Getting into (the) Spirit and other classic rock bands

First off, my apologies for that terrible pun.

Lately I’ve been reading Kent Hartman’s Goodnight, L. A.: Untold Tales from Inside Classic Rock’s Legendary Recording Studios, and it’s quite an interesting read.  The 70s was definitely an interesting and extremely varied decade for music, that’s for sure.  But what struck me was that this is yet another music biog where I’m quite familiar with the titles of the albums mentioned from this era and the surrounding years: The Family That Plays Together, TapestryEverybody Knows This is NowhereRumoursTea for the Tillerman, and so on.

But how many of them have I actually sat down and listened to?  Sure, I know Rumours and Hotel California and Fly Like an Eagle from my preteen years listening to the radio and getting records from the library.  But I know only two Spirit songs: “I Got a Line On You” and “Nature’s Way”, and I only know the latter because This Mortal Coil covered it in 1991.  I know tons of Carole King songs (and I just recently read her autobiography, Natural Woman) but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to any of her albums, including her most famous one.

I’m thinking I should change that.  I mean, sure, do I really have enough time in the day to listen to streaming radio stations, new releases, and older favorites on top of listening to classic albums for the first time?  Well, maybe.  I have Amazon Prime so I can give a lot of these a listen essentially for free.  And this is back when full albums lasted maybe thirty minutes, forty tops.  I can fit in a few a day, I think.  I’m always up for expanding my musical knowledge.

It’ll be a long-term project, but I’m thinking it’ll be fun to finally give these a listen and figure out what all the buzz was about.

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part III

Finishing up on this little diversion, here are a few more songs and albums that were on my radar in my youth.  The year would of course end with my mom buying me 1967-1970 (aka the Blue Album) for Christmas, kicking off a now forty-year obsession with buying and listening to music on a daily basis.  And it’s not stopping any time soon…

 

Styx, Pieces of Eight, released September. Not quite prog, not quite arena rock, not quite glam, and sometimes a bit ridiculous, but Styx was a radio favorite for years. “Renegade” still gets played nowadays, both on radio and in stadiums.

The KISS solo albums, released 18 September. All four members released a solo album in the fall of 1978. Though it didn’t generate the critical or fan excitement the label had expected (and we now know that Casablanca was known for its brilliant yet catastrophic ideas…), a lot of KISS fans I knew went out and bought them anyway. The only track that got any major play was Ace Frehley’s discofied “New York Groove”, but it’s a hell of a fun track regardless.

Ramones, Road to Ruin, released 22 September. I may have been only seven, but I knew about “I Wanna Be Sedated” even then, thanks to WAAF’s hard rock playlist. Plus, one of my cousins was a big fan. [She was also the same person that would get me hooked on Duran Duran a few years later.]  They were never far from my radar, so I’ve always been a fan.

Blondie, Parallel Lines, released 23 September. I was never the biggest Blondie fan, but I loved “Heart of Glass”. Production so sleek you could see your reflection in it, and the insistent drumbeats front and center and propelled by that ticking sequencer.

Billy Joel, 52nd Street, released 13 October. Another musician whose songs you could not escape in the 70s. Not that I minded, because I quite enjoyed his piano work at he time! This album was a huge hit for him and started a long string of pop radio hits lasting well into the 80s.

The Police, Outlandos d’Amour, released 2 November. When “Roxanne” dropped, it was picked up by every rock station out there and never left. Their debut album is amazingly tight and shows off their punkier side, even when it veers into silliness (the classic ode to a blow-up sex doll, “Be My Girl – Sally”). A fun album from start to finish.

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So yeah, I definitely skipped a LOT of stuff in between. Some releases that I don’t own, some singles I’ve missed… but thinking about it now, 1978 was a watershed year on multiple fronts. As I’ve mentioned here before, this was the year where radio listening habits shifted from AM to FM. While FM was becoming more commercial and focusing more on set rotations, there was still quite a bit of room for free-form playlist experimentation. It was a turning point for a lot of music genres on radio; disco was on the wane, rock was rediscovering its spine, punk and post-punk was sneaking on to college radio, funk was still going strong, and even country would experience a surge in popularity. I may have been seven, but there was a lot going on musically that excited me!

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part II

Welcome to another wave of great tunage that dropped when I was a mere seven years old and already listening to the radio far more than anyone else my age probably was.  (Again — I’m skipping a lot of music that could be listed here but isn’t, merely because I did not start listening to those albums and bands until years later.)

Journey, Infinity, released 20 May. The first Journey album to feature Steve Perry, this album finally pushed them into the limelight with less focus on lengthy jams (a holdover from Neal Schon’s Santana days) and more on power pop. They would remain an arena rock favorite for the next ten years.

