TRACK-BY-TRACK: KICKS! 1963-1972

Kicks! 1963-72
Paul Revere & the Raiders (2005)

Paul Revere & the Raiders have been lucky with comps in the CD era. For those who just want the garage band essence, The Essential Ride is unbeatable. The Collector’s Choice set of their complete singles easily sustains three long discs.

But for the best overview of everything they meant in their decade of prominence–a decade that made them the one true garage band (in the narrow sense of the term–there’s a case to be made that all rock and roll bands are garage bands of some sort) to transcend the genre (which, like most rock and roll genres, was retroactively named).

I loved them at every phase. And at every phase, they may have wandered in this direction or that for a record or two–a little folk rock, a little psychedelia, a little pop–but they always came back to the same place.

Stomp.

Track….by….track:

“Louie Louie”–Not as chaotic as the rival Kingsmen’s monster hit and, oddly, not as focused either. But it does have its own unique thrill. Right at the top. “Grab your woman, it’s Louie Louie time!” Now that’s a band announcing itself.

“Steppin’ Out”–They made plenty of other gut-bucket sides, chasing a way to put the jet-fuel energy of their live shows on wax. This segue takes you past all that and straight into their greatest period. Meaning they managed the trick. The narrator’s been in the military. Just got home. Found out his girl’s been running around. He’s not happy. He wants answers. Released in 1965 and only a modest hit at the time, it was enough to get their career started. Within a few years, it was as much an autobiography of a generation as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” or “Run Through the Jungle” and the true birth of what came to be called Heartland Rock. I don’t think much has changed.

“Just Like Me”–And then they go bigger. Mark Lindsay was already one of the period’s great vocalists, able to purr on one beat and roar on the next without sounding like he had played a trick….or contradicted a thing.

“Kicks”–A specific anti-drug song, courtesy of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. As un-hip as anything could be in 1966 and one of the few records that saw around the corner as clearly as it embodied the times.

“Action’–This one I could do without. As TV show themes go, it wasn’t “Come On Get Happy” let alone “Theme from the Monkees.” Placed here, it just breaks the momentum of one the great singles’ runs in the history of singles.

“Hungry”–Back on track. Mann and Weil again. It’s worth remembering they wrote “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” too. They had a knack for expressing blue collar anger. As did Mark Lindsay.

“I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”–Suddenly they’re in competition with the Monkees, which probably didn’t do anything for their cred, especially since “Steppin’ Stone” was one of Mickey Dolenz’s best vocals. I’m not even sure this is as good. But it still scorches. No let up.

“Louie, Go Home”–An obvious throwback, just before they moved to the next phase. One of the great Louie updates, though, and a harbinger of where they would always go in a pinch. For a taste of what they had done with this sort of material three years earlier, you can watch this…

“Ballad of a Useless Man”Not a ballad. A talking blues. “I was gonna be a king…Now the end is drawing near.” That kind of talking blues.

“The Great Airplane Strike–One of the great protest records because it’s one of the few that insists on acknowledging that, in the Land of Milk and Honey, it’s the small ways the Man has us by the balls–his endless capacity for packaging every last detail of our existence–that matter.

“Good Thing”–If White Boy Stomp was all there was, and this was the only example, would we know what we were missing? (And I’m not sure whether the video I linked is the apotheosis of the White Boy Stomp Ethos or the reason it had to die. Both maybe?)

“Why, Why, Why? (Is It So Hard)”–Fang sings…Why, why, why?

“Louise”–And what would an anthology of the greatest garage band be without a weird blend of wistful thinking and hostility towards a mysterious femme?

“Him or Me-What’s It Gonna Be?”–Back to business (i.e. Return to Stomp). “I can still recall when you told me I was all….everything you looked for in a man.” Bet you can guess how the title question gets answered! Love the “what’s” instead of “who.” Love the stinging guitar lick in the intro. Love the whole thing actually.

“Mo’reen”–Bit of a placeholder. Except for the part where I can’t figure out whether Mo’reen looks green or clean. In any case, she’s neither. Just jailbait. Else the little sister of the girl from “Poison Ivy” carrying on a family tradition. Or…both?

