Monday, December 5, 2016

Rockin' in the Days of Confusion # 1649 (starts 12/7/16)

This week: A set from the Netherlands, a Steely Dan set and some hard rockin', both live and in the studio. Not bad for a one-hour show!

Artist:    Focus
Title:    Hocus Pocus
Source:    LP: Moving Waves
Writer(s):    van Leer/Akkerman
Label:    Sire
Year:    1971
    Although it was not a hit until 1973, Hocus Pocus by the Dutch progressive rock band Focus has the type of simple structure coupled with high energy that was characteristic of many of the garage bands of the mid to late 60s. The song was originally released on the band's second LP, known alternately as Focus II and Moving Waves, in 1971. Both guitarist Jan Akkerman and keyboardist/vocalist/flautist Thijs Van Leer have gone on to have successful careers, with Van Leer continuing to use to Focus name as recently as 2006.

Artist:    Golden Earring
Title:    Radar Love
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Kooymans/Hay
Label:    Track
Year:    1973
    Formed in The Hague in 1961, the Golden Earrings (they dropped the plural in 1969) released 25 studio albums and took nearly 30 songs into the top 10 over a period of nearly 30 their native Holland. They were completely unknown in the US, however, until 1973, when Radar Love became an international hit. They returned to the US charts in 1982 with Twilight Zone, and had a final international hit in 1984 with When The Lady Smiles, although that song did not do as well in the US.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Razor Boy
Source:    45 RPM single B side
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    ABC
Year:    1973
    Countdown To Ecstasy is the second Steely Dan album and the first to feature Donald Fagen as the group's sole lead vocalist. It is also the first of a trilogy of albums by the band that expose the seamy underside of Southern California culture in the 1970s. Razor Boy, for instance, targets the twin vices of materialism and complacency, asking the question: "Will you still have a song to sing when the razor boy comes and takes your fancy things away?" The album was not initially a major commercial success, but proved durable enough to attain gold status over a period of years. 

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    The Fez
Source:    CD: The Royal Scam
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen/Griffin
Label:    MCA (original label: ABC)
Year:    1976
    By 1976 Steely Dan was no longer making live appearances. In fact, the group itself at this point was essentially the duo of Donald Fagen on keyboards and vocals and Walter Becker on guitar, supplemented by an array of studio musicians. Although the band had usually done their recording in Los Angeles, they relocated to New York to lay down the basic tracks for their fifth LP, The Royal Scam, returning with the raw tapes to L.A. for final mixing. The Fez, a popular single from the album, features Becker on lead guitar (he had played bass back when Steely Dan was still a performing unit). The Fez, as well as several other tracks from The Royal Scam, got heavy airplay on FM rock radio, which was still trailing AM top 40 in the ratings. Within five years top 40 radio itself would shift to the FM band, and FM rock radio would give way to the Album Oriented Rock format, while bands like Steely Dan would give way to more formulaic groups like Journey and Foreigner. Steely Dan would officially disband in 1981, not to return until 1993.

Artist:    Steely Dan
Title:    Show Biz Kids
Source:    Stereo 45 RPM single
Writer(s):    Becker/Fagen
Label:    ABC
Year:    1973
    Steely Dan's second LP, 1973's Countdown To Ecstasy, did not sell as well as their 1972 debut LP. The reason usually cited for this dropoff in sales is the lack of a hit single, although at least two singles were released from the album. The second of these was Show Biz Kids, a song that sums up the entire Los Angeles lifestyle, a theme that the group would continue to explore for the rest of the decade.

Artist:    Aerosmith
Title:    Write Me A Letter
Source:    CD: Aerosmith
Writer(s):    Steven Tyler
Label:    Columbia
Year:    1973
    Some songs seem to take forever to write, while others almost write themselves. Write Me A Letter, from the debut Aerosmith album, is definitely a case of the former. The song, written by Steven Tyler, was originally called Bite Me, but, according to Tyler, "just didn't make it" until drummer Joey Kramer came up with an unusual rhythmic pattern for the song. Write Me A Letter is notable for being the first Aerosmith song to feature a harmonica.

Artist:    Jethro Tull
Title:    Nothing Is Easy
Source:    LP: The Big Ball (originally released on LP: Stand Up)
Writer(s):    Ian Anderson
Label:    Warner Brothers (original label: Reprise)
Year:    1969
    Not long after the release of the first Jethro Tull album, guitarist Mick Abrahams, who was a blues enthusiast, left the group due to musical differences with lead vocalist/flautist Ian Anderson, who favored a more eclectic approach to songwriting. Abrahams's replacement was Martin Barre, who remains a member of the group to this day. One of the first songs recorded with Barre is Nothing Is Easy, a blues rocker that opens side two of the band's second LP, Stand Up. More than any other track on Stand Up, Nothing Is Easy sounds like it could have been an outtake from This Was, the band's debut LP.

Artist:    Chicago
Title:    Questions 67 & 68
Source:    CD: The Chicago Transit Authority
Writer(s):    Robert Lamm
Label:    Rhino (original label: Columbia)
Year:    1969
    Originally calling themselves The Big Thing, The Chicago Transit Authority moved to Los Angeles in 1968, changing their name in the process. After a year of touring the band headed to New York to record their first album in early 1969. The first single released from that album was Questions 67 & 68, which was released as a nearly five-minute long single in July. The song stalled out at the #71 spot, but two years later an edited version of the song made it to #24. By then the group had shortened its name to Chicago. The rest, as they say, is history.

Artist:    Rod Stewart and Faces
Title:    (I Know) I'm Losing You
Source:    45 RPM single (promo copy)
Writer(s):    Whitfield/Holland/Grant
Label:    Mercury
Year:    1971
    In addition to his role as lead vocalist for the Faces (formerly the Small Faces), singer Rod Stewart had a solo career going at the same time. This made for some awkward situations, since Stewart's solo work appeared on the Mercury label, while the Faces were under contract to Warner Brothers. For one thing, none of the band members received credit on any of Stewart's albums, including Every Picture Tells A Story, which was in essence a Faces album in all but name. Still, it is not entirely clear if the entire band was present for the recording of (I Know) I'm Losing You, a Motown classic originally recorded by the Temptations.

Artist:    Humble Pie
Title:    Rolling Stone
Source:    CD: Performance-Rockin' The Fillmore
Writer(s):    McKinley Morganfield
Label:    A&M
Year:    1971
    Some people just seem to have more success with their live recordings than with their studio work. Probably the best example of this is a guitarist named Peter Frampton. His studio albums, both as a solo artist and with his band Peter Frampton's Camel, were, at best, modest successes, enough to keep him under contract to A&M records, at any rate. He did not become a household name, however, until the 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive, which is one of the best -selling live albums of all time. This was actually history repeating itself, however. In the early 1970s Frampton was a member of Humble Pie, a band whose greatest success was an album called Performance-Rockin' The Fillmore. Both Frampton and lead vocalist Steve Marriott (formerly of the Small Faces) had a chance to shine on this fifteen-plus minute version of the Muddy Waters classic Rolling Stone.

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