Soundtrack to Watergate Vol. 2: Pirates, Angels, Dinosaurs, Gas Masks — and Ziggy Again

If Donald Trump gets impeached he’ll leave office to strains of excess and decadence — think of the Jonas Brothers copping to “dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars” in “Sucker,” Ariana Grande cavorting amid waterfalls of champagne in “7 Rings,” and Lil Nas X’s genre whiplashing as he makes off with the loot in “Old Town Road,” to name just a very few.

The only time an impeachment forced a U.S. commander in chief from office was after the Watergate scandal, which can be dated roughly from the Watergate burglary in June 1972 until Richard Nixon resigned his office, a little more than two years later.

The ads in our second installment of “Soundtrack to Watergate” are all full-pagers — and mostly right-hand pages at that, because advertisers pay a premium to snag eyeballs on the side of a spread that readers see for a few extra nanoseconds as they flip through a periodical. Back in 1972, the Watergate scandal was simply a police blotter report that Republicans were dismissing as a “third-rate burglary,” even though the perps had ties directly to the White House. A number of the ads here feature a logo with the stars of the American flag replaced by the number 18, signifying the voting age, which had recently been reduced from 21, along with the exhortation “Use the Power — VOTE.”

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Nixon, a buttoned-down Quaker who was the antithesis of the counterculture that most of the albums trumpeted, would win in a landslide in November, which relieved his innate paranoia for a few months until the drip-by-drip revelations of his administration’s SOP corruption, self-dealing, and obstruction of justice became a deluge that even his staunchest supporters could no longer explain away.

We have to admit there’s a lot of music below that, almost half a century on, we had never heard before, even though the record companies back in the day thought they were worth an expensive ad buy. So we’ve plunged down a number of streaming-service rabbit holes to bring ourselves up to speed on the flea-market vinyl below.

Much of the archive scanning work here was done while listening to the Latin-infused rock of Macondo, who, according to various record-collecting sites, were an East L.A. group discovered by Sergio Mendes in the early ’70s. Any album with a T-Rex on the cover deserves a listen, and we were not disappointed by Albert Hernandez’s fire-breathing guitar licks and Fred Ramirez’s rollercoaster organ riffs, especially on “Cayuco.”

Jefferson Airplane recorded their seventh studio album using the time-honored tradition of avoiding personality clashes after years of creative intensity by recording a number of the tracks in separate sessions and then getting the band back together in the final mix. Perhaps the pirate in the ad was drooling over the cigars printed on the album sleeve.

Looking Glass gave the world “Brandy” — “a fine girl” who served whiskey and wine and whose eyes “could steal a sailor from the sea.” Not, however, the one seaman she really wanted, because, “Lord, he was an honest man / and Brandy does her best to understand” when he —most probably in a pillow-talk whisper — informs her, “my life, my love and my lady is the sea / It is, yes it is.” $4.49 for the 8-Track at Sam Goody.

Despite the innocent-looking cherub hawking their new album, Black Oak Arkansas was upfront about delivering “more raunchy rock from the good ol’ country boys.” With songs of nightriders in trucks and on horseback, you might get the impression that these southern boys were into raising some serious hell.

Jack Nitzsche worked with everyone from Phil Spector to Neil Young to the Stones. He also did the soundtrack to the film Performance, which featured Mick Jagger and James Fox as, respectively, a rocker and a gangster who eventually meet on a higher plane. Perhaps writing the choral arrangement for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” prepared Nitzsche for his collaboration with another breed of “long-haired friends,” when he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in an ancient London church with the sonorous name “St. Giles Cripplegate.”

Tina Turner leaps across the ad for Feel Good, and with the exception of a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” she also wrote all of the songs for her and then husband Ike’s 17th (!) studio album.

The Hollies had a top-ten hit with “Long Cool Woman,” which pulled their album Distant Light to No. 21 on Billboard magazine’s charts. For fans of the Hipgnosis design studio, the gatefold album cover — featuring Boschlike grotesqueries in the depths of a bucolic pond — made the $3.77 tab go down easier.

According to Billboard, covering the 1972 release of Phoenix, “Grand Funk have by now attained an almost permanent place in rock’s hierarchy. They have legions of devoted, ready followers at every performance and lining up to buy their every album.” However, as the website notes, Lester Bangs, reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, was having none of it: “It’s not that there’s anything wrong with mediocrity or cliché — could you or I have written ‘Sugar, Sugar’? — but when mediocrity loses all its flair, all its panache, becomes this bland and this pompous at the same time . . . it’s time for some Chuck Berry.”

Herbie Mann’s flute (and David “Fathead” Newman’s sax) cover much musical terrain here, beginning with the traditional spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and concluding with a rock standard for the ages, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The ad’s illustration reinforces aspirations both high and low.

Take your pick that fall of 1972: Roberta Flack and Quincy Jones in September, The Fifth Dimension hitting the stage near Thanksgiving, with Bowie, Elton, America (of “A Horse With No Name” fame), and other chart toppers in between. Top ticket price was $8.50 for Engelbert Humperdinck (born Arnold George Dorsey), who once told the Hollywood Reporter, “I can hit notes a bank could not cash.”