“Gone-Movin’ On”–A thumper with one of those stereo-typical break fades that meant the times were a changin’. Before that, weird, discordant echoes of the Nashville Sound and the Everly Brothers….There’s a reason they lasted folks.

“Tighter”–Okay now we’re dipping into the pop psychedelia bag (the one where the records were made by people who didn’t take drugs…or else didn’t pay any attention to the effects). If you ask me how I know, I’ll just say I know my fellow abstainers when I hear them. That said, not the worst of it’s type.**

“I Had a Dream”–They still hadn’t taken any drugs…but this one did have an addictive melody. There was a reason they lasted folks…when so many others fell away.***

“Ups and Downs”–Back to stomp (with a lovely teaser intro just to keep everybody a little off-balance….). And yes, the girl’s still got him on a string (their great theme). And he’s still not sure how he feels about it.

“Peace of Mind”–Be sure to attend the strangled scream of “Well I’m talkin’ about peace” just before the long fade.

“Too Much Talk”–One of those period records that sounds like it starts in the middle and features a touch or two of fuzz-tone guitar. Unlike a lot of others, this one works–mostly thanks to an epic bass line that works like a lead guitar.

“Cinderella Sunshine”–”Windy’s” younger, tougher sister?

“Don’t Take It So Hard”–Okay, this time he’s definitely leaving her….by trying to appeal directly to the teeny-boppers who were ready to abandon the Monkees?

“Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon”–This is my fave of their late 60’s “pop” direction…shoulda been bigger!

“Let Me!”–Angry lust…as Stomp. Whatever assurances had been offered by the previous few singles was withdrawn. “I know that, my love is going somewhere….But, I’m sure, that it ain’t being got by you.” Indeed. Let me do what now?

“Just Seventeen”–Just in case you missed the point of about half the entries so far. Never mind that this time she’s hunting him!

“Indian Reservation “–(The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”–The apotheosis of Pop Protest–statement records that sounded like (and were) natural Pure Pop #1’s. (See Cher’s great “Half Breed,” Three Dog Night’s “Black and White” among others). Plus one of the greatest arrangements ever on a hit record. And don’t think Pop Protest Mark Lindsay had forgotten his garage band roots when it came to digging in on the chorus.

“Birds of a Feather”–One of Joe South’s lilting melodies and a fine pop-rock vocal. Imminently pleasurable, especially the bridge. A bit lightweight next to their greatest, but you could live a step down from that height and still be pretty fine.

“Country Wine”–One last diversion…into some blend of Aesthetic Pop and Countrified pop. Could have been a modest hit as a folk rock record in 1966. All of which meant….

“Power Blue Mercedes Queen”–It was time to Stomp. And time for an age to end. Though if this had been the big hit it deserved to be, who knows how much longer the fun might have lasted? A mid-chart disco record perhaps? A singer-songwriter knockoff? Who knows. One thing you can bet. Wherever they ended it….it would been set to Stomp.

**NOTE–Ace commenter Neal Umphred–who, believe me, has forgotten more about the sixties than I’ll ever know–ran this by a friend whose an expert on the Raiders and has been assured that various members of the band were experimenting with drugs at the time. I covered myself a bit on this (that’s what the “or else didn’t pay any attention to the effects” was for)–but I should have been clearer. If they weren’t taking drugs, then they pulled off a masterpiece, because they made a record that sounds exactly like squares pretending. I also shouldn’t have further muddled it by suggesting they were abstainers, which is a whole other thing and something I really couldn’t know. What I should have said is “Poor lads. They were trying to do things that were hardly worth doing when they were already better at what they did best than practically anybody else.” In any case mea culpa!

***On the followup, “I Had a Dream,” Neal’s friend says it was mostly session men backing Mark Lindsay. Who knows what those weirdos were into!

 

MOST LIKELY YOU’LL GO YOUR WAY AND I’LL GO MINE (Snuff Garrett, R.I.P.)

snuffgarrett1

(Leon Russell (l) with Snuff Garrett in the late sixties)

I may have to start a separate site to keep up with the Death Train. Somehow, in the hurly-burly that was mid-December, I missed the passing of Snuff Garrett, a man who made sneaky great records throughout the sixties and seventies.

