Sunday, May 28, 2017

That Cold Black Cloud

On May 28, 1977 Television played the Hammersmith Odeon, with Blondie opening. A Melody Maker critic was there. His review does not mention Blondie. 

IT WAS clear, from the moment Tom Verlaine and Television wandered nonchalantly from the stage of the Apollo at the conclusion of their remarkable concert in Glasgow ten days ago, that I would soon have to attend a repeat performance by this most extraordinary young American band. That appearance in Glasgow, as I reported last week, left me in a state of breathless exhaustion, in awe and admiration for Television's collective musical talent and the individual perception and vision of their leader, Tom Verlaine. As I said in the aforementioned review, I was hungry to hear more of the band, though simultaneously apprehensive that I might be somehow disappointed: in Glasgow they had taken me entirely by surprise and I wondered whether familiarity, however tentative, with their approach would blunt the intensity of their attack on a second showing.

 I really should have known better.

 It took Television only minutes at London's Hammersmith Odeon on Sunday to reconfirm the deliriously exciting impression they had made in Glasgow. As Verlaine and his co-guitarist, Richard Lloyd, rang out those classic, star-spangled chords that so beautifully grace " Venus," my blood froze, just as it had at the earlier concert. Verlaine's vocal here may have veered off course occasionally, but there was no denying the immense majesty of the music. His solo was characteristically eloquent and incisive. I don't mean to underestimate the astute and thrilling contributions of Lloyd (who was in a more subdued mood than at Glasgow, though capable still of delivering solos of cutting virulence), but it is Verlaine who commands one's attention: he's possibly the most distinctive and individual guitarist I've heard since Hendrix. 

He resorts to no flamboyant pyrotechnics, neither does he rely on any cheap aural or visual effects to enhance his performance. No, like Phil Manzanera, Verlaine concentrates upon a novel and enthralling exploration of the possibilities of his instrument. He's capable of the most sinister delicacy (as on the eerie "Little Johnny Jewel," which featured also a commanding Verlaine vocal and the inspired translation of "Knock-in' On Heaven's Door"); alternatively, his lyricism frequently gives way to Outbursts of the utmost ferocity - as he so powerfully demonstrated on "Elevation," the abrasive reading of "Friction," and the new "Foxhole," which I can barely wait to have on record. 

Verlaine, to his enduring credit, never allows his versatility, to degenerate into any empty display of shallow virtuosity (Nils Lofgrcn, please note): he is always in command of the situation. Everything he, like Lloyd, plays is considered and precise; there is no gratuitous overkill or aural massacre. "Marquee Moon," with which they concluded, was extended even beyond the length of the original recording (and that weighs in at nine minutes and 58 seconds), yet not once did my attention wander: indeed, such was the intensity of Television's performance that I sat in that theatre completely spellbound as Verlaine spiralled off into the stratosphere, never bereft dilring his lengthy solo of invention or inspiration. With musicians of a lesser calibre to support him on these audacious adventures Verlaine might find himself stranded, but Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca all displayed a rare, intuitive sympathy and lucid appreciation of their leader's imagination. 

All this praise you might dismiss as familiar hyperbole. But I can only insist that you hear Television for yourself before casually dismissing such adulation as the misguided drooling of an infatuated critic. For, I can assure you, this applause is no more than the appreciative recognition of a unique and important new band. 

ALLAN JONES Melody Maker May June 4th 1977)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

She Ain't No Human Being

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
A potential H bomb

On May 27, 1977 The Sex Pistols released "God Save The Queen", their first single on Virgin Records. It would--to the horror of Royalists celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee--race up the charts despite a unanimous ban on all radio and TV stations.  

God save the queen
She's not a human being
and There's no future
And England's dreaming

Had The Sex Pistols released a song with lyrics like these in Thailand or Saudi Arabia, they would have been imprisoned or much worse. Had Jamie Reid defaced a monarch in those countries, same deal.

God save the queen
'Cause tourists are money
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems

A student filmmaker named Julien Temple directed the music video below. In his book, England's Dreaming, Jon Savage described the evening:

The shoot was chaotic with Johnny Rotten acting like a prima donna and Vicious still ill. Yet somehow the atmosphere of madness worked well - the footage was both electric and humorous.

These days everybody is trying to out-shock every one else, so it may be hard to remember what it was like to have a song like "God Save the Queen" released in the Summer of '77. The video below does a fine job of that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mmmm, You're So Pretty

On May 27, 1977, after opening for Iggy Pop on his comeback tour, The Vibrators released their first major label single "Baby Baby". They may have been categorized as a punk band, but these pub rock vets actually could play their instruments. "Baby Baby" has sneering vocals but sounds more like a Mott the Hoople tune than something out of the U.K. punk rock scene. The NME critic wasn't impressed :

Sounds like the Hendrix version of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" would've done if the Vanilla Fudge had gotten hold of it. A rather slender little pop song with studiedly naive and innocent vocals, embellished with neat drumming: it'll take more than this to get you up there with the Big Five, boys.

