LINDA RONSTADT…ELECTIC WEIRDO (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #47)

I’ve always thought the biggest mistake of Linda Ronstadt’s career (whether hers or her record company’s I can only guess) was not releasing “Roll Um Easy” as the first single from the next album after Heart Like a Wheel had transformed her from a huge talent to a huge star. It would have inoculated her against the criticism that she was merely mining oldies as a surefire commercial formula. It would have laid the “she can’t rock” nonsense to rest because the single that was released, a perfectly fine version of ‘Heat Wave” which plenty of people were predisposed to hate for any number of not very good reasons, would have stayed an album track and nobody would have cared about her admission that she had trouble getting a handle on it even if they had bothered to ask.

And, while there’s no way to know these things of course, I’m pretty sure Ronstadt singing “eloquent profanity just rolls right off my tongue” over that arrangement in ’75 would have been a sure-fire number one. (“Heat Wave” did just fine, reaching #5, but, for all the album sales and steady selling singles, she never quite recaptured the chart momentum “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved” had given her.)

I’ll always think it was a mistake, then.

But lately I’ve been revising my opinion on whether it was her worst.

Because, in purely aesthetic terms, not releasing a live album has it beat all hollow.

Though she could sometimes be a touch stiff and uncomfortable in the spotlight and wasn’t always visually compelling, she was generally looser and freer vocally on stage than in the studio.

Sometimes she even took chances.

I was taken enough with her live concert from Los Angeles in 1975 to make it the first thing I’ve ever downloaded for repeat audio consumption (there’s no video available and it makes it easier to hear just how good she could be).

But there’s nothing in that concert, or any of several others available (all excellent to one degree or another) that matches what she did here, making Dolly Parton and Warren Zevon stronger for each other’s company. It’s a measure of her vision and, believe it or not, not something just anybody could pull off, then or now, even if they thought of it:

And anybody who thinks Ronstadt wasn’t some sort of genius should check out her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, available en toto on YouTube, where, with her own voice stilled by Parkinson’s, a dream lineup of Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks were repeatedly overwhelmed by arrangements she once made sound as easy as breathing.

Somebody, please do a live box….or at very least a live single, on this woman. (And if she’s the one resisting, due to her well known obsessive perfectionism, somebody please talk her into it!)

BOYS AGAINST THE GIRLS (Segue of the Day: 5/25/15)

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I’ve mentioned my fondness for Time Life’s old rock n’ roll collections from the eighties and nineties before. (They’ve been recycling the concepts to ever diminishing returns ever since.) They don’t exactly make up for the collapse of radio, though I suppose they might if I accumulated enough of them.

For now, I make do with what I have. Want to listen to the oldies? Be reminded why they matter, how much they still have to say about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re likely headed? Well, you could do worse.

Today, the second volume of 1965, from the “Classic Rock” series–classic rock, in this case, meaning a more or less random selection of the best top 40 music from any given year.

And, lo and behold, what develops out of not entirely thin air while I’m bopping around the den, is a kind of battle of the sexes.

The White Boy Ravers against the (mostly black) Girl Talkers.

There are other cuts that confuse the issue. Aren’t there always?

Black men  crooning or pleading (Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Marvin Gaye) or at least not raving (Levi Stubbs, always in supreme control, no matter the tempo). Appropriating Girl Talk space rather than assaulting it. Like the white men harmonizing or rhapsodizing (Byrds, Beach Boys, Beau Brummels, Turtles).

But that still leaves an album’s worth of thematics: Barry McGuire’s Old Testament prophecy of doom on “Eve of Destruction” (itself a nice juxtaposition with “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the Byrds’ insistent plea on behalf of the New), followed by Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me.”

The world ending in fire versus Bass playing John the Baptist to Aretha Franklin’s Jesus.

And that’s just the warm-up.