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town, released 2 June. After the powerhouse that was 1975’s Born to Run (and its ensuing tour), it took Bruce another three years — and some very ugly legal issues concerning a manager he’d needed to jettison — he returned with this strong and tense album. He can barely contain the energy he’d been holding onto for far too long.

The Cars, The Cars, released 6 June. Living in MA as a kid, you’d hear a track from this album on every single rock station that came in at least once a day, for decades. And you wouldn’t just hear one of the two singles, either; of its nine tracks, seven of them would end up in heavy rotation. There aren’t that many albums that can claim to have that much success, let alone debut albums. It truly is a classic worth owning.

The Rolling Stones, Some Girls, released 9 June. The Stones went through so many different style changes over the years they give David Bowie a run for his money. This particular album has them sounding like the two sides of Manhattan nightlife at the time: equal parts punk and disco. It was a critical success and the fans loved it.

Dire Straits, Dire Straits, released 7 July. They were a blues band that sounded nothing like Clapton, a jam band that sounded nothing like the Dead, and a London-based band that sounded Middle American. They were hard to pin down but they were amazing musicians and you couldn’t ignore them. And “Sultans of Swing” is still an amazing song after all these years.

The Who, Who Are You, released 18 August. After a long wave of two rock operas, a few filler albums and the occasional single, the band released one hell of a powerful and timely album. Alas, it would be the last record featuring Keith Moon, who passed away three weeks after it was released. Still, it’s one of their best albums of their 70s output and the title single still gets away with an uncensored “who the fuck are you” on commercial radio. Heh.

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More groovy tunes from 1978 coming soon!

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part I

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later.  This is by no means complete, and I’m leaving out a LOT of great tunage primarily because it’s stuff I didn’t listen to or even know about until years later… but here’s a smidge of some of my favorite songs I heard on the radio when I was seven and my lifelong obsession was just starting out.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr Blue Sky” single, released January. Their fantastic Out of the Blue had been out for a few months by this time, but this became the fan favorite for years to come. Hearing it as the opening song for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 made me ridiculously happy.

ABBA, “Take a Chance on Me” single, released January, My sister was a big ABBA fan and I loved listening to The Album, which had come out in December. They may be sugary pop, but they could write one hell of a great song.

Van Halen, Van Halen, released 10 February. The local rock stations LOVED this album and played most of its tracks. A staple cassette in your boombox or your car stereo at the time.

Wings, London Town, released 31 March. I always say that Yellow Submarine and the Sgt Pepper movie kickstarted my Beatles obsession, but I’m pretty sure Paul’s “With a Little Luck” single had something to do with it as well, as it got played EVERYWHERE and I remember my mom and I liking it a lot.

Hot Chocolate, Every 1’s a Winner, released April. I loved the funky groove and the wonky production of this track, and it (along with their “You Sexy Thing” remains one of my favorite 70s songs.

KISS, Double Platinum, released 2 April. One of my other sisters was a KISS fan and got this for her birthday. I was quite familiar with their songs, so this was a great entry point for all involved.

Cheap Trick, Heaven Tonight, released May. “Surrender” drops and becomes everyone’s favorite rock song for the entire summer and for decades to come. One of the best rock songs of the 70s. A and I drove down a highway towards Houston with this song blaring, the both of us singing along like happy idiots!

Coming up: More 1978 goodness!

Favorite Albums: The Osmonds, ‘Crazy Horses’

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Yeah, yeah, I can hear y’all from here: oh god, he’s finally run out of things to blog about.  But hear me out:  I’ve been obsessed over this wonderful 1972 gem since I was a little kid when I used to listen to my sisters’ old beat up copy.

Why the Osmonds, you say?  Well, for starters, this is most definitely not your Jackson 5 wannabe album with sugary confections like “One Bad Apple” or feel-good grooves like “Down by the Lazy River”.  This is the five brothers taking an unexpected and amazingly competent turn into rock territory.

We’re talking about taking a page from freakin’ LED ZEPPELIN, fer pete’s sake:

It doesn’t hold a candle to “The Immigrant Song”, sure, but you gotta admit it’s got a hell of a punch. Their longtime fans didn’t know what the heck to think of it, but radio stations loved it and got it major airplay.

A few tracks later we get a goofy Beatlesque riff that I’m surprised more ukulele-playing hipsters haven’t covered, with “Girl”.

There’s also the groovy MOR sound of “What Could It Be”, which could easily be a song by Badfinger or The Raspberries:

…and the fantastic “Crazy Horses”, which is just as bananas as it is badass.

