Monday, December 11, 2017

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1750 (starts 12/13/17)

This week we pause to catch our breath before diving into next week's Holidays of Confusion special. Not that this week's tunes aren't pretty special themselves.

Artist:    Kinks
Title:    When I Turn Out The Living Room Light
Source:    Mono LP: The Big Ball
Writer(s):    Ray Davies
Label:    Warner Brothers (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1973
    Between 1966 and 1970 the Kinks recorded several songs that were written for television and/or motion picture soundtracks. When the band signed with RCA Records in 1970, some of these tracks were turned over to Reprise, the Kinks' previous US label, as collateral (I'm not exactly sure what that means in this context, but that's the term bandleader Ray Davies used). Around this same time, Warner Brothers Records (Reprise's parent label) was in the process of issuing a series of budget LPs collectively known as the "loss leaders" that were only available through mail order forms printed on the innersleeves of Warner/Reprise releases. One of these LPs, The Big Ball, included When I Turn Out The Living Room Light, a tune written for a British TV show. For a couple of years this was the only place the song was available, until it was included on The Great Lost Kinks Album, issued in 1973. The Kinks themselves were unaware of the album's existence until it was already on the charts, and were not happy about it at all. As a result, the album was soon discontinued, and When I Turn Out The Living Room Light remained somewhat of a rarity until the 21st century, when it was finally "officially" released on a CD called BBC Sessions 1964–1977 in 2001.

Artist:    Little Feat
Title:    Dixie Chicken
Source:    CD: Dixie Chicken
Writer(s):    George/Martin
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1973
    My very first (unpaid) gig as a radio announcer/disc jockey was a daily two-hour slot on a closed circuit station called the Voice of Holloman. The station was only available in a few barracks on Holloman Air Force Base, as well as through the PA system at the base gym. The station itself was only on for about eight hours a day at its peak during the spring of 1973 and was silent on weekends and holidays. How I got the gig is too long a story to get into here, but it was essentially a sort of internship with the station's manager, Sgt. Tim Daniels, who had been moonlighting as a broadcasting instructor. Tim had recently finished a tour in Viet Nam with the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (yes, the same one that Adrian Cronauer had been at a few years earlier) and programmed the Voice of Holloman as an Adult Contemporary station, which basically meant top 40 minus anything resembling the cutting edge of modern music. Back then the major record labels were in the habit of supplying free promotional copies of just about everything they released to radio stations, in the hopes of getting those records played on the air. Although the Voice of Holloman was, strictly speaking, not an actual radio station, we still got a lot of promo singles, especially from the Warner/Reprise group. These included some of the best new music of 1973, including a single by a band none of us had heard of before: Little Feat. That single was Dixie Chicken, one of the finest swamp rock songs ever recorded. Years later I learned that Little Feat was led by Lowell George, who had led his own underground band, the Factory, during the heyday of the Los Angeles club scene, and had later hooked up with Frank Zappa's Straight label, producing the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). Little Feat continued to record critically acclaimed albums until George's untimely death in 1979, but even if they hadn't, they will always be remembered as the band that gave us Dixie Chicken.

Artist:    Stevie Wonder
Title:    Superstition
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Stevie Wonder
Label:    Tamla
Year:    1972
    Superstition was not originally meant to be a Stevie Wonder hit record. The song was actually written with the intention of giving it to guitarist Jeff Beck, in return for his participation of Wonder's Talking Book album. In fact, it was Beck that came up with the song's opening drum riff, creating, with Wonder, the first demo of the song. The plan was for Beck to release the song first as the lead single from the album Beck, Bogert & Appice. However, that album's release got delayed, and Motown CEO Barry Gordy Jr. insisted that Wonder go ahead and release his own version of the song first, as Barry saw the song as a potential #1 hit. It turned out Gordy was right, and Superstition ended up topping both the pop and soul charts in 1973, doing well in other countries as well.

