Category Archives: The Pretenders

Today’s Top 5: Vinyl Musings

The sun is peeking out now, thankfully, but yesterday and this morning were overcast, chilly and damp in the Delaware Valley. Yet it was warm and sunny inside my den thanks to two finds at HHH Records in Hatboro, which has fast become my favorite store: Lone Justice’s stupendous debut, which I’ve written about many times, and the Pretenders’ Extended Play, a five-song set that I mention in this flashback to November 1981.

There’s something to be said for brevity, in only the crème de la crème making the lacquer cut. Extended Play, which was released in March 1981, is a great example. It includes two tracks, “Message of Love” and “Talk of the Town,” that were included on Pretenders II, which came out five months later, plus two previously unreleased tracks – “Porcelain,” “Cuban Slide” – and a live rendition of “Precious” that’s even better than the studio track.

I owned the EP back in the day, and much preferred it to II, but somewhere along the way parted company with it – not because of the music, but the format. I traded many LPs for cash in the months prior to Diane and I moving in together in 1990.

One LP that I did not get rid of: the 1973 Buffalo Springfield double-LP compilation, which brings together the essential tracks from the influential group’s three studio LPs. It’s also the only legitimate home to the nine-minute version of “Bluebird,” a track that features (according to the liner notes on Buffalo Springfield Again) 11,386 guitars.

I listened to Side 2 (“Mr. Soul,” “Bluebird,” “Broken Arrow” and “Rock and Roll Woman”) last night, and followed it with Side 1 of a future Essentials pick – Neil Young’s Harvest.

I owned it on vinyl back in the day, but – as with Extended Play – let it slip away. Then, for my birthday this year, a friend and her kids gave me the 180-gram LP. “Out on the Weekend,” the first track, is one of my favorites from it; and here’s Neil in March 1971 performing the song on Live on the BBC about a year before the album’s release.

Over at the Hideaway, Herc is counting down his Top 100 singles for 1977 – a thoroughly enjoyable read that mixes the personal with the profound. While countdowns collated from countless contributors, such as NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women or Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, are fun (if infuriating) to read, the synopses of the individual works often miss the raison d’être for why they’re important – the backstory matters not, nor does technical precision. No, I’d argue that it’s the personal connection the music makes with listeners.

Lists such as Herc’s fill the void. It’s idiosyncratic, as any fan’s would be, and – as a result – could well be a chapter in The People’s History to Rock ’n’ Pop. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all. Its impact has as much to do with where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing when we first heard it, as it does the music itself. There’s no right or wrong, though – based on our own experiences, likes and dislikes – we may disagree with each other’s selections and placement. I mean, the live “Maybe I’m Amazed” at No. 64? For shame, Herc, for shame! (I jest, of course.)

Wings Over America, which was released in December 1976, came with a way-cool poster that I quickly tacked up on my bedroom wall three years later, which is when I remember receiving the expensive three-LP set as a Christmas gift. The mercurial Jimmy McCulloch (1953-79) handles the guitar solos with aplomb; listening to them just now via the above YouTube clip sent shivers up my spine.

Here’s another LP I’ve kept with me through the ages: the double-LP Concerts for the People of Kampuchea. Taken from a series of benefit concerts held at the Hammersmith Odeon in London during the last week of 1979, but not released until March 1981, it features a who’s who of then-popular British acts – both well-established (The Who, Wings) and new/relatively new (The Clash, Elvis Costello, Pretenders).

It’s probably most sought after, these days, for the three tracks featuring McCartney’s Rockestra, which consisted of many of the week’s notables in a rock ‘n’ roll-like orchestra. Here’s the “Rockestra Theme,” which was first featured on Wings’ under-appreciated 1979 Back to the Egg album. (Pete Townshend is a hoot to watch.)

But it’s also worthwhile for the other cuts, two of which I’ll feature as bonuses: This gem from the Pretenders…

…and this classic from the Who:

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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…

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.