Category Archives: Rolling Stone

Today’s Top 5: September 26, 1974 (via Rolling Stone)

1974 was a bad year. Leave aside, for a moment, the horrors of Watergate and Richard Nixon, which culminated on August 9th with that wretched excuse of a president tendering his resignation. The economy was in tatters. At year’s start, unemployment clocked in at 5.10 percent – not bad, but it was on an upward trajectory to, by year’s end, 7.2 percent. Inflation, too, was spiraling upward. It began the year at 9.4 percent and surged to 11 percent by December.

There were many reasons for the turmoil; this 1974 end-of-year report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, aptly titled “The Limping Giant,” does a good job of explaining them.

In the months between Nixon’s resignation and this September 26th issue of Rolling Stone, new president Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon and offered a conditional amnesty to draft dodgers; and, in related news, Evel Knievel failed in his attempt to jump Snake River Canyon.

According to Weekly Top 40, the No. 1 song this week was Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”; and, according to Billboard (via Wikipedia), the No. 1 album was Stevie Wonder’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale. Top TV shows included All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, The Jeffersons and M*A*S*H. The year’s top films included Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Godfather Part II and The Longest Yard.

Not that I saw any of them at the time. I was all of 9 years old that fall and just starting fourth grade. As I’ve written here, here and here, at the time we lived overseas – in Saudi Arabia, one of the countries responsible for the oil embargo that had helped stall the already sputtering U.S. economy the year before. I liked music, but had yet to become obsessed with it, though Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits got a lot of play on my portable Sanyo record player.

img_2655I’d never heard of Tanya Tucker, the country singer whose face graces this Rolling Stone, and wasn’t familiar with any contemporary singer except Neil Diamond, though distinct memories of some songs – “Doctor My Eyes” and “Bennie and the Jets” especially – bounce about my brain from time to time. I’m sure I was exposed to popular music, in other words, but it wasn’t where my attention was fixed.

Anyway, Tanya – who I discovered in 1978 with her incendiary TNT album – first found success in 1972, at the age of 13, with her rendition of “Delta Dawn,” which she recorded after either she or producer Billy Sherrill heard Bette Midler sing it on The Tonight Show. (Different stories abound.) She sounded older than her years.

fullsizeoutput_1242Titled “Tanya, the Teenage Teaser,” the Chet Flippo-written profile catches up with Tucker at the Fifth Annual Altoona Fire Fighters Show in Altoona, Pa., where her rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” apparently sparked flames of lust in the male folk. “Her face was a study in wide-eyed childish innocence, but her body had another message and her knee drops and pelvic thrusts raised the temperature several degrees around the stage,” Flippo writes.

The article was likely Tucker’s introduction to many Rolling Stone readers; it delves into who she is, both as a person and an artist, and explains that “[s] has had five Number One country hits in two years, including ‘Delta Dawn,’ ‘Blood Red and Going Down,’ and ‘Would You Lay with Me (in a Field of Stone).’ She has Nashville’s top producer, Billy Sherrill—his other major artist is Charlie Rich—working for her. She has limitless ambition and energy, complete backing from her family and a powerful, instantly identifiable voice —low, brassy and vibrating, like a country Ste. Marie. And she has a natural stage presence that is all things to all people.”

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fullsizeoutput_1245img_2806In the article, she acknowledges that “[p]eople say I act older and look older and talk older and sing older, but I don’t know. You don’t find many 15-year-olds with a strong voice. To me—I think everybody should be able to sing, but it’s not that easy. Just like I can’t play guitar or walk a high wire. That’s easy to some people.” Later, she also says “I don’t want to be labeled just a country singer. Right now I guess I am but I’d rather, you know, be labeled like Elvis.”

Onward to today’s Top 5:

1) Tanya Tucker – “Would You Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone).” Her rendition of the David Allen Coe-penned classic apparently didn’t go over well with some because of her young age. “An executive of another record company told me that if you were one of his acts he’d stop having you record what he called ‘scurrilous’ songs,” Flippo tells her.

fullsizeoutput_1240“‘Well,’ she huffed, ‘people get the wrong ideas. Like I had an interview in New York City the other day and the guy was an older man and he asked me to name my songs and I said ‘Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone,’ and he said, ‘What? You’re 15 and you sing songs like that?’ I said, you don’t even know nothin’ about it—you haven’t even heard the song, that’s just like judging a book by its cover. I gave him the record and he called me the next day and said, ‘I liked you when I interviewed you but now I love you.’

“‘I think I’ll use that song for my wedding vows. There’s not much love like that hangin’ around. You don’t find it on every street corner. But some people would like to try to tell me what I should and should not sing….I think two radio stations wouldn’t play ‘Lay with Me.’ So—I just think their minds were in the gutter, they were thinking bad, not me. Some people are always gonna take anything you say dirty. But we don’t need them anyway. We sold 300,000 copies.’”

fullsizeoutput_12472) Stevie Wonder – “Creepin’.” The review section spotlights a few major releases, including Stevie Wonder’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale, which – as I noted above – was the No. 1 album this week. Ken Emerson writes that “FFF concerns the love of God. Wonder’s faith has become more inner-directed and otherwordly, less easily threatened by the here and now. ‘Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away’ but Stevie Wonder can feel God within him, despite His seeming absence from the contemporary scene.” Later, Emerson observes that “FFF is less funky, less specifically black than its predecessors. For Wonder’s onward and upward development has consistently been away from strict soul music and racial categories or limitations. Because of this, his appeal – greater than that of almost any other performer today – cuts across social and racial barriers.”