Beyond what you can find on Wikipedia and the usual obit sites I don’t know a thing about him, except that he drove punks and Puritans crazy. I doubt anybody made a larger number of the specific records that supposedly made the cleansing noises of the late seventies’ underground “necessary.” And if that picture above doesn’t say how much he was likely to worry about it, nothing I could add ever would. A true American Hustler from the get-go and a Pop Genius like they don’t even come close to making anymore.

And, as for me, I’ll trade the intro to “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” and the way Cher lands on “preach a little gospel,” for every record the Ramones ever made.

May God bless and keep you brother.

And just in case you thought he couldn’t make a straight-up great record without starting a run on the smelling salts:

THE SCOTTISH LASS GOES SOUTH (Vocalist of the Month for 3/14: Lulu at Atlantic)

“My only sadness is that it didn’t continue until the day I die.”

Lulu (on her time at Atlantic)

By the time Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie was signed to the Atco subsidiary of the American soul giant Atlantic Records in the fall of 1969 she was twenty years old and entering the third distinctive phase of her recording career.

In the first phase, which started when she acquired her stage name, Lulu, and fronted a band called the Luvvers, she had made the journey from Glasgow to London and become a British sensation with a knockout cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” (her version charted perennially on the British charts for the next three decades).

She was all of fifteen and, despite an occasionally ragged relationship with the beat that was common among the era’s youngest rockers (among true youngsters, only Brenda Lee consistently sang with anything like old-fashioned assurance–rock n’ roll was never as easy as the masters made it sound or the haters wanted you to think), pretty close to being the hardest soul singer the Isles produced. Her enthusiasm occasionally got ahead of her talent in those days but there were some scorching highlights. Her ballad singing was assured from the beginning (she did a particularly lovely job of re-imagining Van Morrison’s “Here Comes the Night,” as a torch song). And her knockout, hard-rock covers of “Dream Lover” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” are a long way ahead of pretty much anything the young Mick Jagger did in his pre-“Satisfaction” days. Say what you want about Lulu covering the classics but at least she never sounded like she had learned American English phonetically.

That said, the early period was uneven to say the least. Between production values that were oft-times barely professional (a bit of a general problem in England at the time), dicey material (“Choc Ice”…really?) and lack of a clear direction, the voice seldom got its due even on her best records.

That changed somewhat when she signed with Mickie Most (probably England’s top producer of the period), landed an acting gig in the Sidney Poitier vehicle To Sir With Love and entered her second phase with a bang.

The title song of To Sir With Love, written by a friend at the by-then seventeen-year-old singer’s request when she refused to sing what the studio had in mind, became Billboard’s official #1 record of 1967 after it was released as a B-side and American dee-jays flipped it. It was also one of the best sung records of the greatest era for vocal music we’re likely to know. One might have thought that Most would know what to do from there–namely run off a series of hit singles, as he had done for Herman’s Hermits, Donovan and the Animals previously (talk about covering some ground), and would do for Hot Chocolate later on.

Instead–and despite a handful of genuinely wonderful records which didn’t do much commercially–he steered her toward ever more banal material, finally climaxing with the already world-famous Lulu actually winning the Eurovision Song contest (usually reserved for those still chasing their fortune) for 1969 with a track called “Boom Bang-a-Bang,” which the singer herself has occasionally–and with some justification–referred to as possibly the worst song ever written.

Unlike most of the really good records she and Most had made together, it was a substantial hit, at least in England and Europe.

The disconnect between quality and success guaranteed a lot of sleepless nights, crying jags, and the absolute certainty that she would not renew her contract with Most when it ended a few months after the Eurovision win.

While all that was going on, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, the only female British singer who was a talent-match for Lulu (and who was, perhaps understandably, going by “Dusty Springfield”) had signed with Atlantic Records, a label known mostly for deep soul acts, and gone South to make an album which came to be called Dusty In Memphis. In addition to being one of the greatest albums ever made–“vocal” or otherwise–Dusty In Memphis produced a big hit single, “Son of a Preacher Man,” and set Atlantic mogul Jerry Wexler searching for more of the same.