Artist:    Doobie Brothers
Title:    South City Midnight Lady
Source:    CD: The Captain And Me
Writer(s):    Patrick Simmons
Label:    Warner Brothers
Year:    1973
    By the early 1970s the San Francisco Bay Area was a totally different place musically than it had been just a few years earlier. Many local favorite artists had departed the area in the wake of national fame, leaving room for newer acts to blossom in their place. One of these newer acts was the Doobie Brothers, a band that had built up a following by playing small clubs throughout the area. Although their 1971 debut album did not provide any major hits, they made up for it the following year with the release of Listen To The Music, from their second LP, Toulouse Street. Their third LP did even better, thanks to the inclusion of their double-sided hit single Long Train Runnin'/Jesus Is Just Alright. By this time Patrick Simmons, the band's "secondary" songwriter, was just beginning to come into his own, as can be heard on South City Midnight Lady (the "South City" in question being San Jose). The following year Simmons would provide the Doobies with their biggest hit yet, Black Water.

Artist:    Traffic
Title:    The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys
Source:    CD: Smiling Phases (originally released on LP: The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys)
Writer(s):    Winwood/Capaldi
Label:    Island
Year:    1971
    Traffic was formed in 1967 by guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Steve Winwood, drummer/vocalist Jim Capaldi, flautist/saxophonist Chris Wood and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Mason. Winwood, at 18 the youngest member of the band, was already an established star as lead vocalist of the Spencer Davis Group, and it was in part his desire for more creative freedom that led to Traffic's formation. From the beginning there was creative tension within the band, and less than two years later the group broke up when Winwood left to join Blind Faith. In early 1970, following the demise of Blind Faith, Winwood began working on a solo album that ended up being a new Traffic album, John Barleycorn Must Die, instead. This was followed in 1971 by the band's most successful album, The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys. The long title track (eleven minutes' worth) shows a more relaxed sounding band, with Wood, Capaldi, new bassist Rich Grech and percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah creating a moody backdrop for Winwood's interpretation of Capaldi's somewhat cynical lyrics. Despite its length, The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys became a staple of FM rock stations for many years.

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    Serenade To A Cuckoo
Source:    CD: This Was
Writer(s):    Roland Kirk
Label:    Chrysalis/Capitol (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1968
    Jethro Tull did not, as a general rule, record cover tunes. The most notable exception is Roland Kirk's classic jazz piece Serenade To A Cuckoo, which was included on their first LP, This Was. For years, the Kirk version was out of print, making Jethro Tull's cover the only available version of this classic tune throughout the 1970s.

Artist:    Audience
Title:    I Put A Spell On You
Source:    CD: The House On The Hill
Writer(s):    Jay Hawkins
Label:    Caroline Blue Plate (original label: Elektra)
Year:    1971
    Audience was formed in 1969 from the remains of a semi-professional British soul band called Lloyd Alexander Real Estate that had issued one single in 1967 for the tiny President label. The band's original lineup, consisting of Howard Werth (nylon-strung electric acoustic guitar and vocals), Keith Gemmell (alto and tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet), Trevor Williams (bass guitar and vocals) and Tony Connor (drums and vocals) released three albums before exhaustion forced Gemmell to leave the group in 1972. The first two of these were not released in the US, making The House On The Hill their American debut album. Audience did have a successful US tour in support of the 1971 LP, appearing on the same bill as Rod Stewart And Faces and the original Cactus. One of the highlights from The House On The Hill is a mostly acoustic cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic I Put A Spell On You. Compared to most versions of the song, which tend to be over the top, the Audience version of I Put A Spell On You is understated, yet soulful, thanks to a strong vocal performance.

Artist:    Styx
Title:    A Day
Source:    LP: Styx II
Writer(s):    John Curlewski
Label:    Wooden Nickel
Year:    1973
    Although Dennis DeYoung was responsible for writing most of Styx's material, there were a few exceptions, including A Day from the album Styx II. A Day is a considerably more dark and moody piece that anything else on the LP, although it does have a faster section in the middle featuring some nice harmony guitar leads.

Artist:    Steve Miller Band
Title:    Baby's House
Source:    LP: Your Saving Grace
Writer(s):    Miller/Hopkins
Label:    Capitol
Year:    1969
    One of the most haunting tunes in the Steve Miller Band catalog, Baby's House is collaborative effort between Miller and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, who briefly joined up with Miller following an appearance onstage with Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock. The song appears on the band's fourth LP, Your Saving Grace, and runs nearly nine minutes.

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