new batch of materiel was necessary, there was nowhere to go but down. Same thing for Frampton, who could not possibly maintain the zeitgeist that followed him after his seminal live record ruled the charts. His follow-up, “I’m In You”, was respectable corporate rock, but there was no winning this war. Imagine being a journeyman for a decade, finally hitting it big with a live record, touring the world again (this time in a limo) and coming home. Then you sit down at the piano with your record company looking over your shoulder. Sweating.

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2 thoughts on “10 things about 70’s music

  1. […] This is from “The Plan”, the Osmond Brothers’ concept album from 1973. I mentioned it before. […]

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