Later on, the Kinks crash through “All Day and All of the Night” only to have Martha and the Vandellas hammer out a warning on “Nowhere to Run.” Roy Head leers “Treat Her Right” like treating anybody right is strictly for suckers. The Ad Libs dream right back, the lead singer imagining “The Boy From New York City,” who sounds like the kind of guy who was born not needing Roy Head’s advice, will love her until she dies.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

And then the apocalypse. Seduction as the sound of a freight train. Try protecting your girly, intimate space from this (or anyway, try wanting to)…

Or this…

And, if you think it can’t be done, that the space can’t possibly be reclaimed, you might try this, which I confess until now I never really heard for the push back it surely is…

Or this…which always sounded like it was pushing back against a lot more than Ravers invading the intimate space….

After that, the Gentrys’ “Keep On Dancing,” which sounds great in just about any other context, ain’t got a chance.

Space preserved.

Girls win…this time. Proof of the verities: When in doubt, pull out the Shangri-Las.

Happy Memorial Day!

WRONG WORD, RIGHT WORD (Found In the Connection: Rattling Loose End #46)

If, per Mark Twain, the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug, then I wonder what the difference between the right word and the exactly wrong word is?

Illumination and darkness maybe?

For about twenty-five years, I’ve heard the first lines of War’s “Southern Part of Texas” this way:

She’s from the southern part of Texas/And she was born in a hurricane

You know her mama died for freedom/She got hung like Jesse James

As part of some research I’m doing on what I hope will be a long piece for The Rising category, comparing War with their L.A. contemporaries Steely Dan, I recently started looking up some of their lyrics (unlike a lot of the bands whose lyrics nobody would ever bother looking up, War didn’t print theirs on their LP sleeves).

Which led me soon enough to the always mysterious “Southern Part of Texas,” (which is bound to remain mysterious whether or not any kind of “hanging” ever had anything to do with the murderous sociopath who was shot in the back by Robert Ford).

…Which led me straight to a lot of sites with “partial” lyrics that may or may not be reliable.

…Which made me wonder if those partial transcriptions that read “hung BY Jesse James” were accurate (as they were certainly no less mysterious).

…Which led me to YouTube, as good a place for a close listen as any, in hopes that somebody had managed to transcribe the lyrics there so I could read them while I was actually listening.

…Which led me to the realization that, evidently, nobody had.

What I found instead, was this:

…Which not only makes the lyric perfectly clear but adds “He hung her by the neck.”

…Which, if it’s on the record (included on their Deliver the Word LP, not as the estimable, and usually flawless, Don Cornelius says in his introduction Why Can’t We Be Friends), is buried even deeper than all those other interpolated lyrics that changed or deepened or subverted War’s meanings with such dizzying speed years before rap showed up to shift the margins to the center (and teach white-boy critics to pay attention to such things). So deep, in fact, it can’t be heard even as a suggestion.

But, lightning strike that it is, you don’t really need the Soul Train interpolation.

Hearing that single word properly–“by” instead of “like”–tells me what I should have known all along.

The men in War–among so many, many other things, the sharpest political band of the rock and roll era–knew their Jesse James from their Cisco Kid.

And, mystery or no, “Southern Part of Texas” was no-wise intended as a joke.

WHEN JIMMY STEWART RAN INTO NATALIE MERCHANT….ON THE WAY UP NO DOUBT (Memory Lane: 1997)

Mentions of Jimmy Stewart’s birthday around the internet today (he would have been 107), prompted a flashback to July 2, 1997. I was on my way to my sister’s house in South Florida, driving across Highway 40 (which connects I-75 to I-95 for those who want to avoid Orlando or the Florida Turnpike).

In those days, I still listened to radio on the road more often than not (of late, I generally try to have a good supply of CDs available for anything longer than a trip to town) and whatever station was playing, I was, in fact, just thinking about what tape I wanted to hear (cassette days for me back then…I’m notoriously resistant to technological change) when I hit Highway 40’s well known dead spots when the standard issue hip-hep-happy dee-jay’s voice suddenly took on a somber tone and announced that the iconic film actor James Stewart had passed away.

After a few lines of the usual bio and not-quite-canned remorse he faded to black and let the next song play without comment.

