Category Archives: Lou Reed

Today’s Top 5: March 1983 (via Weekly Top 40)

fullsizeoutput_13a4I’m tripping the memory fantastic to the magical month of March 1983 this morning. On this exact day that year, a Saturday, I hopped on my 10-speed bicycle and pedaled my way to one of the record stores that I often haunted – Memory Lane Records in Horsham, as it was a great day for a bike ride: 52 degrees (Farenheit) and relatively sunny.

The biggest story in the news was M*A*S*H, which aired its final, 2 1/2-hour final episode the previous Sunday. On the sports front, the Flyers were in the midst of a winning streak – 21 wins, 3 losses and 3 ties since the New Year – while on their way to an early playoffs exit. The night before, the 76ers had suffered their first loss (to the hated Boston Celtics) since February 4th; they were 26-3 since the New Year, and headed for the NBA Finals, where they’d sweep the Lakers.

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All things considered, life was good; and it was only made better by that day’s purchase: Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind, which features “That’ll Be the Day” and three Karla Bonoff-penned songs, including the wondrous “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me.” It instantly became one of my favorite Ronstadt songs.

As I mentioned in my Top 5 for April 1983, I was in the midst of something of a Ronstadt deep-dive this month: I purchased Simple Dreams on the 1st, and followed it with a succession of her other albums, including Get Closer on vinyl. I’d bought it on cassette the previous fall, but felt the need to observe the platter spinning ’round and ’round. Linda, I should mention, had just appeared on The Tonight Show on March 3rd. Among the songs she sang was the wondrous, Jimmy Webb-penned “Easy for You to Say.” (And, yes, I’ve featured this clip before.)

I also picked up Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on vinyl, and four Lou Reed albums, including the classic (and oft-overlooked) Coney Island Baby.

Anyway, enough about me. Onward to today’s Top 5, as drawn from Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending the 5th.

1) Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean.” The No. 1 song this week was this propulsive piece of pop music. Say what you will about his latter life and music, but at this stage MJ was sheer brilliance on vinyl – and, as importantly, video.

2) The Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang.” Cracking the Top 10 is this classic single from Chrissie Hyde and Company, which would eventually land – along with its brilliant b-side, “My City Is Gone” – on the 1984 album Learning to Crawl.

3) Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone.” The Dutch band that gave the world one of the greatest driving songs of all time, “Radar Love,” also hit the charts with this 1983 single, which inched up from 18 to 16 this week.

4) Don Henley – “I Can’t Stand Still.” Former (and future) Eagle Don Henley’s first solo flight was with the solid I Can’t Stand Still album, which was released the previous August. It’s probably best known as the original home of “Dirty Laundry,” but this power-play track (at No. 48), the title song, is quite good, too.

5) Robert Hazard – “Escalator of Life.” Nowadays, Hazard is probably best remembered for writing the Cyndi Lauper classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” But he was also a big deal in the Philly rock scene, where he and his band, the Heroes, headlined area clubs and had songs played (and played and played) on Philly’s radio stations. In fact, though he had a few videos (including this one) featured on MTV, I’d wager 90 percent of the sales for “Escalator of Life,” a new entry at No. 83, came from his Philly-area fans.

And, as a bonus: Harzard & the Heroes on American Bandstand performing the same song…

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Today’s Top 5: December 2, 1976 (via Rolling Stone)

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Yesterday, I explored the Archive – no, not our attic, but an ephemera store in Lansdale, Pa. I was there once before, found its contents fascinating, and with time to kill yesterday spent a good three hours combing through second- and third-hand books, magazines and other things, including 45s, LPs, sheet music, maps, autographed pictures and…did I mention magazines? You name it, chances are they have a copy – though not the “Women in Revolt” issue of Newsweek, sad to say. The treasures I came home with were relatively modest: two issues of Rolling Stone, one Creem from ’81 and two Newsweeks (one from 1966, the other from ’69).

fullsizeoutput_1112This Rolling Stone is dated December 2, 1976; I covered much of the year here, so won’t repeat myself. But in addition to marking America’s bicentennial, the Flyers crushing the Soviets and a presidential election, the year is notable for a few personal reasons: I finished elementary school in the spring, turned 11 in the summer, and entered Loller Middle School, the first of two middle schools in the combined Hatboro-Horsham school district, in the fall. (Hatboro-Horsham had one middle school for 6th and 7th grades and another for 8th and 9th grades.) Oh, and that summer my family moved from a rented townhouse on the edge of Hatboro to a home in its heart, which meant instead of taking the bus, I walked to the school. The trek was about half a mile, and took me past Burdick’s, a newsstand-soda shop that also sold reams of candy.