I'm guessing the Big Five were the top punk bands of the day : Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers and ...The Jam? Upon the release of their debut album, Pure Mania, in June The Vibrators would tour the U.K. with -- you might have guessed it -- former Mott frontman Ian Hunter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Use the Force Luke

At one point it was called The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars, but by May 25, 1977, the day it hit theaters, the name has been shortened to Star Wars. That first week, it was shown on only 42 screens. Most theaters wanted nothing to do with a movie starring so many unknowns. But of course that changed.  For five years the space opera would be the highest grossing film of all time. Everything Star Wars related could ride the film's wave of popularity, including the inevitable disco album.

Casablanca subsidiary Millennium Records signed Star Wars fan Domineco Monardo, who believed an album fully devoted to Star Wars would be a big seller. His LP Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk was due to come out the same time 20th Century Fox's soundtrack featuring the original John Williams score.

Legend has it that 20th Century Fox sent Millennium a black wreath with a banner announcing they would bury the disco album. Instead, Meco scored a #1 hit with its much edited single "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band", beating William's "Star Wars Theme" which peaked at US #10.  The full "Star Wars Medley" runs an ungodly 16 minutes. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don'tcha Change It

This week in 1977 the new Gladys Knight and the Pips single, "Baby Don't Change Your Mind", entered the U.K. charts at #33. Written and produced by Van "The Hustle" McCoy, who also wrote David Ruffin's "Walk Away from Love", "Baby" would be the soundtrack to one sizzler of hot Summer , peaking at #4 in the U.K. and #10 on the US R and B charts. 

The video below is a lot of fun. You can see Gladys's older brother "Bubba" Knight, cousin William Guest and Edward Patten practicing their new steps with the great Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins behind them.

First recorded by The Stylistics in 1976:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Equal Rights and Justice

In 1977 former Wailer Peter Tosh followed up Legalize It with Equal Rights, an album with a much heavier and more widely encompassing message. If music critics took Tosh lightly, they were in for a surprise.

"Legalisation of herb is only part of the justice that man is supposed to get, but equal rights is all of man's rights, seen?" 

The album was recorded in Jamaica, a nation in crisis. Power cuts, rationing, roadblocks and outbreaks of violence made it difficult to get around. Tosh, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar and others recorded on a 12 track Ampex at Randy's in Kingston.

The Equal Rights track "African" is one of Tosh's most enduring songs. Like "Apartheid", it's inspired by the South African townships taking on the apartheid regime. As John Masouri notes in Steppin' Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh, "African" sounds a lot like a Marcus Garvey speech:

All black people across the globe, in American and in Africa are part of a single race, a single culture and have to be proud of the color of their skin. All of Africa must be independent and united. Africa for Africans! 

With Bob Marley in exile, Peter Tosh had become the most prominent Rasta artist left in Jamaica.

The critics knew Equal Rights was special. Robert Christgau gave the alum a B+ grade, writing: 

What's most impressive about this music is its sinew. The tracks are strong, yet although they usually include at least seven instrumental parts, they never sound lush, full, or even jubilantly multi-percussive, which given Tosh's increasingly ominous lyrics is a good thing. Yet while Tosh's lyrics are more correct politically than Marley's, they're only marginally more eloquent. His singing is rather less eloquent.

Equal Rights was Lester Bangs second favorite album of the year. His year end album list went as follows:

 Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation 30;
 Peter Tosh: Equal Rights 15;
 Ramones: Rocket to Russia 10;
 Iggy and the Stooges: Metallic K.O. 10;
 Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols 5;
 Ramones Leave Home 5;
 The Persuasions: Chirpin' 5;
 Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head 5;
 The Saints: I'm Stranded 5;
 Suicide 5.

Jamaica's Weekend Star said it far outstripped the debut:

It is an extremely powerful musical collection containing some of the hardest-hitting, most revolutionary lyrics produced anywhere for a long time. 

A funny thing happened on the way to New York where Tosh was scheduled to promote the new album on radio stations. He decided to light up a spliff on the plane, which was met by police at Kennedy airport.

Clive Chin, who was arrested with Tosh, said the bail gearing didn't got very well :

Peter cuss him out and says he's the minister for Ganja and herb should be legalized. I couldn't believe it. At one point the judge lean over to the clerk of the court and say "What is he saying ?" The clerk told him Peter must be a mad man or talking in arabic 

Tosh and Chin were freed.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fifty Tons of Shit

In May of 1977 Genesis released a three songs EP called Spot The Pigeon, the last studio release to feature guitarist Steve Hackett. Hackett's "Inside and Out" is the most prog-rock tune on the EP, taking up the entire second side. Classic Genesis.

The first side is made up of two pop songs, a clear sign of where Genesis was heading (the UK #7 /US #23 hit "Follow You Follow Me" was nine months away). The tunes are not concerned with the subjects that drove Peter Gabriel to grab his pen. "Match of the Day" is about hooliganism at a soccer match and "Pigeons" is about...pigeon poop. 

"Pigeons is fun," says Tony Banks in Dave Thompson's Turn It Off Again: Peter Gabriel , Phil Collins and Genesis. "It was really a little experiment to try and do a song around one note really. It's a good little song from that period really. I like it"

The EP was a popular item in its day, climbing to #14 in the U.K. singles chart despite little play by the BBC.