Here in my book of memories

It’s time again for a search through some of the great LPs of the Seventies and Eighties for those long-forgotten album tracks that are well worth digging up and brought back into the light.

13418967174_7bbbde8a43_bMany in my generation will recall these songs because they owned or were familiar with the albums they came from, but younger generations have likely had no exposure to these 12 tunes because the radio stations wouldn’t dream of playing them these days.

I like to think I perform a public service by reminding my readers how much great music has been made in the last half-century.  It’s always been there, bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be picked up by our radar.

I hope you agree that these lost classics from the 1970s and 1980s, with an emphasis on songs from the progressive rock genre, are worthy of your attention, and I hope you enjoy them.

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“China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider (live),” Grateful Dead, 1972

19721105_0648No band enjoyed as loyal a following as The Grateful Dead did.  Thousands of “Deadheads” were known to hit the road and follow the band on tour, attending many dozens of shows, year after year.  Truth be told, The Dead’s performances were erratic, due in large part to the group’s voracious appetite for psychedelics, and their studio LPs, for the most part, were ho-hum affairs which failed to capture the band’s music at its best.  For that, you needed to turn to the best of their live albums, particularly the magnificent “Europe ’72” three-LP package.  The 13-minute version of “Truckin'” is pretty great, but I’m partial to the two-song combo of the Dead original “China Cat Sunflower” with the traditional blues tune “I Know You Rider.”  It may be the finest track(s) the band ever put down on vinyl.

“A Gallon of Gas,” The Kinks, 1979

KinksLowBudgetAfter several years of concept albums with lyrics recalling simpler times, The Kinks switched directions (and record labels) and started writing straight-ahead rock and roll with lyrics addressing contemporary issues like inflation, labor strife and the gasoline crisis.  On 1979’s “Low Budget,” the best of these is “A Gallon of Gas,” a slow-tempo, hard-rocking track which pointed out how, in some cities, it was easier to get drugs than gasoline.  “Low Budget,” which included the minor hit “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” turned out to be their best-charting LP ever in the US, peaking at #11.  It began a nice run of Top 20 albums in the early ’80s — “Give the People What They Want,” “State of Confusion,” “Word of Mouth” and a so-so live album, “One For the Road” — that kept the band viable and playing to arena-sized crowds for a while longer.

“The Cage,” Elton John, 1970

images-78From the very beginning, Elton John’s music has been a cross between melodic ballads and rollicking piano rockers.  Even his mostly ignored first album, 1969’s “Empty Sky,” offered both genres.  “Elton John,” the self-titled LP that Americans thought was his debut, included the iconic debut single “Your Song,” one of his very prettiest songs, and other strings-laden ballads like “Sixty Years On,” “The Greatest Discovery” and “First Episode at Hienton.”  But just as interesting were the tracks that leaned more toward the kind of swampy rhythm-and-blues his idol Leon Russell was famous for — “Take Me to the Pilot,” “Border Song” and the lost classic “The Cage.”  A rowdy arrangement of drums, bass, guitars and synthesizer complement Elton and his vocals on “The Cage,” hinting at what was still to come on his next several albums.

“It Can Happen,” Yes, 1983

b6ae0620295870be9bb2cb3070f39ad0When keyboard player Rick Wakeman and especially singer Jon Anderson left Yes in 1979, I thought that would be the end of one of the best of Britain’s progressive rock bands.  Instead, veterans Chris Squire and Steve Howe regrouped with a couple of ex-Buggles and kept the Yes ship afloat for another few years until Anderson, whose brilliant, high voice was crucial to the band’s identity, was eventually coaxed back into the fold.  Led by the enormously commercial #1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the album “90125” became a #1 album as well.  Longtime Yes fans, at first skeptical, found a number of tracks that harkened back to the glory years, majestic tunes like “Changes,” “Leave It” and particularly “It Can Happen.”

“My God,” Jethro Tull, 1971

220px-JethroTullAqualungalbumcover-1When rock music reviewers labeled Tull’s “Aqualung” as a concept album, Ian Anderson protested, saying, “There were a couple of songs that commented on organized religion, but most of the album had nothing to do with that.”  The songs that took religious traditions to task were “Wind Up” — which criticized once-a-week churchgoers with the line, “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays” — and the magnificent “My God,” a haunting piece that again taunts the hypocrisy and shallowness of many worshippers in the churches of 1971.  “My God” boasts a rather harrowing melody line, first on acoustic guitar, then with full electric band accompaniment and some of Anderson’s finest flute playing ever.  I would put this track in the Top 10 best Tull songs, out of a repertoire of 225 originals.

“Daughters of the Sea,” The Doobie Brothers, 1974

images-79From the early Tom Johnston singles (“China Grove,” “Listen to the Music”) to the later Michael McDonald hits (“Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes”), The Doobies were always an accomplished band of stellar musicians who offered tight performances both in concert and on record.  Throughout their initial run (1972-1982), one of the group’s constants was guitarist/vocalist Pat Simmons, whose quality songs added so much to the band’s presence.  “Black Water” was his best known tune, but so many others made the list of The Doobies’ finest tracks:  “Clear as the Driven Snow,” “I Cheat the Hangman,” “Toulouse Street,” “Echoes of Love,” “South City Midnight Lady.”  Let’s not forget the dreamy “Daughters of the Sea,” a Simmons highlight from their 1974 LP “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.”

“Street Life,” Roxy Music, 1973

Roxy_Music-StrandedThe eclectic, eccentric music of Roxy Music was ahead of its time, and not to everyone’s taste.  Indeed, I didn’t care for it at all when I was first exposed to it, but I found that it has grown on me over the years.  Singer Bryan Ferry’s affected vocals certainly take some getting used to, and the unusual textures and alternately smooth and strident instrumentation Roxy Music utilized made for a broad palette of ideas and concepts.  Andy Mackay’s sax, Eddie Jobson’s synthesizers and Phil Manzanera’s guitar combined so well on a track like “Street Life,” which was a Top Ten single in the UK but ignored here in the US, as was its album, 1973’s “Stranded.”  In fact, their music never did well on the US charts but found a loyal audience that Ferry has enjoyed during his solo career since the band broke up in 1983.

“Rocket Love,” Stevie Wonder, 1980

220px-Hotter_JulyWhen you mention the 1970s, usually The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac are named as the dominant acts, but I think you can make a strong case for Stevie Wonder being every bit as influential.  The man won three Album of the Year Grammys in four years and charted numerous hit singles, not to mention the trail of imitators who came along in his wake.  His 1980 LP “Hotter Than July” reached #3 and featured the Bob Marley-inspired reggae rave-up “Master Blaster” and the country-tinged hit “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It.”  I’ve always been partial to the deep track “Rocket Love,” which focuses on the romantic turmoil of a couple who curiously experience extreme highs and lows:  “You took me riding in your rocket, gave me a star, but at a half a mile from heaven, you dropped me back down to this cold, cold world…”

“The Same Old Sun,” The Alan Parsons Project, 1984

220px-TAPP-VultureCultureAfter six Top 20 albums on the US charts — “I Robot” (1977), “Pyramid” (1978), “Eve” (1979, “The Turn of a Friendly Card” (1980), “Eye in the Sky” (1982) and “Ammonia Avenue” (1984) — The Alan Parsons Project began falling out of favor with US audiences, who had always been more receptive to their music than fans in their native England.  Their 1984 LP “Vulture Culture,” which had been intended as the second half of a double album with “Ammonia Avenue,” fell off the charts pretty quickly, managing only #46, with no hit singles.  There were some great tracks on there, though, including “Days Are Numbers,” “Sooner or Later” and the album’s grand closer, “The Same Old Sun,” which starts quietly before building to a dramatic conclusion.  Eric Woolfson’s vocals and David Paton’s guitar solo are particularly strong.

“Squonk” (live), Genesis, 1977

220px-Genesis_-_Seconds_OutI admit I was late to the party when it comes to the music of Genesis, whose albums date back to 1969.  I never really paid attention until their 1976 LP “A Trick of the Tail,” which was coincidentally their first after the departure of frontman/lyricist/vocalist Peter Gabriel.  The group carried on admirably, with drummer Phil Collins stepping up and sounding uncannily like Gabriel on most tracks.  Keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarists Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett wrote the eight amazing songs that comprise “A Trick of the Tail,” and four of them — “Dance on a Volcano,” “Robbery, Assault and Battery,” “Los Endos” and “Squonk” — appeared as in-concert versions on the double live album “Seconds Out,” released in 1977.  I actually prefer the live take of “Squonk” to the studio rendition.

“Darkness,” The Police, 1981

Ghost_In_The_Machine_cover-1By 1981, the reggae-punk rock oeuvre that marked The Police’s first three albums had evolved into a different style that made liberal use of keyboards, synthesizers and even horns.  On their “Ghost in the Machine” LP, the hit singles “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Spirits in the Material World” sound far removed from the band’s earlier work, except for Sting’s mesmerizing vocals.  Buried late in the segue of songs is “Darkness,” a dreamy piece written by drummer Stewart Copeland.  It offers lyrics that touch on the dichotomy of light and dark, and how darkness can be a blessing when light brings the pain of reality into focus:  “I wish I never woke up this morning, life was easy when it was boring…”

“Scared,” John Lennon, 1974

205547da87eecb390c38836e4fbcb861In 1980, when Lennon sat for a lengthy interview for the first time in years and talked about all his past music, he praised the relatively unknown “Scared” as one of his favorites, and the best track on his 1974 LP “Walls and Bridges.”  He was in his period of estrangement, living and recording in L.A. many thousands of miles from Yoko, and although he was capable of churning out commercial hit singles like “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” many of the songs he was writing dug much deeper, exposing and reflecting on his flaws and fears.  “Scared” deftly utilizes a few spooky wolf howls and a dirge-like pace to set the tone for lyrics about regretting past behavior and not wanting to be alone anymore.  Within a few months of this album’s release, John and Yoko reunited, and a happy John took a break from the business to raise his baby boy Sean.

 

I guess I’m guilty of the crime

Music, like any art form, is a very subjective thing.  It appeals to us, or it doesn’t.  It plays on our emotions, or it doesn’t.

When a piece of music appeals to us, we might play it loudly in our car or on our home sound system.  We might even sing it in the shower.

But sometimes we have felt the need to hide the fact that we like certain songs or artists who might be considered “unhip.”  We keep it a secret that we are fans.

This is what is known as a guilty pleasure.  We feel guilty, for whatever reason, that we get pleasure from listening to this song or artist, and we are reluctant to let the world know it.

Me, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the records by The Carpenters.  This brother-and-sister act the-carpentersfrom the early 1970s were considered by some to be the gold standard of square, saccharine-sweet, gooey music.  It was well known in my social circle that I was a huge fan of hard rock, progressive rock, hipster songwriter rock, blues rock and others, and I certainly wasn’t going to be caught dead admitting that, deep down inside, I really liked many of the songs in The Carpenters’ repertoire.  So that was a big secret.  A guilty pleasure.

Everyone has guilty pleasures.  It’s a phrase that’s apparently been around since the 1700s, back when it had a more shameful connotation and was pretty heavy on the guilty aspect.  It might have referred to one of the seven deadly sins — kinky sexual activity, or pigging out on food, or lazing around all day reading or binge-watching TV or playing video games.  These are all guilty pleasures, because we don’t want to admit that we indulge in them.

In the early 2000s, the Canadian band Nickelback achieved considerable commercial success with several multi-platinum international hit albums and singles.  But it wasn’t long before public acclaim inexplicably turned to widespread derision, to the point where the group’s fans felt they needed to deny their fandom and hide their Nickelback CDs.  For those people, enjoying Nickelback’s music had become a guilty pleasure.

It’s all a bit silly, really.  We’re too concerned with what others may think about us if they knew about these guilty pleasures.  But ultimately, who cares what others think?  If I like to listen to “Rainy Days and Mondays” or “We’ve Only Just Begun,” what business is it of yours, and why should it matter to me?

It’s because we are too proud, too concerned with maintaining our reputation, too worried that people will think less of us.  Certain things we may be justified in keeping private, but musical preferences?  Good grief, how shallow, and how absurd.

