Category Archives: Little Steven

Today’s Top 5: An Old Grey Cat Retrospective, Part 1

Although the final stats will have to wait until New Year’s Eve, it’s safe to say that 2016 has been a banner year for the Old Grey Cat blog: 500+ more visitors and 2100+ more page views than 2015. Wow! Thank you to everyone who has stopped by from time to time.

Anyway, this week, I thought I’d look back at the Old Grey Cat’s 2016. First up: my most-viewed (new) posts of the year, along with one featured clip from each. (I’ll post a roundup of my favorite posts on Thursday.)

1) Today’s Top 5: August 1984 (via Record Magazine): Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul – “I Am a Patriot.”

2) Diane Birch – Nous: “Stand Under My Love.”

3) Today’s Top 5: Songs of the Seventies: Fleetwood Mac – “Rhiannon.”

4) Today’s Top 5: Saturday, 6/25/2016: Rylie Bourne – “Mary Ann.”

5) Bruce Springsteen in Philly, 2/12/16: We Have Met the Future and It Is Us: “Prove It All Night.”

And what would one of my Top 5s be without a few bonuses?

6) Today’s Top 5: Blake Babies: “Temptation Eyes.”

7) Today’s Top 5: September 1983 (via Musician): The Plimsouls – “A Million Miles Away.”

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Today’s Top 5: December 1982 (circa Record Magazine)

IMG_0896By December 1982, when this issue arrived in my mailbox, America was suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate, which had been inching upwards since before Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, accelerated that fall, and clocked in at an astounding 10.8 percent for the month. As this Bureau of Labor Statistics report documents. “the sharpest job cutbacks took place in the goods-producing sector“ and “every major manufacturing industry registered some decrease.”

Times were tough, in other words, and getting tougher.

But you wouldn’t have known it by me. I was 17, a high-school senior and, this month, spending money like there was no tomorrow. First, though: for Christmas, I received – among other things – a Sanyo Mini AM/FM Stereo Radio Cassette Recorder (aka, a mini boombox) and the new Bob Seger album, The Distance.

The only problem: I had few cassettes. Thus, I dipped into my birthday and Christmas cash and, between Christmas and New Year’s, picked up the tapes for Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, Zuma, Tonight’s the Night, After the Gold Rush and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass; and Lou Reed’s Rock ’n’ Roll Animal and Berlin. I also joined the RCA Music Club and ordered Glenn Frey’s No Fun Aloud, The Eagles’ Live, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, Pete Townshend’s All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti on cassette. Two other albums that I bought, on vinyl, early in the month: the Velvet Underground and Nico and the VU Once Upon a Time two-LP collection.

The spending didn’t stop there, either. I took in a few movies, too: 48 Hours, An Officer and a Gentleman, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Ciao! Manhattan.

48 Hours, which I saw at the now-defunct Eric Theater at the Village Mall in Horsham, was simply bizarre. The projectionist must’ve left the booth, as the theater snapped into darkness after the first reel for a good 20 minutes. We, a sparse afternoon audience, just sat there, eyes on the white screen, waiting…and waiting…and chomping popcorn. When the movie finally did kick in again, it was the third reel – so I never knew what transpired in the film’s second 20 minutes for the longest time.

Ciao! Manhattan, of course, is a somewhat arty film, which meant I took the train into Philly and walked from Reading Terminal to South Street, where it was playing at the TLA. The late Edie Sedgwick, who starred in it, had fascinated me since I’d read Jean Stein’s Edie: An American Biography earlier in the year. (The New York Times’ review of that book is here.) This may blow some people’s minds, but it was my fascination with Edie that led me to check out the Velvet Underground and, shortly thereafter, Lou Reed, as they were all part of Warhol’s Factory scene during the mid-‘60s.

Anyway, to the matter at hand: the Who grace the cover of this particular issue; they’d released It’s Hard in September and were in the midst of what they said was their final tour. Also mentioned on the cover: Jefferson Starship, Men at Work, Miami Steve, Jimmy Page, the Pretenders, ABC, Joan Jett and the Blasters.