It turned out to be an artistically satisfying venture which bore relatively little commercial fruit. Eventually, Jackie DeShannon, Betty LaVette and Cher would each get her turn. And Jackie and Cher at least got their records released (with Jackie’s being a classic in its own right…I haven’t heard Cher’s Atlantic sessions, though they eventually got a CD release on Rhino Handmade). Betty had to wait another thirty years and achieve an unlikely late-career discovery by the Public-At-Large for her fine sides to even see the light of day.

Lots of amazing music then.

But Lulu was the next in line and the music she recorded between the fall of 1969 and the summer of 1972 constitutes a body of work that bears comparison to anything that was going on anywhere in the period.

It probably helped that Wexler and others (Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, like that) still had the wind of Springfield’s success at their backs when they all went back South (Muscle Shoals this time…with Duane Allman sitting in) to record New Routes.

The album concedes nothing to Dusty in Memphis except that Dusty’s is perfect and New Routes has a misguided version of “Mr. Bojangles” that features an awkward gender rewrite which pretty much undermines an otherwise great sounding record. (i.e., Lulu couldn’t very well pretend to be sharing a jail cell with Bojangles, so they are in….a park! Ouch.)

But that album or the next (Melody Fair, recorded in Miami with another crack southern session unit, the Dixie Flyers), both long afterwards available only on reasonably scarce vinyl (my used copy of New Routes came with a sticker that read “Duane Allman!!!”…cool people, having received their values from the crit-illuminati need to know why a price has been boosted from the usual $0.99 to $2.99!!!), are, amazingly, not the entire point of the great 2007 package Lulu: The Atco Sessions, 1969-72.

There you get two discs–the first covering the two released albums, the second collecting various singles, alternates and unreleased material.

As a listening experience, it’s of a piece. Heartbreaking for itself (there is no more plaintive voice and it was never more consistently plaintive than here…you can ask Lulu fans like Aretha Franklin and Al Green if you need further testimony) and for the different kind of break it so definitively represents–a kind of last look back before the rise of the machines.

This package is the sound of a singer who had already successfully traversed hard-edged rock and R&B and classy pop and was now remarried to her first love: straight soul music.

From this distance, it’s easy to hear just how fragile the moment was. Between bombastic rock and sleek dance music, glorious though much of it would be, amplifiers and synthesizers were setting the stage for the re-caging of the liberating human voices which rock and soul had brought to the center of Pop Culture–which, as I occasionally note here, was already the only culture America had left.

I don’t think you necessarily need that context to hear the fundamental sadness-tinged-with-liberating-joy that characterized these sessions. But knowing the context makes that quality inescapable.

Maybe because she had such an oddly shaped career (she went from these sessions to a fling with David Bowie–studio only–that produced a few truly great sides but, again, no real overarching vision) Lulu is a bit of an odd duck historically: a respected singer who isn’t quite revered; a commercial singer whose hits are strung out here and there over a couple of decades; a fine live performer who was always in the moment but rarely on top of it.

But she was also the kind of singer who used to arrive on the charts on a regular basis–distinctive, soulful, possessed of a genuine ache that never descended into phony angst or belting for the sake of belting–and do not arrive at all anymore.

And her time at Atlantic, at least, was priceless. She’s not the only one who regrets that it didn’t continue until the day she died.

So, beginning with a track that was straight and hard enough to fit right in on the (equally priceless) What It Is!  funk box set a few years back and proceeding through the soul and pop part of our evening before finishing with a lovely and moving homage to shag haircuts:

SEGUE OF THE DAY (12/13/13)–(So, Just What Are the Limitations of Popular Art Anyway?)

Explanations below, but, for starters, a salute to the late Ms. Robinson, who died of cancer in 2000 at the age of forty-five (complete with a Paul Williams intro that demonstrates just how far Show Biz hadn’t come while the culture was moving at light speed):

Now to the main point:

A few days ago, Terry Teachout posted a link to his current Wall street Journal column in which he opines on the “limits” of popular art. You can read the whole thing here but the gist is about what you would expect from a cultural conservative and he’s certainly not entirely wrong.

