TO LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, R.I.P. (Late Night Dedication)

I’ve given periodic nods to the present air here. Doomy, I know. Probably not pleasant reading. But it’s pervasive enough it can’t be entirely ignored.

We’re fast approaching a day when it won’t be possible to ignore it at all. When everyone who refuses to choose between the remaining viable evils, or at least clap for each temporarily presiding result in turn, will be strung up anyway. The fate of the Empire is at stake! The last burning question is whether we’ll proceed directly to Tyranny….or pass through an Age of Chaos first?

The only thing that has kept the American nation from real, frightening levels of fragmentation and public violence the past few years has been the slight uncertainty as to whether the Feudalist-minded Confederate Right (which calls itself anything but) would organize and take to the street in numbers and intensity similar to the Marxist-minded Communist Left (which calls itself anything but).

Tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia we can observe a large step in the direction of an answer. Complete with Hitler salutes.

Sorry, but anyone who believes we ever walked away from 1968…or 1861….that the years of relative peace lying in between have been anything but periods of gestation (which we’ve given the Nervous Nelly name of Progress) for the coming collapse, is delusional. I don’t know if the first big outbreak in the new war taking shape will come in a month, a year or a generation. I don’ t know if it’s still 1850 or the new John Brown will strike a match that burns and burns this very weekend. I’m selfish enough to hope it’s the former–that I won’t live to see what’s coming. That, in the words of the Prophet Ronnie Van Zant, it’ll be “Lord take me and mine before that comes.”

Because it’s coming soon enough. An epitaph a stone’s throw from this weekend’s “rally” reads:

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

The first two achievements have been under siege for decades, if not since the beginning. Last night, his university joined them. Literally.

Those of us who supported his Dreams of Possibility have been left with only the most pitiful tools to fight back. Hopes of a meaningful appeal to the government vanished long ago. Put whatever date on that you want. (Don’t like or 1963, or 1968? Prefer 1980? Whatever.) The result is the same.

What are you gonna do? What am I gonna do?

Tweet about it?

Light a torch and rumble?

Call out the riot police?

You know, the same ones who are now paid by the very people who fund the thugs in the street on both sides?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Tweet away.

So take it Dobie. Better yet, take me.

Sing that greatest record ever made by a black man in Nashville one more time. Make everybody cry.

(Well, at least I got to put Ronnie Van Zant, Dobie Gray and Thomas Jefferson in the same tag list. After the revolution, maybe that, at least, won’t be  nothing…even if every one of them is turning in his grave tonight.)

BROTHER RAY NEGATES THE FUTURE BEFORE IT CAN NEGATE US ALL (Segue of the Day: 2/15/17)

Rhino’s box set of Ray Charles’s Complete Country & Western Recordings: 1959-1986 is a gift that never stops giving. I don’t get a chance to listen to it nearly enough, but when I do, the rewards, from his justly famous Modern Sounds in Country and Western volumes to his raising John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to Biblical proportions, are endless.

This week, because I had it on headphones, I finally heard how impossibly long he holds the impossibly blue note at the end of “Born to Lose,” the sinkhole of sorrow under “A Girl I Used to Know,” the “that’s me baby!” that redeems what has, up to that instant, seemed a far too straightforward take on “Wichita Lineman,” the way he turns in the middle of the mournful standard, “We Had It All,” (done by practically everyone in Nashville, its mournfulness forever defined by Dobie Gray), and threatens to turn back time, to obliterate the distance between a present that hurts too much and a past that never quite happened and to hell with the time-space continuum, he’s gonna reach straight through time and have the “all” he missed.

For a few seconds, you know he’ll make it. He’ll defeat mere time and dust and sorrow. He’s Ray Charles after all. Another great rock and roller with no real precedents and nothing close to an heir. Which only makes it hit all the harder when the few seconds pass and you know he won’t. There’s not much worse than rediscovering mortality–yours, his and everyone’s–ten seconds after you’ve grasped immortality.

Heavy.

But nothing weighed on me quite like these, resting next to each other…

You never know quite why some thoughts come when they do, but it was while listening to these songs that I glimpsed the future, where historians will write our epitaph, and realized every book that ponders our fate will have the same title, translated into all the future’s ten thousand languages.

America: What the Hell Happened?