Of all those names, the one that most excited me was Joan Jett…but there was no Joan Jett article inside! Oh, Dave Marsh, in his “American Grandstand” column, lambasted Jett consigliere Kenny Laguna for his role in the Bow Wow Wow “Louie Louie” ripoff “Louis Quatorze” – but that was it. No other mention.

Today’s Top 5:

IMG_09021) The Who – “Eminence Front.” Pete Townshend, says writer Jonathan Gross, “looks kind of ‘slip kid,’ thanks to a new, tousled, boyish coif and a lean year off booze and drugs. Rehabilitation has soothed his complexion and brought out the blue in his sad hound-dog eyes.” Townshend comes off somewhat obtuse: “What we’re doing is…what we’re saying…what we must do…keep everything that we’ve done and everything we represent and everything we stand for alone and solid so that it will remain a solid traditional pillar in rock which will always be a barometer.”

IMG_0898He’s more his sharp-edged self in a letter to the editor, chiding Dave Marsh for taking the Who to task for their sponsorship deal with Schlitz Beer in his October “American Grandstand” column: “To end his crass little ‘expose’ with an inference that the Who are now motivated only be greed indicates that this ace rock parasite, now working on a book about the Who, is taking leave of his senses.” Later, after reminding all of the weight the Who name carries, he notes that “Marsh is writing a book about us and not about the equally worthy Keith Jarrett or Tom Waits, Schlitz is using our concert tour as a way of keeping their name before the public. In a sense, they have been just as good to us in their patronage as Marsh has been in the past. They gave me this typewriter by the way; it has a memory erase section. Maybe Marsh should get one. If I was forced to choose between the two levels of exploitation—Marsh or Schlitz—I would think twice about having my life dredged over again by a critic and take the beer. Or at least the price of the beer.”

All that said – It’s Hard isn’t the first album any Who fan is going to reach for – it would likely be one of the last. Though Townshend, as evidenced by his Chinese Eyes set, was still capable of delivering the goods on his own, post-Moon he missed the mark when writing for the band. Perhaps that’s why “Eminence Front” was the set’s best song…he’s up front.

IMG_09052) The Pretenders – “My City Was Gone.” There’s a brief article by Suzanne Whatley on Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers, who were seeking permanent replacements for the late James Honeyman-Scott, who o.d.ed, and Pete Farndon, who – according to the article – split from the band after Honeyman-Scott’s death in June 1982. (He o.d.ed himself in April 1983.) The article states that “Hynde and Chambers cut a single, ‘Back on the Chain Gang,’ which has been released in England on the Real label. Accompanying the two Pretenders in the studio were guitarist Billy Bremner, late of Rockpile, and bassist Tony Butler, who played on Pete Townshend’s Chinese Eyes LP.”

Whitley adds that “[t]he B-side of ‘Chain Gang’  proves to be one of Hynde’s more interesting compositions. Titled ‘My City Was Gone,’ the autobiographical account of the singer’s return to her native Ohio finds Hynde surveying the overbuilt and now-unfamiliar terrain while weighing her memories with quiet, revealing despair.”

IMG_09033) Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – “Men Without Women.” Wayne King reviews longtime Springsteen sideman Steven Van Zandt’s debut LP, of which this is the title tune. Van Zandt’s vocal, he says, “evokes the nasal pitch of Keith Richards”; and the album, at a whole, “is a profound, deeply-felt statement of belief in the transcendent capacity of rock ’n’ roll; its joyful noise should inspire those who listen as greatly as it does those who create.”

IMG_09044) R.E.M. – “Gardening at Night.” Nick Burton tackles the debut EP of this new band from Athens, Ga.: “If you can imagine a cross between the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Jam, you’ll have a good idea of R.E.M.’s strange but effective hybrid approach. Chronic Town, a five-track EP, was produced on a garage band budget, and the resulting trashy sound makes for a striking aural backdrop.”

