Tag Archives: Lou Christie

Albums I listen to when the shit hits the fan.

I’m playing this Saturday night at a place in Carrboro called Steel String Brewery. I start at 8. Please come by if you can.

The Free Design hailed from Delevan, New York, and sang at Richard Nixon’s 1968 Inauguration Ball. I love them. Their first 7 albums were on Enoch Light’s  Project 3 Label. The albums were always varied and fun, united by Chris Dedrick’s stunning writing and vocal arrangements. You might call it sunshine pop. To me, they were superior to, say, The Carpenters, in every way. My favorite record by them was their 7th, 1971’s “One By One”. It doesn’t even have it’s own Wikipedia page at this time, so perhaps I will start one. Here’s the title track, one that feels even more prescient given the fact that Chris Dedrick died in 2010 of cancer. I listen to this album when the shit hits the fan.

Sadly, Tears For Fears often gets lumped into that slagheap of lesser artists from the late 80’s. However, they were much more than that. And this album is as deep and rich as anything from that time. Maybe it’s the feeling of familiarity and the ubiquitous nature of their previous singles that made people take them for granted, to this day. I think it was pretty ballsy to dedicate almost half the album to works that featured an undiscovered club singer named Oleta Adams at a time when they themselves were red hot and hardly needed to extend their palette. This album is art to me, and when things get rough, “Badman’s Song” always brings me back. Featuring Pino Palladino and Manu Catche. Brilliant.

I have personal reasons for loving Lou Christie, but even if I did not, this album would be among my favorites. Other 60’s singers had tried and failed to expand their audience with reinventions that went against type. But I don’t see “Paint America Love” as a reinvention so much as a striking evolution in writing and performing. This is the guy that sang “Lightning Strikes”, and he’s still touring today, but when the fur flies in my heart, I like to hear these songs.

If you ignore the history and stuff (if you can), I believe this to be their most varied and accomplished piece of work. Epic in scale and execution, and even though some folks thought a single album would have been wiser, that’s a silly argument now. “With The Beatles” would have been better if it was reduced to just one side. Etc. etc. I like the fact that there’s so much music, and different music. Different voices. The ultimate summation of everything they had ever learned, achieved and shared. I love them deeply as you know, but this is the one I have on repeat. I never get tired of it.

By the way, a “glass onion” is a monacle.

There’s no better record from beginning to end than this. I, myself, of course, am thrown back to my Reuben’s Backstage days when Phil Messina, the owner, would put this on the eight-track house stereo as the evening wound down and I was trying to find a ride home.  I know I’m nothing compared to him, but I do try to emulate him when I do my own music, in regards to making tracks cross-fade, and alternating styles.

Dennis Wilson wrote “Slip On Through” and a couple more great tunes on this, their best record to my ears from beginning to end. Not as revolutionary as Pet Sounds, I know. I just like it more. The first album they did where they were a band.  I never get tired of this, and “Our Sweet Love” is a real highlight of the pop music of that era. The weirdness that preceded and followed…

I like pretty much all their albums, but this one is a little more aggressive and relate-able to me. This song in particular reminds me of some recent developments. Sad. To me, it goes: The Beatles to Stevie Wonder to XTC to Radiohead. What’s next? Nothing.

There’s four songs on this album, all of ’em pretty long. Too long to hold your passive interest, but I love this album. Renaissance was formed by Keith Relf of The Yardbirds along with his sister Jane. I know you’re more acquainted if at all with the version that recorded this album. The one with Annie Haslam. Later on they signed to the I.R.S. label, owned by Miles Copeland. Like many progressive bands, they tried vainly to change styles to keep their audience in the 80’s. This album is their best. One of my classical music expert friends pointed out the familiar (stolen?) themes that they incorporated into their magnum opus “Song off Scheherazade” but I don’t think it lessens the effect. Oh what the hell. If you have 24 minutes, listen to this. It’s wonderful.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: