THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Summer 2018, Countdown)

10) Leslie Kong The “King” Kong Compilation (The Historic Reggae Recordings 1968-1970) (1981)

Kong was among the most famous reggae producers and label owners and it was his records–by Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, The Pioneers, Toots and the Maytals–that broke the music internationally. All his big stars except Cliff are represented here and, while the music hardly lacks a political edge, Kong’s artists seemed to prize spiritual concerns above all.

Dekker’s records (especially “The Israelites”) are likely the ones recognizable to general American audiences (Cliff broke really big after Kong’s untimely death, producing his own biggest hits in a style clearly influenced by Kong’s earlier productions for him, fair enough since he was the one who induced Kong to start a recording label in the first place–both Cliff and Desmond Dekker reported undergoing deep spiritual crises after Kong died, which perhaps speaks to the sort of man it took to produce these visionary sides). In 1970, Kong wanted to release a comp of early tracks he had cut on Bob Marley’s Wailers. Bunny Wailer allegedly threatened to put a curse on him if he did so. Kong released the record anyway and died within the year.

That’s one theory on his unfortunate demise. My own involves the C.I.A.

I only had to hear this record once to know it wasn’t God.

9) The Beatles (1962-1966) (1973)

The “Red” album (and the accompanying Blue album, about which more in a minute) is how a lot of us who just missed the sixties got to know the Beatles. Well that and the air, where, like Elvis (and no one else, then or now), they were ever-present.

And, from this distance, this is still the best way to learn (or relearn) just how astonishing they were. Yes, there are dozens of tracks from the period I wouldn’t want to live without that aren’t here….But if you just want the essence, this can hardly be bettered. I bought this a week or two after I skipped my senior prom and took my mom to see I Wanna Hold Your Hand instead. In a life filled with mistakes, that might be the best series of decisions I ever made.

8) The Beatles 1967-1970 (1973)

I’ve always been an “early Beatles” devotee…and I’ve always known how silly the distinction is. This does just as fine a job of narrating their fall as the Red album does their rise. Hearing it now (after not having listened to it for a few years while watching more than the usual amount of water flow beneath the bridge) I can hear a lot of brilliance I previously cottoned to only as craft. (“Old Brown Shoe” anyone? “Let It Be?” I could go on.)

I’ve always leaned toward them having broken up at the right time, too–a feeling once locked into place by hearing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” segue into “Honky Tonk Women” on an oldies station…Ouch!.

But “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was the only thing I heard this time that didn’t make me wonder if I’d been wrong all along.

And…..

I can say all that and still admit I’ve never believed they meant a word of it, or needed to. I just don’t know if it makes me better or worse than those who need to believe otherwise.

7) Blondie (1976)

A stunning debut that, unsurprisingly, went mostly unnoticed at the time because Debbie Harry had dropped in from another planet. The look was futuristic with a pre-civilizational undertow (and who could resist that combo), but the voice was something new under the sun and the not-quite-flat affect was pure cult. No way would a woman who looked like that and wrote such whip-smart lyrics ever fail to become a star. No way would any woman who sounded like that ever be more than a novelty success.

One thing you can hear that might split the difference even now is how she had assembled–or latched onto–a band that could do most anything (never mind whether the vocal is from a Betty Boop contest in a Dada club, why is the guitar break from a spaghetti western?….Forty years later and it’s still confusing.) Of course, we know which way it went. She changed just enough. I’m glad. But I’m glad this exists, too. The world can always use a smile, especially if there will never be any way to know whether the joke’s on you.

6) Brenton Wood 18 Best (1991)

Southern born, L.A. raised (and based) soul singer who you probably think just about defines “journeyman.”

I’d give this a close listen  before you settle on a conclusion. His two big hits, “Gimme Little Sign” and “The Oogum Boogum Song,” catch him in prime form, but he stretched that form so gently and often that his comp amounts to a mysterious shape all its own.

I wasn’t surprised, reading up on him, to find he was an acolyte of L.A. r&b legend Jesse Belvin–Wood’s style seems an updating of the Belvin ethos. He floats like a butterfly, and, as this goes along, you start wondering just how many places he can land without getting swatted. Pretty soon, you’ve listened to the whole thing with a smile on your face and you know why he was a hero everywhere from East L.A. to the Carolina beaches to Leslie Kong’s island.

5) Neil Young Tonight’s the Night (1975)

Along with 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, my go-to Neil Young.

I seriously hope these are the two bleakest albums the man has recorded. But, being hooked on them, I don’t know if I can relate to him being any happier. (Which, except for “Rockin’ in the Free World”–where he ain’t all that much happier–he isn’t on any of the other stray tracks I love from across his career.)

One thing I admire is that he never made another Death Record. It’s not only cheating if you make more than one, it means you’ve made less than one. Now I hear there’s a live version from 1973, when this was recorded. Some say it’s even bleaker.

I’m thinking hard on whether that makes two…and whether I really want to go there to find out.

4) Elton John Rock of the Westies (1975)

Along with 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, my go-to Elton John album. I don’ t know if this and Tonight’s the Night are my favorite 1975 albums…but if you told me those were the only two I could keep, from a year Fleetwood Mac and Al Green were going strong, I wouldn’t kick.

Pop gems throughout. And if “Grow Some Funk of Your Own,” isn’t Elton’s finest vocal I don’t know what is. It’s certainly Bernie Taupin’s greatest lyric. I don’t know much, but I know when the gay English dude can dance with the pretty senorita in a border town without having a knife pulled on him and being told to get back home, we’ll all be living in a better place.

3) David Lindley, El Rayo-X (1981)

This is a nice debut album from a west coast sideman who had played with everybody who was anybody in the California Rock scene. The closest his ethos comes to resembling a big name’s is probably Warren Zevon, though it’s crossed with Jackson Browne and a light, but persistent south of the border flavor.

There are twelve tracks and eleven of them go down easy.

Where the one exception came from nobody knows, because for fury, menace and freedom, it has seldom been matched anywhere, and there is no additional evidence, on this fine album or anywhere else, that David Lindley is the sort of dude who would run straight over you with his ’49 Mercury and never even notice.

2) Moby Grape Live (2018)

I made this my impulse buy of the summer on the recommendation of Robert Christgau. He gave it an A- and scribbled something about the drummer and this being the best live music he’d heard from the famous San Francisco scene of the late sixties.

What is it really? A bunch of jamming musicians’ musicians who opened at Monterrey Pop and had the same chance to wow the world that was seized upon by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Otis Redding. As I was listening to it (a not unpleasant experience mind you–they always played better than they sang, even in the studio–but not making me wish I did drugs so I could relate either), I remembered that Christgau once gave B+ grades to Tanya Tucker’s Greatest Hits, Chirpin’ and Beauty and the Beat.

I know taste is subjective, but the onset of senility can’t be discounted.

1) Smokey Robinson Smokin’ (1978)

CD version of Smokey’s live album from ’78. Long difficult to find on vinyl so this is the first time I’ve heard it.

It’s a wonderful album, filled with great moments from both the singer and his crack touring band. Needless to say, they don’t lack for material. I especially love the interaction with a black audience neither he nor they had reason to suspect would become permanently mixed again when the following year’s “Cruisin'” put his solo career back in the cultural space he had earned as frontman for the Miracles. And Smokey was as great on stage as he was in the studio–just one more way he was the complete poet Bob Dylan surely meant when either his mind or his mouth called him America’s greatest living example of same.

And nothing–not even “Mickey’s Monkey”–can match the first moment, when he steps to the mike in front of what he must have assumed would always be Black America and only Black America to open the show with “The Tracks of My Tears” and invests it with such shattering intensity it feels like he’s trying to save the American Experiment single-handed–and as if he just might be the only man who can.

If you lived through 1978, it might take you the rest of the day to shake that off.

I’m chalking up the album’s obscurity to the same forces that killed Leslie Kong.

Your mileage may vary.