And I realized it’s not even impossible that those of us who lived in Ray Charles’s time for a while might live to see it.

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Dobie Gray Up)

“We Had It All”
Dobie Gray (1973)
Not released as a single.
Recommended source: Drift Away: A Decade of Dobie (1969-1979) (Highly recommended if you have the bucks. One of the era’s great undersung vocalists)

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This is a song that’s been done by Waylon Jennings (he had the country hit), Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, the Rolling Stones (as a late seventies outtake available on YouTube), Bob Dylan and a cast of thousands.

Like more than a few songs recorded by lots of people it was defined by Dobie Gray. Like every record defined by Dobie Gray that wasn’t “Drift Away” or “The In Crowd,” it was not a big hit. In this case, it was not even released as a single–probably because Waylon (or Waylon’s label) beat him to the punch.

It was a highlight of Gray’s debut LP for MCA, which was also his first attempt at cracking the black-man-in-Nashville code that, in eighty years of the town’s race-coded hegemony, has only been fully solved by Charley Pride and Darius Rucker.

When Dobie came to town, there was a whiff of unusual promise. The era saw established artists like the Pointer Sisters and Tina Turner (this was when she took her own fine crack at “We Had It All”) follow Ray Charles’ long-ago footsteps to the country capital. Better than that, fabulous singers with truly country roots and voices–Gray, Stoney Edwards, O.B. McClinton–came tantalizingly close to establishing themselves on country radio, a bond which, if ever fully formed, would have been bound to be long-lasting. No audience is quite as loyal as the country audience.

It didn’t happen.

I wonder where we’d be now if it had.

We can’t know, but Dobie Gray often sounded like a man who had already accepted the impossibility of catching the version of the American dream–the real American dream–he was chasing. Never more so than here, where every word smiles and every word aches.

(NOTE: The only singer who gave Dobie a run for his money when he dug in was Elvis, who matched him on “Lovin’ Arms” and “There’s a Honky Tonk Angel (Who’ll Take Me Back In).” I’ll give a dollar on a nickel he knew a fellow dreamer when he heard one.)

YOU THINK IT’S BAD NOW? (Segue of the Day: 3/30/16)

Well, it is. Really bad. The New Puritanism, the New Jim Crow, the New Gilded Age and now, in direct response, the New Populism are bearing down upon the world and each other, merging with headlong speed.

Crackup impending.

The last time around, at the beginning of this vicious cycle, right before we all became, in the words of one of the very minor prophets, comfortably numb, content to wait for the fall, the radio was still a weapon, or at very least a shield.

It ain’t no more.

But I’ve been trying to get the feeling again, falling asleep for the last two weeks (more often than not) to another one of those Time Life comps, this one the second volume from 1973 in its Sounds of the Seventies series.

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Yup. The cover”s that uncharacteristically ugly (most of their graphics are great).

But, allowing for a pedestrian James Taylor side (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”…just watch me) and a weak one from the Moody Blues (“I’m Just a SInger (In a Rock and Roll Band)”…no, you’re not), the music is stellar. It kicks off with Al Green and Dobie Gray, winds down with Spinners and Timmy Thomas’s never-answered “Why Can’t We Live Together” and peaks in the middle, with tracks 10 through 12.

I heard Gladys Knight on the radio singing this one the last time I drove through my long ruined childhood haunts, maybe twenty years ago. or twenty-something years after I left for good, and, ever since then, wherever it finds me, it always stops time, takes me back to then and then:

But the real killers follow straight on and here’s the weird thing. Neither this…

nor this…

…is anywhere near as devoid of hope as the happiest thing on the radio right now.

As I’ve mentioned before: You can’t say they didn’t warn us.

MY MORE OR LESS FAVORITE ALBUMS BY ARTISTS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME (Volume 2: The Seventies)

Okay, on with the Seventies…the decade with the mostest.

Some additional notes: I mostly avoided country artists for this series because I’m trying to keep things as simple as possible. Charlie Rich, who probably has a decent shot at the Rock Hall some day (I mean, they’ve nominated Conway Twitty, which is way more of a stretch), would have had four albums on the Sixties’ list if I’d been more inclusive…but then I would have started wondering about Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall (each of whom would make as much sense as Patsy Cline or Willie Nelson, who get mentioned a lot as potential Rock Hall nominees). Who knows where that might have led? I decided to keep the stopper in the bottle, so to speak. Maybe it will make for its own post some day–“country-pop-rock-confusion-salad-days” or something along those lines.  That said, the Seventies were even more of a strain and I did finally decide to include a Tanya Tucker album, for reasons explained below.

To that, I’ll just add that I regret not being able to include the New York Dolls’ first two LPs because the Nominating Committee had the good sense to put them on the ballot a time or two, thus rendering them ineligible here. That did it for the punk representatives. (X-Ray Spex just missed the cut because I like their titles better than I like their music, unfortunately, a common reaction for me…and, yes, I know calling the Dolls punk, instead of “pre” or “proto” or something more technically appropriate, will rub some the wrong way. Sorry, I can only call it how I hear it.)

So without further adieu:

Thunderclap Newman Hollywood Dream (1970)

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Note: One shot band who Pete Townshend famously discovered/produced etc.  and therefore British to the core. Don’t let that fool you. It’s also the soundtrack of Ross MacDonald’s Los Angeles, just as it reached the final stage. When it comes to both the form and spirit of decline, we always seem to get there first on the page and the Brits always seem to get there first on record.

Pick to Click: “Something In the Air” (going obvious for once because the times demand it…theirs and ours)

Lulu: New Routes (1970) and Melody Fair (1970)

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Note: Jerry Wexler tried several times to recreate the artistic and (at least relative) commercial success of Dusty Springfield’s 1969 Dusty In Memphis. He kept coming close. Given how epochal Dusty In Memphis is, that’s saying something. These albums are each genuinely great on their own and they gain force in tandem (along with a third album’s worth Lulu recorded around the same time) on the CD set I wrote about a length here.

The quote at the top of that piece still cuts.

Picks to click: “Feelin’ Alright” (New Routes) and “After the Feeling is Gone” (Melody Fair)

Swamp Dogg Total Destruction to Your Mind (1970)

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Note: A straight soul version of Revelations. “Did concrete cover the land? And what was a rock and roll band?” No, really.

Pick to Click: “The World Beyond”

The Stylistics The Stylistics ()1971) and Round 2 (1972)

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Note: A Philly soul super-group who eventually found their way to Thom Bell and major stardom. Coming across their Best of in late-seventies America was like hearing the apostles with the Vandals at the gates. I didn’t hear these albums until the CD reissue boom of the nineties, by which time they sounded more like prophets without honor. No act, Beatles included, has ever released two better albums out of the gate.

Picks to click: “You’re a Big Girl Now” (The Stylistics) “It’s Too Late” (Round 2 and fair competition for the best Carole King cover ever, up to and including “One Fine Day,” “The Locomotion” and maybe even “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”)

Helen Reddy I Don’t Know How to Love Him (1971)

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Note: This contains the now mostly forgotten version of “I Am Woman,” which doesn’t sound as great here as it did in the more polished hit version that has taken a forty-something-year pounding as a definitive version of seventies’ era have-a-nice-day excrement, as agreed upon by everyone from Greil Marcus to Bill O’Reilly. I’d say the length and intensity of that pounding is the truest measure of how much it still frightens people. Reddy was probably the only person who could have mainstreamed feminism for the same reason Chris Evert was probably the only person who could have mainstreamed (non-Olympic) women’s sports…nothing mitigates fear quite like the assurance of normality. This isn’t actually her strongest album (the follow-up Helen Reddy is freer and further ranging and “Tulsa Turnaround” shouldn’t be missed). But if “I Am Woman” had never existed, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” would have still had everybody quaking if they had only stopped to listen (and gotten Yvonne Elliman’s fine but straight-from-Broadway version out of their heads). “I couldn’t cope…I just couldn’t cope” is as fine a line-reading as exists on record and I’ll just add that when the girls in my junior high came in with reports of their NASA dads stalking out of the TV room or throwing shoes at the set, you always knew who had been on the night before.

Pick to Click: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”

Jackie DeShannon Jackie

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Note: Jerry Wexler tried several times….Rinse and repeat. Except this time, instead of taking a British girl south, he took an actual southerner who was every bit the singer Dusty and Lulu were but also a Hall of Fame level songwriter. Still didn’t get a hit out of it and, in fact, this was where the trying basically ended. In its original vinyl version, which is what I’m including here, it was merely one of the best albums of its era and recognized as such by virtually no one. In the epic extended version released on CD a while back (with another album’s worth of material added) its an era-summing epic. I keep meaning to write about it at length but, for now, I’ll just say that the original LP is still a keeper.