My friend Chris likes certain songs by Barry Manilow, but he was hesitant to tell me that.  Why?  Because Manilow is largely considered unhip.

And yet, my sister Carrie is a big Manilow fan, and is more than happy to shout that fact from the rooftops.  She feels absolutely no guilt about it.

Most of the music that some of us have considered a guilty pleasure is frothy, lightweight pop music — usually from the ’60s, or ’70s, or ’80s, although it could be from more recent years.  Maybe it’s a song like “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies, or “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, or “Think of Laura” by Christopher Cross.  Or maybe it’s something by The Spice Girls or The Backstreet Boys.

If I happen to like a song like “Diary” by Bread, I may have a very good reason for it.  It happens to remind me of a girl I dated in high school, and although the lyrics are sad, the melody brings back fond memories.  When I listened to the song the other day, I was struck by the superb production values and the professional arrangement of voices and instruments, which are both solid reasons for liking it.

There are dozens of songs I like that some people would be amazed to hear me admit to liking.  Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight.”  Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer.”  Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).”  Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain.”  Why do I like these brazenly cheesy songs?  I don’t know, I just do.  So sue me.

A recent online article in the British music publication NME (New Musical Express) culled comments from a variety of musical artists and writers about their guilty pleasures, and their remarks were fascinating.

Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters said, “I couldn’t get The Spice Girls’ song ‘Two Become One’ out of my head, and it’s not even a dance song.  It’s just this slow love shit.  Lord, I love it, and I don’t know what to do!  In Nirvana, Krist Novoselic joked that he was going to call his autobiography ‘What The Hell Was I Thinking?’ Now I know what he means.  Do I need a shrink?”

Gary Jarman, multi-instrumentalist of the popular British group The Cribs, made this admission:  “I think The Bee Gees’ album ‘Size Isn’t Everything’ is phenomenal.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite albums.  It’s from the much-maligned late era of The Bee Gees, but I think the pop songs are fantastic, and that’s really all that mattered to me.  It was a big record for me when I was a kid.”

An NME writer named Rebecca Schiller wrote, “Does anyone really know what Chumbawumba’s ‘Tubthumping’ means?  Probably not.  Does it matter?  Not really.  I remember buying it when I was 10.  I brought it to a sleepover that night, and we had a massive singalong to it.  That’s all that matters.  It brings back memories, and it makes me smile.  I don’t care if anyone else likes it or not.”

Kele Okereke, lead singer of the British indie rock band Bloic Party, admitted, “I heard Britney Spears’ “I Wanna Go” in a club a few weeks ago.  I’d never heard it before, but I was quite surprised that I quite liked it.  I think she’s probably someone I should feel guilty about liking, because she’s just a machine now.”

Alan Woodhouse, an NME editor, said, “I personally don’t feel guilty about anything I like, but I suppose people would be surprised if I admitted that I love quite a lot of cheesy songs from my childhood.  Remember David Soul, that actor from ‘Starsky and Hutch’?  Remember his huge hit ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’?  LOVE that song!”

Punk/metal artist Henry Rollins noted, “I used to despise the arena-rock stuff like Boston and Kansas, but when the remasters came out, I bought ’em and found they were just so rockin’!  Sometimes it’s these records that hit the spot like no other, which, it seems to me, is one of the great things about music in the first place.”

91metYR5+hL._SX355_The older I get, I have come to realize that I don’t need to justify my listening preferences to anybody.  If I genuinely like almost everything Bread ever recorded, and someone somewhere thinks I should be mercilessly teased for liking them, well, that’s just too damn bad.  Call me guilty, your honor, of getting pleasure from something as subjective as music.

If I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I often make fun of others who listen to music I find unhip or unworthy.  I teased my friend Fiji when I learned he owned CDs by John Tesh and Yanni.  I roll my eyes when he says he like Celine Dion’s theme song from “Titanic.”

Let’s say you’ve always liked the ’60s novelty “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits.  Maybe you’re partial to Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.”  Perhaps your guilty pleasure is Barbra Streisand’s duet with Barry Gibbs called (wait for it) “Guilty.”

Well, who am I to say what’s hip or worthy?  You like what you like, and you needn’t defend yourself to me, or anyone else.

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