I’m sure it was just the next thing in the playlist, but, on July 2, 1997, I bet you could have searched a top 40 catalog for anything that had come out in the past five years (usually the furthest back anyone will ever reach for an “oldie” on a hip-hep-happy station in any era) and never found proof that sound sometimes matters more than words quite as convincing as this:

 

MAMA SONGS (Segue of the Day: 5/19/15)

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Fans of country music of a certain vintage aren’t likely to forget Dolly Parton is a stone cold genius, no matter how hard she tries to hide it.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if even we don’t forget just a little.

One reason we might is that country albums of a certain vintage are not always easy to come by in the digital age. There are certainly gaps in CD-era reissues of blues, soul and pop (even a few here and there in rock). But outside of gospel, no important genre of American music has been as neglected as LP releases of country music stars of the sixties and seventies.

Thanks to the measure of her hard-earned (and harder kept) fame, Dolly’s been better served than most. Of her first ten albums–the ones that basically made her reputation–half have been released on CD one time or another, though by an assortment of companies with what I assume is varying degrees of care and quality.

The only one that’s made it to my collection so far is Coat of Many Colors, which, thanks to a knockdown sale in the local mall and my once a decade culling of my trade-ables, came to hand as part of a 2010-release three-pack with a couple of slightly later LPs, My Tennessee Mountain Home and Jolene.

All of that dealing brought me, at a pittance, the Duane Allman box I wrote about recently, a George Strait box I’ve been chasing for twenty years (waiting for the right price, though now that I’ve heard it, I confess it would have been worth paying full), the John Adams HBO miniseries (about which I may have something to say later) and a few various and sundry other items.

So I’ve been kind of busy. And Coat of Many Colors is the only one of the three Dolly discs I’ve listened to yet.

But it starts with two songs she wrote devoted to that hoariest of country traditions: Mother.

That’s a subject from which you wouldn’t have thought anybody could wring anything new, even in 1971.

You’d have been wrong. Because the two songs were this…

and this..

And finding gold in the dust?

Well, that’s just what geniuses do.

The completists at the Bear Family recently released all of Dolly’s duets with Porter Wagoner. Here’s hoping they, or somebody, gets on to the solo stuff soon. There’s a fine box set available, but hearing even this one album–led off by two cuts available on at least a hundred comps–reminds me that what’s available is barely the tip of the iceberg.

WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (The Go-Go’s Go to High School)

At the moment of their national breakout, in late 1981, the Go-Go’s played a concert at Palos Verdes High School. The concert was released on VHS and Laser Disc and, in an age when few people yet had VCRs, went straight to the cutout bin, where it became a collector’s item, priced well beyond what I was ever willing to spend for anything as technologically dubious as a VHS tape.

A few days ago, I finally found it here…Clear complete, uncut:

Unless you’re a Go-Go’s fanatic, of course, you probably won’t want to watch the whole thing. But for followers of this blog, I do recommend at least fast-forwarding to the final song of the final encore, where you can see and hear West Coaster Belinda Carlisle (she’s the singer and, until this moment, as beyond awesome as the rest) committing spiritual murder by attempting to render “Remember (Walkin’ In the Sand)” as pure camp.

You can also see and hear the proof that East Coaster Gina Schock (she’s the drummer) was sent by God to drive demons from holy places. Really, you can just turn the sound down if you want, because the whole story is in their faces.

Since I did watch the whole thing (and will certainly do so again and again) I can report that my long-standing suspicion that The Battle of the Bands which I have on secret authority will definitely be taking place at the conclusion of the Great Sock Hop at the End of Time will come down to the Go-Go’s and whichever three guys Keith Moon decides to show up with has been confirmed.

I did glean one new piece of information.

Now I know who wins.

“DEATH I PRAY, OH LORD, REMEMBER ME…” (B.B. KING, PERCY SLEDGE, JACK ELY, ERROL BROWN, R.I.P.)

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Let me tell you how big a deal B.B. King was.

CNN managed to write several hundred words to commemorate his passing and post it on their website without any obvious howlers.

Oh, they managed to emphasize his “influence” (mostly on famous white people) over his art. They neglected to mention that the reason he’s way more famous than, say, Freddie King, or Albert King (or Buddy Guy or Johnny Watson or Peter Green or Johnny Winter or a dozen or so other ace blues guitarists and/or showmen not named King) is because, unlike them, he was also a truly great singer.