Pick to Click: “Full Time Woman”

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

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Note: Depending on how you count, the 3rd or 4th ace band led by keyboardist Manfred Mann. This one started out sounding like an attempt to carry on in the tradition of the Band or Fairport Convention (right down to the ace Dylan covers the Mann’s bands had been assaying since before anybody heard of the Fairports and the Band were still Dylan’s touring band) at the moment those two entities were disintegrating…and even they didn’t do it any better.

Pick to Click: “Part Time Man”

Big Star #1 Record (1972) and Radio City (1974)

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Note: In the CD era these have been released as an incomparable two-fer and that’s the way I’ve become used to listening to them. In their day they charted a future that eventually came and even charted (see R.E.M.) without ever sounding quite as good or quite as ready for any punch the world could possibly throw. I wrote about Big Star and the music on these albums (plus a few other things) here.

Picks to Click: “Feel” (#1 Record) and “You Get What You Deserve” (Radio City)

Dobie Gray Drift Away (1973)

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Note: Hey, that cover is almost weird enough to grace a Swamp Dogg LP. But the sound is all ache. The sound of an open-hearted black man in Nashville, refusing the believe his talent won’t triumph. For one brief shining moment, it did…everywhere except Nashville.

Pick to Click: “Drift Away” (Because no matter how obvious it is, or how great the rest of the LP is, if “Drift Away” is an option, it’s always the pick)

Raspberries Starting Over (1974)

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Note: Nice consensus pick for the era’s Great Lost Album but just because it’s Conventional Wisdom doesn’t mean it’s not so. My personal pick would actually be their 1976 Best of, which I can’t include because it’s a comp, even though it’s inevitably a little stronger than this cut-for-cut and also one of the greatest concept albums ever released…alas, never on CD. Of course, if I had picked this one up in 1980, that time I saw it, sealed, for a buck-ninety-eight, in a bargain bin at a T,G and Y in DeFuniak Springs, instead of on scratchy vinyl, for fifteen bucks, in a used record store, twenty-five years later (never having set eyes on it in between)? Well who knows? But in any case it is plenty good enough to belong here. And, of course, they broke up immediately afterwards. Didn’t the title clue you?

Pick to Click: “Starting Over” (Because, of course, it’s the last song on their last pre-breakup LP) Bonus Pick: “Overnight Sensation” (Eric Carmen, from 2005, sounding like time had stood still for thirty years, waiting for him)

Toots and the Maytals Funky Kingston (1975)

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Note: This is a bit of a cheat. It’s a sort-of comp since it combines the key cuts from a couple of earlier albums that weren’t much distributed outside of Jamaica. But it coheres plenty and these guys are not much mentioned for Hall of Fame status. They should be. Because this is jaw-dropping and, if anything, their earlier stuff, which has been released on various comps, was even better.

Pick to Click: “Country Road” although, really on the “Drift Away” principle established above, I really must add this.

Boston (1976)

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Note: In theory, every big faceless corporate concept I’ve ever distrusted, in one nice, convenient, easy-to-hate package. Just look at that cover! But that’s just theory. In reality, it’s the greatest D.I.Y. record ever made. You want contrived, try the Sex Pistols. This is hard rock out of Beethoven, the James Gang and a Boston basement. If theories held, it should have sounded the way last week’s fish smells. For some, it did and does. For me, it rings true. Maybe the only album that’s sold twenty-five millions copies and is still underrated. Baby, that was rock and roll. Like it or not. And, I might just mention, a fine sequel to Starting Over.

Pick to Click: “Hitch a Ride”

The Persuasions Chirpin’ (1977)

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Note: Black men, singing a cappella in 1977, about a past that never quite was and a future that had no chance of ever arriving. I had some additional thoughts here. To which I’ll only add, don’t go looking for better. There’s no such thing.

Pick to Click: “To Be Loved”

Boston Don’t Look Back (1978)

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Note: Wait. They did it again? Exactly the same? That must surely make this the funniest “up yours” title ever….the end draws nigh.