Oh, and at Loller? Unlike every other school in the district, jeans were banned. (I’m sure that added clothing expense went over well with parents.)

With that said, here’s today’s Top 5: December 2, 1976.

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1) Linda Ronstadt – “Tracks of My Tears.” Linda, whose first Greatest Hits album had just been released, graces the cover. The Cameron Crowe-penned article delves into how her life had changed since the release of her breakthrough album, Heart Like a Wheel, two years earlier. (The entire article is available online.) The set collects her hits from 1967 (“Different Drum” with the Stone Poneys) through 1975’s Prisoner in Disguise, which is where this rendition of the classic Smokey Robinson & the Miracles hit comes from.

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2) Jackson Browne – “Here Comes Those Tears Again.” A simple ad hawks Browne’s fourth album, The Pretender, which was his first release following the March 1976 suicide of his first wife, Phyllis. This song was co-written with Phyllis’ mother, Nancy Farnsworth, but predates Phyllis’ death by a year or so.

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3) Heart – “Dreamboat Annie.” As I explained back in October, the Dreamboat Annie LP took some time to sail up the charts.

 

fullsizeoutput_111b4) Bob Dylan – “Lay, Lady, Lay.” In the lead review, Kit Rachlis calls the Hard Rain album an “enigma,” “atrociously recorded,” “problematic,” “a psychodrama of the most solipsistic sort” and a “revisionist critique of [Dylan’s] of his own past. He is not so much reinterpreting his work as blowing it apart.” That is to say, “Mostly his voice pushes the songs past recognition, beyond interpretation.” Of the performance of this classic song, he observes that it’s “no longer a request, but a demand.” And if, after all that, you’re still not sure what he thinks of Hard Rain, he concludes with: “Like a true primitive, Dylan’s work functions as a direct megaphone to himself. The result has been some of the most brilliant art that popular culture in this country has ever produced. But it also means that Dylan is at once his own best and worst critic. Hard Rain is the product of the latter.”

Unfortunately, I can’t find any tracks from the live album on YouTube. So, instead, here’s a 45 for “Lay, Lady, Lay” from 1969 –

5) Lou Reed – “You Wear It So Well.” Lou’s Rock and Roll Heart album did not win over reviewer Frank Rose, who says that it’s “less a collection of rock & roll songs than a series of meditations” and, after giving Lou his due for the continued influence of the Velvet Underground, observes that “[t]he key phrases [on the album] are all refrains: ‘I’m banging on my drum’; ‘You wear it so well’; ‘You’re caught in a vicious circle’; ‘It’s just a temporary thing.’ Reed chants them like mantras, until they’re almost stripped of meaning. He has scooped out their depth and given us nothing but surface.” Ouch!

And that’s that. Kinda. Here, in descending order, are the concluding sections of the Linda, Heart and Dylan pieces.

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Today’s Top 5: January 31, 1977 (via Circus)

IMG_1159In the Philadelphia region, like elsewhere in the northeastern U.S., the winter of 1976-77 was cold. How cold? According to Jon Nese and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, from December 1976 through February 1977, we experienced 54 days when temperatures dipped beneath 20 degrees; and, on 35 of them, temperatures never inched above the freezing mark. In fact, that January was the coldest month, ever, for the Delaware Valley.

For a kid a mere two years removed from a hot desert climate, it felt like a frigid hell. About the only saving grace: the lack of snow. We narrowly escaped the Blizzard of ’77, which slammed New England and, for the winter as a whole, amassed less than eight inches.