According to the ad copy, Bonnie Raitt was a balladeering belter who’d been described as “earthy and innocent, winsome and whiskey-headed.” When asked for her own opinion, Raitt told the ad agency that her “batting average for the summer is something over .250.” Considering that this propulsive collection of rocking blues filigreed with New Orleans brass accents landed on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, we’d say she was swinging an even hotter bat back then.

Tim Buckley (1947–1975), whose music ranged from jazz to all manner of rock into funk, poses with a gas mask in the full-page ad for Greetings from L.A. A postcard of the City of Angels blanketed in smog on the album cover gives an idea of the down and dirty tunes on the vinyl.

Prog rock was ascendant in the early 70s, and it doesn’t get much more proggy than Curved Air’s synthesizer solos accompanying the Renaissance-festival-like vocals of lead singer Sonja Kristina on Phatasmagoria’s “Marie Antoinette.” The ad copy beneath the undulating logo reads “The one group that might be too good for America.” Indeed, these folky Brits hit No. 20 in the UK, but Phantasmagoria didn’t chart in the states.

Spokane, Washington, native Danny O’Keefe, on the other hand, hit it big with his single “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” which pulled his LP, O’Keefe, up to No. 87 on the album charts. The single has long since been etched into the pop pantheon, having been covered by artists from Waylon Jennings to Mel Torme to the King himself, Elvis Presley. The world-weariness of one particular verse has resonated with different singers; the original, “Ya know my heart keeps tellin’ me / ‘You’re not a kid at thirty-three’ / Ya play around, ya lose your wife / Ya play too long, you lose your life,’ “ gains a decade in Charlie Rich’s telling, the country maestro figuring he’s finally grown up at age 43.

If you had dreams of stardom back in ’72 you could’ve done worse than to head over to the former Fillmore East on Second Avenue and audition for . . . well, since they were seeking not just your standard-issue actors, jugglers, and fire-eaters but also “Dancing Bears,” “Aging Astronauts,” and “Animal Tamers and Big Namers,” we’re just sorry we weren’t around to see what kind of show they were putting together.

If hard rock was your jam, then Ramatam fit the bill. The band featured some established heavyweights, such as drummer Mitch Mitchell, late of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and former Iron Butterfly guitarist Mike Pinera. The quintet also featured a rarity for that time — a hard-rocking female guitarist. April Lawton (1948–2006) was a Long Island native who some hailed as the female Hendrix, but although Ramatam’s second album sported the enticing, semi-eponymous title In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns, the band never caught the whirlwind.

If it was sun you were seeking, you could at least get it on vinyl in a two-record set capturing the “Mar y Sol” festival, held earlier that year in Puerto Rico. The eclectic gang had all been there, ranging from B.B. King, the Allman Brothers, Dr. John, and J. Geils to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

And speaking of the prog gods, ELP was also promoting their own album at the time, Trilogy, which featured, among other virtuosic instrumentals, the trio’s take on an American classic, Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.” The album hit No. 5 on the Billboard charts, though Voice music critic Robert Christgau bluntly disagreed: “The pomposities of Tarkus and the monstrosities of the Moussorgsky homage clinch it — these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans. Really, anybody who buys a record that divides a . . . composition called ‘The Endless Enigma’ into two discrete parts deserves it. C-”

And if you didn’t get enough of the J. Geils Band on the “Sea and Sun” discs, you could buy their live album Full House, which featured a winking Queen to let you know the hand was actually only a three-of-a-kind. More important, the title implied that they could sell out any venue they played.

Geils and crew were indeed bringing their boisterous rock to ever larger audiences, but they still didn’t have the drawing power of Alice Cooper, who was headlining a show at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. The concert was a big deal — Cooper flaunted his sexuality in a solo ad as the big day drew near — but the venue’s greatest claim to fame came on April 18, 1946, when the home team, the Jersey City Giants, a farm club of the New York Giants across the river, hosted the Montreal Royals. The Royals trounced the Giants 14 to 1, but anyone who was there was undoubtedly impressed with the debut of the Brooklyn Dodger’s farm team’s second baseman, Jackie Robinson, who had four hits in five trips to the plate, including a three-run homer.

Another megastar coming to town was less abrasive than Alice Cooper: John Denver was promoting his album (and single) Rocky Mountain High. Carnegie Hall had probably never felt vaster.

Then again, in the same week, that storied music venue would also host Ziggy Stardust. And he’d come all the way from Mars.



Hardcore Kid Cudi fans probably caught the introspective rapper in recent weeks at a Bacardi-sponsored Terminal 5 event and a not-so-secret Brooklyn show by his mentor Kanye West. (Those gigs themselves followed a three-night stand at the Roseland in April.) Nevertheless, Cudi’s back in town for a Williamsburg Waterfront concert sure to include a performance of his new single “Perfect Is the Word”; true to the MC’s claims of a shift toward rock, it sounds rather a lot like Jim Morrison singing “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. Decide tonight if that’s a good thing or not.