Burton wraps things up with: “It would be nice to add that R.E.M.’s lyrics match their musical sparkle, but Michael Stipe’s vocals are pushed so far back in the mix that it’s difficult to understand exactly what he’s singing about. I’ve listened to this record countless times, and I still don’t know if the songs deal with moody introspection or disco roller skating. But Chronic Town is worth checking out, if only for the music. Unlike so many EPs, this one’s consistently fascinating.”

IMG_09075) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).” Hey, no mention beyond the cover isn’t going to stop me from featuring the former Runaway when given the chance. Who else could I go with? Jefferson Starship, who by this point had devolved into an ordinary arena-rock band? Why bother? So, here’s Joan from October 1983 performing a Gary Glitter song that she recorded for her pre-I Love Rock ’n’ Roll album, Bad Reputation, which was given a big push after the success of her sophomore effort.

 

 

Today’s Top 5: August 1984 (via Record Magazine)

IMG_0444August 1984 began on a high note: I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash at the Mann Music Center on the 4th. The Woodstock survivors opened with “Love the One You’re With” and “Chicago”; and performed most of the songs I wanted to hear as well as a few surprises – Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” I vividly remember “To the Last Whale” (aka “Critical Mass” and “Wind on the Water”); the stage went dark, Crosby & Nash’s wordless vocals flooded the open-air venue, and – wow. Just wow. The wows kept coming, too, and included “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Cathedral,” “Wooden Ships,” “Carry On” and “Teach Your Children.”

I also saw Huey Lewis & the News at the Mann this month. My memory of that isn’t sharp, likely because I wasn’t a fan and knew few of the songs; I tagged along with some friends from high school – the last time I saw them, I think. About the only thing I do recall: a juggler (!) opened; and we were as far back on the lawn as possible due to arriving late.

IMG_0447Among the LPs I purchased this month: Stephen Stills’ Right by You, The Best of Otis Redding, The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits, Volume II, John David Souther’s Home by Dawn and Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers. One might surmise that I was out-of-step, musically speaking, with the times – and, to an extent, I was. But I also liked the Go-Go’s – their Talk Show album came out in March, and would go on to become my Album of the Year. I also owned, by year’s end, 15 of the other LPs listed in this issue’s Top 100 Albums chart.

Anyway, the cover story features a band I could care less about, the Cars. They annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Other articles focus on the Thompson Twins, Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, and Womack & Womack – all less annoying than the Cars.

Onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_04491) Tracey Ullman – “They Don’t Know.” There’s a brief article by Mark Mehler on Ms. Ullman, who released her You Broke My Heart in 17 Places album in late 1983: “Though she’s a hit recording artist in the United States, the folks in Tracey Ullman’s native England prefer her as a dippy but earthy storyteller, wisecracker and bon vivant – in other words, the sort of 24-year-old who’d admit on national TV to forgetting to put on underwear before going dancing. ‘The man I was dancing with didn’t know it and spun me around and I’m whispering in his ear, ‘I have no knickers on,’ but he doesn’t hear me and the entire audience is in tears at this terrible sight.’”

The piece also explains how she came to score a recording contract: “A chance meeting at the hairdressers with the wife of Stiff Records founder Dave Robinson led to Ullman’s being signed by the label, even though her previous vocal excursions had been confined to the London stage in shows such as Grease.”

One note about this song: Kirsty MacColl, who wrote and recorded it in 1979, sings backup.

IMG_04502) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “No Surrender.” Born in the U.S.A., released in June, is the first review. Penned by Anthony DeCurtis, it opens with: “An original product of counterculture aspiration and a boom economy that proffered better times for workers, Bruce Springsteen has watched two hopes wither and die in the last decade. Since Greetings From Asbury Park he has chronicled the translation of a dream into a memory; the ‘glory days’ that once seemed to glisten before us are now a dimly recollected image of unfulfilled desire. Born in the U.S.A. finds the Springsteen pantheon of virtues – work, strive, endure, remember – still revered. What has disappeared is the promised land he once believed those virtues could earn.”