“You say it, we play it….”

Til next time.

BATTLE OF THE BANDS….ER, MAKE THAT “BATTLE OF THE BIG-HAIRED SEVENTIES’ ERA POP STARS, AT LEAST ONE OF WHICH HAD A SUSPICIOUSLY FLIMSY RELATIONSHIP TO THE PLANET EARTH !” (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #74)

Steven Rubio has a post today on pop songs that become indelibly linked with a movie scene (you can find Renee Zellwegger’s fabulous lip sync of a cover version of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” at the beginning of Bridget Jones’s Diary if you follow the link).

Great as Renee is, I can’t ever quite link “All By Myself” to anything but the summer of 1977 when, right in the middle of two summer weeks at my brother’s house that were otherwise among the happiest days of my life, I played my newly acquired 45 of Carmen’s record on the stereo nobody used except when I was visiting. (To tell the truth, I had bought the 45 for “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again,” which was on the flip-side of one of those Golden Oldie two-fers. The two “oldies” had, respectively, entered the charts all of eighteen and fourteen months previously. As I’ve mentioned before, Pop Time moved much, much faster then.)

It was the middle of the afternoon and I was all alone in the house (a big two-story job in what came to be called the “Research Triangle” in North Carolina–my brother and his wife still live there). I had a connection to “All By Myself” that day, the first time I ever dropped a needle on it, that I never had with it, or any other record, before that day, and, thankfully, never had again.

I say thankfully, because, while nothing happens in a vacuum, hearing the record, and, at sixteen, relating to it a little too closely, tipped me over into a series of bouts of depression that kept me on the thin edge of suicide until seven years later, when, under another very particular set of circumstances which I’ll probably write about some day, hearing the Go-Go’s’ “Beneath the Blue Sky” drove the dark clouds away mysteriously, instantaneously and for good.

What I mean to say is, even with three decades of rationality and restored sanity to serve as a defensive barrier, I can never really hear “All By Myself” casually, not even when Renee Zellweger is lip-syncing a cover version.

So, having a little time on my hands this afternoon, I went off on a slight tangent, which involved a realization that I could finally access Carmen’s original version of my favorite composition of his, which I knew only through Shaun Cassidy’s version, through this eternally wonderful and surprising new device called YouTube!

Funny enough, Shaun Cassidy records written by Eric Carmen (the other big one was the equally luminous “Hey Deanie”) more than occasionally helped me keep my equilibrium through the exceptionally dark days of 1978 and ’79. I don’t know if that qualifies as Irony. Suffice it to say I could never be ashamed of my taste in those days. It would be the same as being ashamed of surviving.

So, in more or less ascending order, (not necessarily the order in which I found them)….

Thanks Eric.

I think.

And I’m really glad this didn’t lead me all the way into an exposition of my theory of beautiful aliens surely passing among us based on my understanding of the way Shaun Cassidy and Debbie Harry did or did not pronounce the word “guitar” on various of their recordings.

That could have been stressful.

I mean, who knows if those creatures are still friendly?

(PUBLIC WARNING: If you follow the above links, please beware of the addictive nature of the Raspberries and Badfinger videos that continually pop up on the right of your screen. Should you choose to access these videos, this blog cannot be held legally or morally responsible for what happens to the rest of your day!)

MARY WEISS’ SHADOW (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #48)

Been a hectic week but I found this on somebody’s twitter page…I’d say whose if this were the sort of week where I could remember…

SUZIQUATRO1

That’s Debbie Harry (of Blondie), Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett, circa some time in the late seventies. Three women, who, shall we say, probably benefited from Weiss’ experience more than she did, and all of whom were appropriately grateful. They knew where they came from even if a lot of other people forgot.

And that put me in mind of Quatro’s lengthy radio interview with Weiss from shortly after Weiss’ release of her first (and so far only) comeback album in 2007, which I was fortunately able to track down here.

Should not be missed by anyone interested in how culture works.

Sometimes, somebody just says no…and actually means it.

On all kinds of levels.