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.


Allioli, Allioli Everywhere at Macondo

It may sound unlikely, but the best mofongo I ever had was at a place where the server’s opening spiel lasted at least five minutes and included the phrase: “Our cocktails are tapas-style.” Thankfully, the mofongo was so good that it made up for the small annoyances of a night at Macondo. The starchy ball of garlicky, roughly mashed green plantains sat in a pool of garlic cream sauce, strewn with very large, very crispy batons of fried pork belly.

I had e-mailed a friend to see if she wanted to eat with me at Macondo. Into my in-box pinged her reply: “Do they serve magical-realist food?” Ba-dum-bum. Yes, the restaurant is named after the village in One Hundred Years of Solitude, as the waiter will be sure to tell you as soon as you sit down. Among the other tidbits you will learn from your server before you’ve even had a chance to look at the menu: The food is tapas-style (and so are the cocktails) because “we want everyone to taste everything.” Not only that, but the food you are about to enjoy is “estilo libre Latino“—freestyle Latino cuisine, drawn from all over the Spanish-speaking world. After you’ve nodded politely for a few minutes—and just when you think the lesson might be over—the server will gesture to the menu and say: “Let’s go over a few things.”

Going over the menu is actually necessary here, because a good portion of the items listed are not available, including some of the most interesting-sounding ones, like pan-roasted liver with figs or chimichurri and conch in garlic sauce.

I don’t mean to pick on the waitstaff, because I’m sure they’ve been instructed to pontificate. And though I cringe at hearing that opening line—”Have you dined with us before?”—at any restaurant, it seems especially out of place Macondo, which specializes in gussied-up Latin street food and is meant to be a casual and fun place to eat.

The menu, by chef Máximo Tejada (also of Rayuela), is divided into categories like empanadas, ceviches, arepas, croquetas, and tacos, with everything else under catch-all headings like “to start” and “a little more.” There’s a long bar with seating on one side, and an open kitchen and juicing/bartending station on the other. One end of the bar extends out of the restaurant onto the street, which means you can perch on one of the four sidewalk stools, just like you might at a real taco stand. The cabana-like design—with rope netting strung from the ceiling and cradling pineapples and coconuts—flirts with kitsch, but winningly so.

Tejada is at his best when he’s working with rich, unctuous flavors. The mofongo is wonderfully over the top—the sort of thing that might kill you, though it will have been worth it. Another successful exercise in richness involves a tiny skillet of truffled polenta enriched with Manchego cheese, capped with a fried egg, and scattered with crisped rounds of chorizo.

We gobbled the shrimp and chorizo croquetas—deep-fried, crunchy nuggets that ooze with a pink, smoky filling. They’re served with dollops of sea-foam-green poblano allioli, the Spanish version of garlicky mayonnaise.

The allioli, in fact, is everywhere, flavored by turns with citrus and rocoto chilies, amarillo chilies, and cilantro. The creamy sauce is Macondo’s go-to accompaniment, but in the 13 I dishes sampled, I never once came across a classic, taquería-style salsa—or, for that matter, any salsa at all. Macondo is overflowing with richness, but it’s missing those bright and zingy notes.

That becomes especially obvious when you order tacos, which are filled with unorthodox gobs of sour cream and queso fresco. The only lighter, acidic flavors you’ll encounter are supplied by the diced tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños, which are scattered meagerly and inexplicably across the outsides of the tortillas. At any good taco truck, you’d get chopped onions and cilantro in the taco and pour on the salsa of your choice. Why mess with a proven formula?

Macondo’s lamb-barbacoa tacos sneak by on the strength of their luscious, gamey shreds of lamb. But the simpler shrimp tacos are dry and obviously missing something. In the ceviche, the shrimp are again smallish and dry, this time smothered in a tomato sauce that reminds me (though not entirely unpleasantly) of spicy ketchup. But the oyster “afrodisiaco” ceviche was something of a disaster. (When we ordered it, our ever-loquacious server grinned and said with a leer: “Oooh, it’s that kind of a night, is it, ladies?” Er, no. ) It turned out to be three bluepoint oysters rather than the six stipulated on the menu; nor were the promised mango and crispy bacon anywhere in evidence. Instead, that trio of oysters was afloat in a pool of more allioli, this time flavored with aji amarillo chilies. (They did, however, manage to charge us the ceviche’s correct price—$12.)

The more assertive seafood—like bacalao (salt cod)—is put to better use, such as getting mixed with cream and potatoes and stuffed into bright-red, sweet piquillo peppers. The briny fish is also shredded, mixed with tomato, and used as an arepa topper. The whole pile—arepa, sauce, and bacalao—is crowned with yet another fried egg with a lovely, soft yolk that pools into the bacalao when cut.

Arepas—griddled masa patties—are usually split open and stuffed. At Macondo, the other ingredients are stacked artfully atop one other, fancy food style, which makes some of the combinations—like the one that involves bone-in quail—a little difficult to eat and share. But that quail is delicious, salty and scented with thyme, and paired with figs and spinach on top of the arepa.

I am of two minds about the cocktails. On one hand, they are delicious, unique, and vibrant. On the other hand, they’re tiny and cost $7.50 apiece, and I don’t believe in tapas-style drinks; if I want to share, I’ll ask for two straws. High-minded notions about sharing aside, the upshot is that Macondo is basically charging $15 for what would be the equivalent of one cocktail elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the drinks are fantastic—the best I’ve had all year. The zanahoria plus gin is a mix of gin, carrot, lime, and pineapple juices, agave nectar, and Cointreau. It’s the most gorgeous shade of bright orange and tastes vegetal and sweet. The aquacate plus mezcal blends up honey, avocado, agave nectar, midori, Cointreau, lime juice, and scorpion mezcal. At first, the mint-green concoction tastes gently sweet and creamy, and then the mezcal kicks in at the end for an unexpectedly smoky, up-the-nose aftertaste that is reminiscent of very peaty scotch. The tamarindo plus tequila—combining tamarind with pineapple and ginger, served with a rim of salt and pasilla chile powder—is tartly sweet and compulsively sippable.

Alas, when you take street food off the street, something essential gets lost. That doesn’t mean restaurateurs shouldn’t play around with arepas and tacos—if the result doesn’t possess the immediacy of street food, it might have a charm of its own. In that respect, Macondo comes close to being the perfect place for a boozy, voracious, dressed-up night out with friends. Just calm down and add some salsa.