He concludes with: “[D]espite its musical heart and studio-craft, Born in the U.S.A.’s ultimate power resides in Springsteen’s tough, cramped social vision. If Woody Guthrie was the Dust Bowl laureate, Springsteen has emerged as the brave voice of workers in modern America’s sunset industries. Many rock performers have spoken for one subculture or another, but none has ever defined the works and days of an entire class as their subject. Until now.”

In between, DeCurtis raves about the album. Of this song, a tribute to former E Streeter Steven Van Zandt: “Two young groovers swear a rock-based bond of blood-brotherhood in ‘No Surrender,’ but ‘young faces grow sad and old/And hearts of fire grow cold.’ The song ends with Springsteen echoing Dylan and offering a complementary vision to Van Zandt’s new-found political fervor: ‘There’s a war outside still raging/You say it’s not ours anymore to win/I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover’s bed/With a wide open country in my head.’”

IMG_04553) Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul – “I Am a Patriot.” The issue’s second review, coincidentally, is for Steven Van Zandt’s debut, Voice of America. It’s a politically charged outing that Christopher Hill sums up as thus: “Because of Van Zandt’s inspirational approach, and because he’s chosen to unify his diverse styles with a crash, echoey sort of mix, comparisons inevitably pop up to ‘anthem’ bands like U2, the Alarm, and Big Country. But if these bands are the Cecil B. DeMilles of the trade, striking heroic poses and invoking Biblical images of millennial strife, Steven Van Zandt and his cohorts are the Frank Capras, finding epic themes in the hearts of ordinary people. Where the others show us the golden, hazy horizon, Little Steven and his Disciples show us real faces.”

“I Am a Patriot,” which was later covered by Jackson Browne, is a message that still resonates.

IMG_04514) Roger Waters – “The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.” The title track to Waters’ solo debut, which is reviewed in tandem with David Gilmour’s About Face is, Ira Robbins explains, “a lot like The Wall without the children’s chorus, except that its dumb conceptual framework rivals only Frank Zappa for wretched, ungainly excess.”

That’s an accurate summary, I should mention. I owned this album, and – on July 24th of the preceding month – saw Waters, backed by a crack band that included Eric Clapton, play it from start to finish. Really, if he’d ended the concert at the first intermission, I don’t think anyone would have minded, as the first set was all Floyd; the second half, which featured the Pros and Cons album in full, was tedious – and that’s being generous. (That show is earmarked for a future Of Concerts Past post.)

However, despite disliking the album, I did and do like the title song –

IMG_04525) The Jones Girls – “Won’t Let You Take It Back.” James Hunter writes of Keep It Comin’, the LP this song is from: “[T]he three Jones Girls’ singing is terribly seductive stuff – when they harmonize they can, seemingly at will, energize your heart or take bits of it apart.” He sums up with: “People prone to nostalgic reminisces about the Golden Age of Girl Groups should check this out, because both the record and the Jones Girls are just too good to be discovered twenty years down the line.”

Honestly, I’d forgotten about them until seeing this review. I owned the cassette back in the day, but it went the way of most cassettes once CDs came into vogue. They still sound good.

IMG_0453And one bonus: Spinal Tap – “(Listen to the) Flower People.” The issue’s closing essay is by Anthony DeCurtis, who ruminates on what happens when music and movies (or video) mix. He cites This Is Spinal Tap, The Rutles and A Hard Day’s Night, along with a litany of documentaries, as being successes, and points out the dark side of rock videos. The mention of Spinal Tap, however, reminds me of earlier in ’84, when I worked as an usher at a movie theater. This Is Spinal Tap was booked for a week; and, for those seven days, I think it attracted no more than 100 people. Yet, I laughed every time I watched it – it’s a classic.