Wed., July 6, 5:30 p.m., 2011



Proto lava-lamper Joshua White got his start at New York’s Fillmore East doing twice-daily light shows for the Dead, Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane (among others) and their highly receptive audiences. An appearance at Woodstock capped the Joshua Light Show’s ascendance to drug-rock royalty; ensuing internal tension and the advent of the disco ball ended the collective’s reign. A gradual reconsideration of the work by the Whitney, which included some of White’s loops in last year’s “Summer of Love” survey, and by the Kitchen, which hosted the official return of the Joshua Light Show last spring, put White back in business. Tonight, the Issue Project Room begins a four-day residency featuring White’s liquid-light projections, which will illuminate performances by the free-jazz quartet Spiritual Unity, improv’ers Lee Ranaldo, Zeena Parkins, Ikue Mori, and Marina Rosenfeld, the raga duo Pandit Samir Chatterjee (tabla) and K.V. Mahabala (sitar), and electronic acts Soft Circle and Invisible Conga People.

Sat., June 7, 8 p.m., 2008


Into the Wall

Crime’s “Hot Wire My Heart” is a blast of ’70s punk rock up there in greatness with “New Rose,” “Oh Bondage Up Yours,” and “One Chord Wonder.” Beats the pants off the Sonic Youth cover version, which is pretty great itself.

Where San Francisco’s STILL Doomed has a weakness, though, is in its overall sameness. The singing punches the music home, but doesn’t lift the songs; one reason “Hot Wire” and several other standouts—”Frustration,” “Monkey on Your Back”—work so well is that the call-and-response (voice calls, guitar responds) leaves space for the vocals, so they’re not struggling to keep afloat amid the overall sound. (Mixed metaphor! How do you lift something you’re floating in? Well, that’s my point.)

Crucial ingredient is the guitar playing of Johnny Strike. He plays high-distortion riffs, like Johnny Thunders’s but truncated, so you’ve got molten licks snapping at you. Good concise note selection—I’d describe it as Raw Power–era Stooges abstracted to simplicity, played with Dolls thickness and Thunders’s tendency to bend notes into nowhere. Basic setup: Singer shouts a lyric, guitar snakes forth and tears into the wall, bass and drums pound holes through the floor.

Crime started in 1976, made three singles, received accolades such as “They look funny and don’t wipe themselves,” and broke up in 1981, leaving these murky tapes to be rediscovered later. They billed themselves as San Francisco’s first and only rock and roll band. This is hardly accurate, since a decade earlier the Great Society and Jefferson Airplane had rocked and rolled fine. For that matter, Grace Slick was even more of a punk than these guys. But you can see the slogan as reclamation. Amid ’70s mass rock normality, a corrosive band on the fringe declares itself the one real deal and everyone else an apostate. There’s also conscious or unconscious patricide: A key predecessor to this kind of punk-guitar sound was Jorma Kaukonen’s psychedelic guitar experiments (check the riff with which he opens the Airplane’s “Have You Seen the Saucers” and compare it to James Williamson’s near identical riff at the start of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”). And Paul Kantner’s self-isolating Starship and “Wooden Ships” sci-fi fantasies (“We are leaving; you don’t need us”) foreshadow Crime’s sounding like they’re in a concrete basement pretending to claw their way out. But Crime don’t even claim to be the future. Just the sound of one band clawing.


Down the rabbit hole with a salaciously unsatisfying twist

What if you made a porno and nobody came? What if you included all the formal requirements of the early-’80s stag picture—hot girls, hirsute guys, appalling puns, risible acting, nonsensical plot, synthesizer music—and excised the raison d’être, actual sex? You’d have writer-director William Osco’s excruciating Alice in Wonderland, an inexplicit yet unrelentingly icky transposition of his 1977 flick to the Off-Broadway stage.

After an announcement asking cell phones to be quieted and the first two rows to refrain from masturbation, the houselights dim and three scantily clad girls labor unproductively at high kicks and wriggles as Jefferson Airplane sings “White Rabbit.” Though one pill may make you larger and one may make you small, the girls give every thrusting indication that it’s the blue pill, Viagra, inspiring this performance. Trailer-trash chippie Alice (Danielle Stephens) resists the urgings of her cholo boyfriend, Hector, and the scoldings of her closed-minded mother. Fart jokes abound. Eventually, Alice falls asleep on a deck chair while reading a version of Alice (a pop-up book, natch) and finds herself transported to the polymorphously perverse Wonderland.

Having treated the audience to a quick glimpse of full-frontal nudity, she dons a powder-blue peignoir and enjoys inexpertly mimed manual and oral copulation with the Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, and Cheshire Cat (“Call me Pussy”). She also enjoys singing. Sample lyric: “Head! Give her some head!/Give her some royal head!/The sentence is—to give her head!” Ah, wordplay. If the show fails to either titillate or entertain, it may have a future as an educational aid. Abstinence-only sex educators should consider a class field trip. If this play is a turn-on, celibacy has never seemed like such a fine idea.