But it’s funny that no one ever seems to say much about the limits of High Art. I mean, one reason so-called popular art has taken up so much space in the Post-War era is that High Art has been failing so miserably.

And, of course, I spend a lot of time around here arguing that the point of “culture” at any level called “art” is to engage. That means history, politics, sex, religion, love, hate, war, poverty and so on and so on and skooby-dooby-doo.

Oooh-sha-sha.

See, there’s Popular Art giving me a voice. Engaging.

Believe me, I’d be very happy if what passes for High Art in the modern age managed to do the same.

Now, I didn’t want to stack the deck, so rather than respond to the ideas in Teachout’s essay by specifically seeking the safest available high ground (something like the Rolling Stones in 1969, or Robert Johnson in 1937, or Raymond Chandler in 1952, the first and last of those being things Teachout has evinced a limited understanding of in the past which suggests he probably hasn’t quite thought this thing all the way through) I decided I would just weigh in on the next thing that happened to pop up in the course of my day…see how far that would take me.

So, from a few nights ago, when the “next thing” happened to be a mix disc I had just assembled as a copy of an old mix tape (Volume Fourteen of a twenty volume set, and, please, believe me when I say, social relevance was the furthest thing from my mind at the point of original assembly, unless “social relevance” means imagining just how far my Theory of Shindig and Hullabaloo Dance could stretch), here goes (original recording dates in parens):

Soul Survivors “Expressway to Your Heart” (1967)–Epochal black producers (Gamble and Huff) have their first hit guiding a white group imitating a white group imitating a black group while Philly International was still a gleam in somebody’s eye.

Young Rascals “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” (1965)–The specific group the Soul Survivors were imitating. They happened to be white boys signed to a record label owned by white men who specialized in selling black music to, first, Black America and, later, White America as well, but weren’t above selling white acts to black people or white acts to white people if they could smell a profit. Would have made Beethoven’s head spin, I tell you, but they made it look easy.

Candi Staton “Young Hearts Run Free” (1976)–An exemplar of one of mid-period disco’s deeply mixed messages. These days, slick magazines are full of articles with titles like “Can Women Really Have It All.” Then as now, the answer was Yes and No. Sorry but I’d rather listen to Ms. Staton work out the ambiguities than read what our modern Platos have to say on the subject.

Wilson Pickett “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” (1970)–A black man, who sounds like he knows he’s caught in a trap, begs–and begs, and begs–for a black woman not to leave him at the first historical moment when it was possible for her to even think about doing so.

Abba “SOS” (1974)–Swedish woman sings “I tried to reach for you but you had closed your mind” back to the man who wrote the lines for her to sing. He happened to also be her husband at the time. No, really.

John Waite “Missing You” (1984)–Okay, this is just a nice, pop-obsessive record about pretending not to miss someone who kicked your heart to pieces and who you would take back in a second if they would have you. Nothing High Art couldn’t handle in other words.

Cher “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” (1971)–A major star, singing in the voice of one who never got the chance, spits back at everyone who ever spit on her.

Cher “Half Breed” (1973)–Ditto. Only more so.

Styx “Too Much Time on My Hands” (1981)–I’m actually not sure what this is about. Possibly unemployment but I’m not gonna stake my reputation on it.

Roxette “The Look” (1988)–Pure confection. No discernible higher meaning except it was the-best-Prince-record-made-by-somebody-other-than-Prince, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

The Who “Who Are You” (1977)–English rockers lament/celebrate their escape from the lives the system had planned for them. Self-destruction caught up with the drummer shortly thereafter. Whether this record would still sound like it’s chasing him if he’d somehow never been caught is one of those nice existential questions that should be mulled in Philosophy 101 classes everywhere….but probably isn’t.

AC/DC “Get It Hot” (1979)–A salute to rock and roll. Good topic. Well played.