And my favorite track from this LP, “Hey Mr Taxi”, which sounds like they were trying to record their own version of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”, complete with all the noise, distortion and wailing guitars slowly going out of tune.

It’s does have their signature sugary pop as well, such as the swinging “Julie” and the ballad “That’s My Girl”.  There’s even a jamming groove dedicated to their home state, “Utah”.  There’s a nice comedic Looney Tunes touch at the end of the record with a twenty-one-second track called “Big Finish” that gives a teasing nod to their previous sound.

It’s definitely a trip to listen to.  While their previous album (Phase III, which had come out only nine months earlier) toyed a bit with rock, for the most part it stayed firmly in the pop category.  Their follow up after this one, their semi-religious concept album The Plan (released nine months after Crazy Horses) is even more of a head trip, with woozy blues, psychedelic joyrides and even the occasional horn-laden showstopper.  After that they’d return back to their safe haven of lite rock and MOR, and Donny and sister Marie would become a 70s television staple.

So yeah — I admit it.  Crazy Horses is a ridiculously fun album, and I still love it after all these years.

FM

fm movie poster
Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite records that I used to love taking out of the library — aside from The Beatles 1962-1966, which I did not yet own — was the soundtrack to a 1978 movie called FM.

It was an amazing double-album filled with huge rock hits of the last few years: Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”, Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, The Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane”, Boz Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle”, Boston’s “More than a Feeling”, and more…and of course Steely Dan’s classic theme song.  Pretty much a perfect cross-section of what would become the classic rock genre in future radio programming.  [It’s still available on CD at this time, by the way, and highly recommended.]

I don’t remember the movie ever playing anywhere close at the time of its release (April 1978), but then again, I was only seven at the time.  The soundtrack was good enough for me.  Still, it would be another few years before I finally saw it when it was shown on one of the local independent TV channels a few years later.  I enjoyed it, even if some of the more mature issues (like Eric Swan’s sexual encounters or Mother’s consistently-baked persona) went right over my head.  The short version of the plot is that Q-Sky, an LA-based rock station with committed fans but not much profit, is being threatened by upper management to play more commercials and less music to make more money.  The stalwart deejays (your classic tropes here: the smooth-talking overnight guy, the ex-hippie still living in the previous decade, the young and spunky morning host, the cute and friendly girl everyone loves, the popular prima donna, and so on) decide to go against upper management to keep the station alive and rockin’ at whatever cost…even if it means going on strike.

[There are definitely shades of WKRP in Cincinnati here, but please note that the show was actually in pre-production talks when this movie came out; they’re not connected to each other in any way.]

It wasn’t until I read Richard Neer’s 2001 book FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio (also highly recommended) that I renewed my interest in the film.  It took me another number of years to finally find a dvd copy.  Years older and more knowledgeable about the way radio works, I’d discovered that the movie, for all it’s worth, was actually quite accurate in its portrayal of a radio station’s ups and downs during that time.

FM rock radio was in fact becoming the preferred choice for younger listeners by 1978, bypassing AM radio’s previous popularity — thus the riff ‘no static at all’ in the theme song.  It was also the zenith of rock radio to that point, with numerous bands releasing platinum and gold selling albums that are still highly regarded to this day.  At the same time, however, the financial woes of running a popular radio station had started taking its toll on the programming.  It was becoming harder and harder to be a free-form station where the deejay could play anything they wanted, when the business itself needed to make a profit to stay alive.  FM was in fact a spot-on commentary of this, even when it veered into the occasional Hollywood movie silliness.

Running a radio station nowadays is still just as hard as it’s ever been.  The issue is that it’s not built to be a moneymaker; it’s built to be a community service.  It provides free entertainment and information to its listeners; its money is made from its advertising or donations and fundraising events.  Most owners and station managers try to keep the moneymaking part of the business as unobtrusive as they can.

But that’s another post altogether.  I’m just here to talk about one of my favorite movies and soundtracks!

We are GROOT

Okay, so my posts are a little off the start of this week due to our visit down to Anahiem to go to Disneyland for the long weekend. It was fun, the weather was much warmer and brighter, and I may have even gotten a bit of a tan out of it! That said, It is kind of strange to be walking around the area known for its cheery, poppy, family-friendly atmosphere and hearing the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the same time. A bit of a mental disconnect, but a pleasant one!

So while I get myself back up to speed, here’s some more tunage from that very weird and absolutely hilarious movie.

PS. We did in fact see Groot at California Adventure! 🙂

PSS. Yes, I actually remember these songs when they were new. I am that old. Turning 47 next Monday!