His conclusion: “The album explores rich harmonies with splendid results, particularly the duet with Wonder’s protégée, Minnie Riperton, on the slinky ‘Creepin’.’ The refrain is ‘in my dreams.’ FFF succeeds in making Stevie Wonder’s dreams seem attractive and real.”

fullsizeoutput_12493) Neil Young – “Revolution Blues.” Stephen Holden tackles Neil’s classic On the Beach: “The hard-edged sound of On the Beach is a contributing factor to its greatness, since the album poses aesthetic and political questions too serious to be treated prettily. Through various opposed personae, Young evokes primary social and psychic polarities that exemplify the deterioration of American culture. Though not named, the figures of Charles Manson and Patricia Hearst appear as emblems of apocalyptic social dislocation in the album’s two masterpieces, ‘Revolution Blues’ and ‘Ambulance Blues.’ In each song, by empathizing with the emotions of both predators and victims, Young has dared what no other major white rock artist (except John Lennon) has—to embrace, expose and perhaps help purge the collective paranoia and guilt of an insane society, acting it out without apology or explanation.”

fullsizeoutput_124a4) Harry Nilsson – “Black Sails.” Ken Barnes says of Pussy Cats: “On his new album Harry Nilsson combines the fashionable practice of revamping hits of the past with originals; fortunately the result, though occasionally unsettling, is always entertaining.” He calls this song “the most intriguing new number, with haunting strings and a clever piratical/anatomical metaphor, highlighted by a neat ‘You’re so vain’-like chorus. Nilsson’s lyrics, as usual, are characterized by seemingly offhand but highly adroit wordplay, and tend to overshadow the essentially low-key music. Nilsson’s vocals, unusually, are confined to a limited range, with none of the normal legerdemain, and contrive to sound hoarse.”

img_2830img_28315) Minnie Riperton – “Lovin’ You.” Believe it or not, but Mark Vining never mentions the classic “Lovin’ You” in his review of Riperton’s second album, Perfect Angel, which he mistakes for her debut (which was actually Come to My Garden in 1970): “Even Minnie Riperton’s octave-bounding, quietly commanding voice can’t keep her debut solo album from losing some of its radiance after a week or two of play.” He concludes with: “Perfect Angel is sometimes subtly fine within its set boundaries but a stronger, more varied production would draw out the hidden color and zest in her voice.”

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: April 29th, 1982 (via Rolling Stone)

IMG_5382John Belushi graces the issue of this Rolling Stone, which arrived in my mailbox toward the end of my junior year of high school. The 33-year-old comedian, actor and singer had died on March 5th of a drug overdose. A true waste. Inside, there’s a nice tribute to him that features the recollections of his parents, siblings and wife, as well as such friends as Brian Doyle-Murray, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, Paul Simon, Jack Nicholson, Anne Beatts, John Landis, Duck Dunn, Ray Charles, Penny Marshall, Hunter Thompson and others.

“Even though he was a bit of a monster, he was our monster, as well as a damned good person you could count on for help in the dark times,” says Thompson.

The entire issue isn’t devoted to him, though. Other articles focus on Joan Jett, whose “I Love Rock ’n Roll” had recently hit the top of the singles charts; independent labels, Jimmy Webb, concerts on cable TV, the plane-accident death of Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads, the Waitresses, Teddy Pendergrass and AM stereo.

There’s also this preview of the future: A company called Video Corporation of America was planning to roll out 300 to 500 video-rental kiosks by the end of the year. (One hopes they got their due from Redbox.)

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Anyway, today’s Top 5:

1) The Blues Brothers – “Soul Man.” In honor of Belushi. From a New Year’s Eve 1978 show in San Francisco…

IMG_53852) Rickie Lee Jones – “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking.” In July 1981, Rickie Lee released the follow-up to her classic 1979 self-titled debut: the equally classic Pirates, which is home to “We Belong Together” and this song, among others. She didn’t tour in support of the album, however, until early 1982, as this Random Notes mention indicates.

This incomplete clip (no video, just sound) is from her stop in Philly that year. (I was a fan, but I wasn’t there – wouldn’t see her until 1989.) Decades later, Diane and I saw her at a mesmerizing show at Temple University, where she played her first two albums in their entirety back-to-back. Another favorite show: 1994 at the Keswick Theater, when she delivered a spellbinding set of her songs by her lonesome. (This Inquirer review really got it wrong.)

3) Joan Jett – “I Love Rock n’ Roll.” Joan Jett Has the Last Laugh, reads the title of the article about the 23-year-old Jett, which basically relates her not-quite-overnight success. “[K]udos in excelsis are due to Jett herself, who has managed to combine the punch of heavy metal with the adrenalin of New Wave—and make America like it.”

IMG_53884) Bob Dylan – “Jokerman.” Dylan wouldn’t release Infidels until October. Early in the year, though, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame: “As the Jerry Kravitz Orchestra romped through an abbreviated version of ‘Blowing in the Wind,’ Dylan strode to the podium to receive his citation from a beaming Tom Paxton. ‘I think this is pretty amazing, really,’ said Dylan, ‘because I can’t read or write a note of music. I never will be able to. So thank you.’” The short piece ends with this: “And he had one backstage request: to be photographed with Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dinah Shore. He got his wish.”

This “Jokerman” clip is from Dylan’s 1984 performance on Late Night With David Letterman.

5) The Jam – “A Town Called Malice.” The top-selling album this month was the Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat – a classic through-and-through. Other hot albums include (#2) Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire soundtrack,(#3) J. Geils Band’s Freeze-Frame, (#4) the Police’s Ghost in the Machine and (#5) Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ’n Roll. New albums fresh to the charts include (#21) Rick Springfield’s Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me, (#22) Quincy Jones’ The Dude, (#36) Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind, (#40) Asia’s self-titled debut, (#46) XTC’s English Settlement and (#58) the Jam’s The Gift, which I bought a month or two later, after seeing the video for “A Town Called Malice.”