But those are just the usual errors of omission.

Nothing like calling this guy an “R&B belter,” which must have been cut and pasted from the Wilson Pickett obit because wasn’t he also a black guy who recorded southern soul back in the sixties?

….Or calling this a “garage rock song”, evidently unaware that it was an R&B song, that “garage rock” describes a sound and an attitude (not a style of song, R&B or otherwise), and that, without the sound and attitude Jack Ely gave this particular R&B song, there probably would have been no need to call it something else.

…All of which makes saying this is “these days…better known as the theme song from the Louis C.K. series ‘Louie,'” merely a euphemism for “God help us all.”

Add Ben E. King to the roll call and since I’ve been doing this blog I don’t think there has been any month when rock and roll took such a hard hit. It’s getting late I guess.

And how does the world remember?

By mis-remembering.

Or reducing it to this:

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…And no doubt convening a panel of experts and having Wolf Blitzer quiz them about why the past keeps slipping down the memory hole. (“Hey, don’t you think Wolf can fill a fifteen minute slot with that? Don’t you? Sure he can!”)

Well, the man who dreamed “ain’t no difference if you’re black or white, brothers you know what I mean,” saw it coming…The prophets always do.

(For additional thoughts on Percy Sledge, you can go here or here. For Ben E. King’s recent obit, here.)

STREET CORNER AMERICA (Segue of the Day: 5/13/15)

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A few years back there was a meme/thread going around among film bloggers who listed something like “Ten Movies that Explain America.” I missed it.

I’ve thought since, about assembling a “Ten Albums that Explain America.” Given how few movies that aren’t westerns (and by no means all of them), or “concert films” from the sixties, have had anything to do with “America” as either an idea or an actual country with a specific history that marks if off from the general run of nation-hoods humans have assembled through the ages, I think this would make a least a little more sense.

And I might still get around to it…in the meantime, just having the idea buzz around in my head is keeping me alive to the possibilities of what I might include. This week the buzzing lit on my latest acquisition from the Bear Family’s exhaustive series on doo wop, Street Corner Symphonies.

As of now, I’m up to 1954, which was the consolidation year after the quantum leap of 1953. 1953 had the Drifters doing “Money Honey,” the Orioles’ “Crying in the Chapel,” the Harp-Tones’ “Sunday Kind of Love,” the Prisonaires’ “Just Walking in the Rain,” the Crows’ “Gee” and the Clovers’ “Good Lovin’,” just for starters. With the music trying that hard to keep up with itself (and the world starting to take notice), 1954 was bound to find everybody catching their breath.

And, at least the way the Bear Family disc is sequenced, that’s pretty much what happens, even on sides as luminous and epochal as “Earth Angel” and “Sh-Boom.”

Then, without warning, out of the foggy night of long ago, the final three tracks emerge and they are this…

and this…

and this…

I mean, who needs albums (or movies) to explain America?

And who needs ten?

The mystery, the warning, the sweetest possible epitaph.

How much further could you go, really?

And remember, it’s fine to disagree with me…But, if you click over, failing to listen to the end is a crime that can’t be punished except by itself.

LITTLE MISS DYNAMITE MOTORVATES THROUGH THE YEARS (Segue of the Day: 5/10/15)

A cut from Sheila O’Malley’s “Spring Shuffle” led me down a path that reminded me YouTube is the twenty-first century’s one really great innovation to date. I’m not sure if it makes up for texting and what all can be done to a cell phone…but it comes pretty darn close when it can pick you up at random and take you on a twelve-minute journey from 1958…

to 1962…

to 1970…

That takes you from the moment just before her first big Pop hit to the moment just after her last one….Just in case you were wondering how good you had to be, to be who she was: rock and roll’s first female superstar, its first truly international touring star (referenced in the first clip) and the highest charting female artist of the sixties. Happy Mother’s Day Brenda….I have a feeling you’re gonna be Vocalist of the Month before this year is out.