Heart “Straight On” (1978)–An epic blues played, sung, conceived and executed by seventies-era white people from the Pacific Northwest (who many sardonics of ill repute believe are the whitest people who have ever lived so go ahead and have your snicker) and also a late-feminist sequel to the Shangri-Las’ proto-feminist “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” that demonstrates just how far the earth had turned in a decade. If there’s been a novel or play that did as much, I missed it. If I happen to run into one somewhere, I bet I’ll have the bring up the fact that it doesn’t get the job completely done in four minutes.

Randy Newman “I Love LA” (1982)–Love and mockery, joined at the hip and permanently reinforcing each other.

Randy Newman “It’s Money That Matters” (1988)–The History of America in the New Gilded Age. (The ethics of which were so thoroughly and seductively appalling/appealing that, unlike the first Gilded Age, they have survived the inevitable economic bust. More than one in fact. Goodbye us, in other words. Thanks Randy!)

Jackie Wilson “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (1967)–A call-and-response Top Ten hit and permanent radio staple that perfectly captures the last historical moment when it seemed possible for the Civil Rights movement to become a lasting social triumph as opposed to a purely legalistic one.

Steve Miller Band (1976) “RockN’ Me”–A rocker’s ode…whether to groupies or to the One Left at Home, I’ve never been quite certain.

Huey Lewis and the News (1983) “Heart of Rock and Roll”–A promise that rock and roll would keep on a goin’. Naturally it was already a bit ill, though a few years from being terminal. The song works because it is completely devoid of irony, self-awareness or any other complicating factor. Well that plus it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Standells “Dirty Water” (1965)–The eternal, existential struggle between Puritanism and its discontents, distilled to one hundred and sixty-eight perfect seconds.

Blues Magoos “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” (1966)–“Nothing can hold us, nothing can keep us down.” I bet High Art never manages to go anywhere that line doesn’t when it finally does work up its nerve and get around to explaining either the successes or the failures of “the Sixties.”

Tommy Tutone “867-5309/Jenny” (1981)–Stalker pleads with the Object of his Affection not to change her phone number. In other words, 7,000 guest shots on the Law and Order franchise, explained well ahead of time.

The Jacksons “Enjoy Yourself” (1976)–Or, as the full line goes, “Enjoy yourself, with me…You better enjoy yourself.” Question for the class: Whose enjoyment is more important? His or hers? Hey, that’s Michael on the lead. Does that make it any clearer? Or the “better” any more disturbing?

Vicki Sue Robinson “Turn the Beat Around” 12-inch Version (1976)–Broadway chanteuse speaks in tongues over a History of Poly-rhythms so complete it proves conclusively the inherent funkiness of the flute. In direct response to Terry’s essay, I consider this aiming very high indeed. (And just as an aside, I’ve never quite been able to forgive Gloria Estefan for later deciphering the lyrics. And I’ve really, really tried. And just as another aside: I once heard a music critic explain the superiority of seventies music over sixties music–and express complete contempt for anyone who might have even thought of disagreeing with him–by using the name of this record, plus the words “Come on!” as his entire argument. As an unabashed lover of the music of both decades, I’m an agnostic in that particular debate, but I’ll just say I did know what he meant.)

Ohio Players “FOPP” (1975)– “The rich can Fopp and, uh, so can the po’, you can Fopp until your ninety-fo’” Hey, it took a while (decades or centuries depending on when you prefer to start counting), but when Democracy finally started producing Manifestos like this, the Soviets were basically toast, regardless of who we elected President.

Rick James “Superfreak Pt 1″ (1981)–The groupie as Goddess. No ambiguity about this one.

The Doobie Brothers “China Grove” (1973)–Flannery O’Connor weirdness with a slightly better sense of rhythm and no room for the abiding contempt of the human species that intellectuals of all stripes seem to find so comforting.

Of course, each of these responses amounts to only one of several possible responses. No point in making High Art’s head spin trying to keep up.

BTW: High Art, I feel like I should give you a hug. You lost this round, but a week earlier and you might have come up against Volume Twelve. Bad, that. Would have meant dealing with “Kung Fu Fighting” and “Brother Louie.”

Count yourself lucky.