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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 superseventies.com 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.

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SLUMBER PARTY

Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon knows what he’s doing: Last fall, this Idaho-based dream-pop dude titled his supremely sleepy debut The Year of Hibernation, and when Powers recently taped a live session for SiriusXM’s alt-rock channel, he went ahead and busted out a cover of “Goodbye Again” by John Denver. Tonight, Youth Lagoon plays the first of two gigs in town, both of which are sold out—just like the three Death Cab for Cutie shows he’ll open next month at the Beacon. Dana Buoy (of Akron/Family) shares the bill at the Bowery Ballroom; Porcelain Raft takes over tomorrow at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Tue., March 27, 9 p.m., 2012

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John Fogerty

The bullhorn-voiced classic swamp rocker’s new collection of covers, The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again, reprises Fogerty’s 1973 solo debut. This time around, however, his appealing and occasionally oddball collection (e.g. Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” and John Denver’s “Back Home Again”?) was played by a triple-scale group rather than solely by the bandleader himself.

Wed., Sept. 2, 7 p.m., 2009

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Rainbows, Kittens, Cotton Candy, and Unicorns 4 Ever!

SYNOPSIS: “Truth and illusion, George; you don’t know the difference.” That’s what Martha growls to poor old doormat-hubby George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Clink clink clink, my dear. And frankly, we can’t tell anymore, either, from all that truth/illusion malarky. And with another year before us, we grow increasingly unsure. Still, that’s why someone invented the Carpenters. Bliss, even if we know they didn’t really mean it much longer than it took to run to the bank and deposit the check, then swing by the drugstore for a bag full of sister’s little helper.

The big question, of course, is what were those kids, hound dogs and the pig the kids stole from the shed all doing in that bed, anyhow?

And

NEXT WEEK: LOUD


HB23 Playlist

Intro: “Candyman Messiah” (excerpt) by Army of Lovers, from Massive Luxury Overload (Ton Son Ton, 1991)

Get Together” (Your Navy Presents version) by the Carpenters, from The Essential Collection (A&M, 2002)

Grandma’s Feather Bed” by John Denver, from An Evening with John Denver (RCA, 1975)

Sympathy for the Devil (Dem Teufel Zugeneist)” by Laibach, from Sympathy for the Devil (Mute, 1990)

True Faith” by New Order, from Singles (London, 2005)

Walk the Dog” by Laurie Anderson, from Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology (Rhino, 2000)

Blue Bird” by Timothy Brown, from the Nashville soundtrack (ABC, 1975)

Do They Owe Us a Living” by the Soft Pink Truth, from Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Soft Pink Truth? (Tigerbeat, 2004)

Rollin’ Stone” by the Arbors, from The Very Best of the Arbors (Taragon, 1998)

Ballad of Little Brown Bear” (rough mix) by Flare featuring the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club, unreleased (2006)

Be True to Your School” (single version) by the Beach Boys, from Sounds of Summer (Capitol, 2003)

My Yiddisha Mammy” by Irving Kaufman, from Jewface (Reboot Stereophonic, 2006)

Dizzy Miss Lizzie” by the Flying Lizards, from Top Ten (Statik, 1984)

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Rocky Mountain Warhol

A few years back, King Kong’s Ethan Buckler taught me the essentials of a good poem or lyric: “It must have three things: the visual, the sensual, and the emotional. Want to hear an example? ‘Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. . . .’ ” Unlike his pal Will Oldham, Buckler isn’t to be found on Take Me Home, an alt salute to the safest singer-songwriter ever. Nor, strangely enough, is “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” probably the closest John Denver ever came to sounding like he’d heard the Velvet Underground. But you can hear the Velvets, or at least Mazzy Star, in the jewel of the set, Low’s funereal “Back Home Again”—which turns out to be where Cornershop got “Good to Be on the Road Back Home.” And by the way, Tarnation’s Paula Frazer, whose guest vocal gave the latter its country authority, now duets “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with Polly Harvey’s old colleague Joe Gore. It sounds like Portishead.

So welcome to the club, Country Boy. Mark Kozelek of the Red House Painters, who put this thing together, cherishes “your vacant grin” in his liner poem and smuggles Olivia Newton-John’s backing fluff into an instrumental “Fly Away.” He’s released three different covers of the nonhit “Around and Around” (perhaps unable to fully exegete “And I hope that I’m around so I can be there when I die”): here, on a dire indie a cappella compilation, and on his new EP, Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer, which also redoes a trio of AC/DC tunes as halting working-class regrets. As the Karen Carpenter revival proved, bland can trump raw in the margin’s Möbius strip. It’s that old Warhol trick: blow up the banalities of the imagery until everyone can see the pixels.

Denver, born in Roswell, New Mexico, to an air force family (coincidence?), is ripe for plucking, with catalog like his postfeminism “I’m Sorry” and post-EST “Looking for Space.” But who is the joke finally on? Is Denver’s Wonder Bread sense of wonder any more insipid than the gloomy abstractions preferred by Kozelek’s art-school friends? Of course not, and the implicit admission makes this tribute album uncommonly illuminating. Like night in the forest, he filled up their senses. Now they come love him, come love him again.