Pick to Click: “A Man I’ll Never Be”

Tanya Tucker Tear Me Apart (1979)

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Note: The end of Tanya’s attempts to go mainstream. I can only guess she missed because, finally, she had too much rock and country in her voice and not quite enough pop. I’m making an exception to the country exclusion, though, because this really is a rock and roll album (right down to copping Suzi Quatro’s producers and redeeming “San Francisco” of all things). So much so that it was the only album she released over a thirty-year stretch which didn’t produce a country hit. Plus she had already made the cover of Rolling Stone as a country singer, anyway, and did it when country really wasn’t cool, assuming it ever actually was in those sort of places. All of which makes her as likely and credible a candidate for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as Willie Nelson in my book. Oh yeah, this was also a fine album. And I wouldn’t pick anybody else, or any other song, to close down the Seventies’ portion of our program. (Suggestion: Don’t play this when you have a parent in a nursing home. Just wait until they pass. And then wait a while longer. Trust me on this.)

Pick to Click: “Shady Streets”

Third and final installment on the Eighties to follow…Don’t worry, if I haven’t lost you by now, I’m sure I’ll lose you then!

NASHVILLE CHIC (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #53)

The history of race in Nashville is as long and complicated as anywhere else in America, only maybe a little more so. There’s plenty of blame for the less savory aspects to go around, but here’s a nice reminder, from Chic’s Nile Rodgers, that the “complexity” has always been far less about artists or audience than about the suits running a protectionist racket.

Just like everywhere else:

When they describe Chic as a “sub-genre” of rock and roll, I go, “A sub-genre?” Everything is a sub genre of what rock and roll used to be! None of those bands sound like the early rock and roll artists! I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and it was unbelievable. I felt like I was at the Museum of Natural History, it was the most moving thing, I was brought to tears. And I learned so much about country music and the history, and they had no problem acknowledging the contributions of black people and addressing the racism. The curator said, “We changed it to ‘country and western’ so white people would buy it!”* I didn’t expect that! I thought it was really brave to address that, because people don’t want to talk about that. It was a history lesson….

Donna Summer influenced me to start playing this kind of music [disco]; and then Donna Summer, who lived in Westport, Conn., which is where I live, moved to Nashville. I, then, went to Nashville, and I started hanging out with Big and Rich and all these guys. They’re great, amazing and fun. And then I went to the museum and… very few things make you feel like an American. They really acknowledged the history. I felt very, very comfortable there, around people from country music.

(Entire interview is here)

*Actually, they changed it to “Country and Western” to replace “Hillbilly,” a marketing phrase that had its own set of problems but was hardly in danger of being interpreted as “not for white people.” I did mention it was complicated didn’t I? But that shouldn’t obscure Rodgers’ larger point.

I found the interview by accident while I was researching some details for a theoretical upcoming post on My Favorite Albums by Artists Who Have Never Been Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think by typing that phrase I’ve now officially committed to moving from theoretical to actual in the next day or two…Til then, a taste of what black people almost kinda sorta got past the suits in Nashville back when:

 

WHY I NEED ROCK AND ROLL (Session #1)

New category, which I actually hope will be small and infrequently updated:

I’m in the Gadsden County Courthouse annex, waiting out jury selection (got questioned, didn’t get chosen). During a break–with the judge and the lawyers meeting with the two-thirds of the jury pool who needed private consultation of some kind–a woman with a higher number, waiting to be quizzed for the day’s second case is in conversation with a man sitting next to me in the box.

“They don’t want to pick me for no jury. I believe in the death penalty. People do wrong they need to be punished just like the Bible says.”

Conversation ensued. Not without difficulty, the guy sitting next to me finally got her to concede she wouldn’t execute somebody for stealing a candy bar.

Just FYI: We were being considered for an assault and burglary case. Suffice it to say that, like most people who don’t want to be “picked for no jury” she seemed permanently disappointed by the questionable need for their existence.

I sat quietly humming throughout. Don’t ask me what. Could have been Robert Johnson. Could have been Olivia Newton-John. Doesn’t matter. I survived!

Been humming this one ever since, though:

Dobie Gray “Drift Away” (Live Television Performance)

(For those youngsters who only know Uncle Kracker’s version…It’s fine. This is better.)

No idea, incidentally, if the woman got picked for the second jury.

Okay, I have an idea. Just no proof.