There were less pluses when it came to the economy. It wasn’t as awful as, say, 1974, but it wasn’t good. Unemployment was 7.8 percent and inflation was 5.2 percent. Yet, despite those stats and weather, optimism lingered in the air for a variety of reasons, including one of the greatest feel-good movies of all time, Rocky, which was released the month before; and Jimmy Carter, who was sworn into office as America’s 39th president on January 20th. It was a new day—and, ever so briefly, a new politics: at the start of his inaugural address, Carter thanked Gerald Ford, his predecessor, for all he had done to heal a land torn asunder by Watergate. The two shook hands.

Not that the speech lent itself to greatness; if anything, its prosaic language foreshadowed what would become a prosaic presidency.

IMG_1160In any event: Circus. It’s not a music magazine I read with regularity and, at this stage of my life, I wasn’t reading any, period. I was 11 /12, attending a public middle school (6th & 7th grades; there was a second middle school for 8th & 9th) that banned denim jeans, and was gung-ho for pro ‘rassling. On TV, in addition to the WWWF on weekends and Sunday football, I watched The Six Million Dollar Man, The Captain & Tennille, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Bionic Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter and Donny & Marie. I watched tons of reruns, too, including The Brady Bunch, The Monkees and The Partridge Family. (The addition of the second addiction/obsession, i.e. music, came later that year.)

Anyway, my main memory of Circus, which is from a few years later, is that it was (basically) a heavy-metal monthly, minus the cool art and stories that accented the real Heavy Metal magazine. So I was taken aback, last weekend, to discover this issue, dated January 31st, in a rather cool ephemera store about a 30-minute ride away from my home.

IMG_1161The tag beneath the title, as seen in the first picture, calls it “the leading rock & roll biweekly.” According to Wikipedia, “[i]n the late 1970s, the magazine started focusing on pop culture as a weekly in the vein of People Magazine, which caused a drop in sales.” This issue doesn’t read like People to me, but it does have several non-music articles – one on Raid to Entebbe, an NBC-TV movie starring Charles Bronson; another on Roots; and a profile of actress-writer Mary Kay Place, who was hot thanks to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and her first (and only) album. There’s also a quick-hit section called Front Pages that features reports on David Soul, 40-band CB radio, NASA and TV odds-and-ends; and the quick-hit Back Pages, which focuses on music. This issue, that means mentions of Paul McCartney & Wings, Queen, Boston, the Runaways, Alice Cooper and Bob Seger.

Here’s today’s Top 5: January 31st, 1977 (via Circus):

IMG_11621) Jackson Browne – “The Pretender.” Kit Rachlis reviews begins the review of Jackson’s fourth album with an excellent paragraph: “Three people haunt almost every word and note of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender: his wife, Phyllis, who committed suicide last spring; his three-year-old son, Ethan; and his father Clyde, who left his family when Browne was a child. In one sense, The Pretender can be seen as Browne’s attempt to come to terms with his own family—a family shattered by death and separation, renewed by the birth of his son. ‘Daddy’s Tune’ and ‘The Only Child’ are for his father and son. ‘Here Comes Those Tears Again,’ written with his mother-in-law, and ‘Linda Paloma’ are clearly intended for Phyllis. But it would be a mistake to view the album as functioning solely as autobiography. That assumption can only lead to the worst kind of psychological speculation. (Is ‘Your Bright Baby Blues,’ most of which was written five years ago, about Phyllis?) Moreover, such perspective limits the album’s scope and undercuts its accomplishment. Instead of being about Phyllis and Ethan, The Pretender is about death and birth, about understanding the past and claiming the future—mostly, it’s about redefining romanticism in the face of disillusionment and tragedy.”

As a whole, the review is a thoughtful rave that calls The Pretender “Browne’s best album.” (He’s wrong there, of course; that honor goes to Late for the Sky.) Rachlis also says that it’s “not the culmination, but an extension of Browne’s previous work. Almost every song has a counterpart in the earlier albums. The title cut, the most important and ambitious song on the LP, belongs in the line of ‘Rock Me on the Water,’ ‘For Everyman,’ and ‘After the Deluge,’ all of which stake out Browne’s position in relation to society. Each declares his defiance of categorization and grand schemes. Rather, his is a search for solace within himself or with those around him—whether in ‘the kindness of my baby’s eye’ or ‘the light in your lover’s eyes.’ Perhaps for Browne, the search itself provides its own solace.”

2) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” John Swenson writes that Night Moves “is already one of my favorite albums of the year, and I haven’t even been listening to it for more than a week. This comes as a big surprise to me because I’ve always taken Seger for granted. Certainly it’s been easy to say I’ve liked him, but it’s always been that casual kind of approval usually accorded to marginal figures who please without impressing.”

IMG_1163Swenson explains: “Not that Night Moves hits me with the emotional impact of The Who Sell Out or Beggar’s Banquet or Gasoline Alley—my reaction to those records was definitely a function of how I saw myself at the time, and very little can match their impact these days. Night Moves doesn’t affect me like that—it’s too derivative (but not in the sense that it shows its influences, because all great rock & roll has been influenced by something). This LP is emotionally derivative, which leads me to suspect that someone who didn’t grow up listening to The Who Sell Out, Beggar’s Banquet, or Gasoline Alley would find it as much of a revelation now as I found those records then.”

He then compares Seger to Rod Stewart (a bit of a stretch, I think), and says “[y]ou could bring Stewart in to sing ‘Rock and Roll Never Forgets,’ and it would be a perfect Faces classic, with all the unpretentious abandon that characterized that band’s best performances.”

(There’s also an excellent article about Seger in the Up Starts section; click on the above pic to read it.)

IMG_11653) The Bee Gees – “You Should Be Dancing.” Saturday Night Fever was 11 months away and, yet, the Brothers Gibb were already on a roll. According to writer Stephen Demorest, “After half a decade in the phantom zone of worn-out pop groups, the Bee Gees have rebounded mightily in the last two years with a stunning string of five hit singles and two platinum albums strong on disco flavoring. And now 1977 promises to be the hottest year in their entire 20 year career.”

On their agenda: the soundtrack to the Sgt. Pepper’s film; and their followup to Children of the World (which would be bastardized for Saturday Night Fever). This song, which features on that soundtrack, hails from Children; and was a No. 1 hit in September 1976. One piece of trivia related to it: Stephen Stills (yes, that Stephen Stills) plays percussion on it.

This video is from Soul Train, where the song was used for a line dance…

IMG_11714) Lou Reed – “I Believe in Love.” In an “as heard by Scott Cohen” article titled “Pitter Patter: Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Heart…,” Lou says “[b]eing sentimental is my weakness. I’ve got a drawer full of old love letters to prove it.” He also says, “I believe in good times, good-time music, good-night kisses, crosses, fresh starts and most of all—like I say in ‘I Believe in Love’—I believe in love.” And, of the song itself, he talks about how “[t]he words…came to me while singing in the shower. I wanted to say ‘I’m on the outside looking in/on the inside of you looking out/at me’ but couldn’t work it in.”

And, of his past, he explains that “[b]efore the Velvet Underground, I had a band in England called the Beachnuts and sang ‘Sally Can’t Surf.’ Before that I sang with Garland Jeffreys at Syracuse University.”

IMG_11675) The Runaways – “Queens of Noise.” The Runaways promote their second album, Queens of Noise, in the Back Pages section. “It’s a weird kinda song,” Joan Jett says of the title song of the Runaways’ second album. “It’s heavy, but it could be a Top 20 hit; it’s got a happy-type melody.”

The un-bylined article also details the band’s shift to an improved recording technique. “It’s certain that the ‘noise’ won’t be refined out, however. ‘It has to have that raw edge,’ said Jett, ‘but sound better. I liked The Runaways for what it was. If we’d come out sounding like a Queen production, it wouldn’t have let us go anyplace.’ Refusing to disparage their debut album, she added, ‘Even though a lot of critics said it wasn’t produced well, we’ve gotten a lot of fan mail saying it’s the best album they’ve ever heard. And as long as the people buying albums like it, I think we did it right.”