Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Albums of 1982: Kate Bush: The Dreaming

Release Date: September 13, 1982

All songs written and produced by Kate Bush

Side One: Sat in Your Lap; There Goes a Tenner; Pull Out the Pin; Suspended in Gaffa; Leave it Open

Side Two: The Dreaming; Night of the Swallow; All the Love; Houdini; Get Out of My House

Kate Bush's fourth album The Dreaming is rife with dense intensity, possessing its own power. The quixotic opener "Sat in Your Lap" features Bush's versatile vocal styles in a song about the frustrating quest for knowledge and spiritual knowledge. References to world religions, the sense of wanting part of and apart from humanity:

I see the people working

And see it working for them

And so I want to join in

But then I find it hurts me

Youthful impatience meets head on with yearning for wisdom, the quest, the war within oneself continues.

"There Goes a Tenner" tells the surreal tale of a bank heist, a 1940s Warner Bros. gangster flick filtered through a futuristic pop song. "Pull Out the Pin," Bush attempts to tell the Vietnam War from the prospective of one fighting the invading Americans, "I look in American eyes/I see little life/See little wife", confronting the Western armies who only have a vague notion of why they are waging war. The anti-technology ethos of the revolutionary narrator provides the upper hand in a violent and hypnotic song. 

"Suspended in Gaffa" is adventurous with its melodic pianos and use of low brass instruments, similar in theme to "Sat in Your Lap." "Leave it Open" shifts moods from conniving to introspective, the idea of how knowledge changes us and sometimes not for the better, but we must encompass all. Exploring ourselves must be done with caution, bravery, and curiosity. "We let the weirdness in" becomes anthemic. 

"The Dreaming" deals with white Australians using Aboriginal land for nuclear testing and mining uranium. The off-kilter rhythms and instrumentation create another unique soundscape; Bush's frenzied vocal emphasizes defiance and strength directed at injustice. "Night of the Swallow" is a dialogue between a husband and wife with "the troubles" as backdrop providing the song with an Irish vibe, a complex song on gender politics. "All the Love" deals with loneliness, the courage it takes to face solitude. "Houdini" takes the point of view of the magician's assistant, full of suggestive lyrics and mystery. "Get Out of My House" took direct inspiration from Stephen King's The Shining. Told from the hotel's point of view, but the song takes a life of its own. Creating an atmosphere of anger, loss, and fear, it sounds like a message from the beyond.

The ten tracks of The Dreaming are all works of art that stand on their own; as a whole, the album is a labyrinth of sonic landscapes, edgy ideas, and innovative arrangements. Bush's vocals linger and enrich the imagination. Ranging in theme from world politics to the spiritual battles within, a panorama of sound and imagery.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Albums of 1982: Pete Townshend: All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

Release Date: June 14, 1982

Produced by Chris Thomas

Pete Townshend's third studio record met with a cool reception from critics who found it uneven, yet its moodiness and honesty have made it a stand-out work from the early '80s.

"Stop Hurting People" - Alternated between spoken word and singing supported by thumping bass and synth, Townshend reflects on the nature of love and what it all means. Like many of the tracks, it's got a lot on its mind. The first verse reflects on how love can disappear,"a spark that burned, then died, leaving cinders to be flamed,"  and leave one to close out their hearts and "kill in God's name." Later verses refer to lost love with some poetic grace

My "beauty" needs an understanding of what I am

Her is enough, earned through eons, for that is what true beauty is

Time's gift to perfect humility

He's hoping to be "matched" with her again despite knowing "it's bad," but without it there's "no flame." The repetitive chorus "Stop Hurting People" is a message to the self and the listener, despite what happens - try to break the chain of being hurtful. A song of complex and contradictory feelings adds to the appeal of the record. 

"The Sea Refuses No River" - A song searching for transcendence as the narrator realizes youth is long gone and the path ahead is filled with multiple strains and challenges. Musically resembles songs from Quadrophenia, albeit with a more jaundiced eye.

"Prelude" - The shortest track on the album, effective with the piano and strings creating the send, a late 20th Century dirge.

"Face Dances (Pt.2)" - A single from the album, catchy and in the vein of The Who. Reportedly about Townshend alienation from his wife and bandmates. 

"Exquisitely Bored" - Another song with spoken word verses matched melodic choruses in which Townshend makes observations on American Gigolo era L.A, "There's a whole lot of crazy people up there, living out a life in sweet ennui." Sort of sounds like Mark Knopfler. 

"Communication" - More of an experimental track with more stream of consciousness lyrics

"Stardom in Action" - Another song reminiscent of Quadrophenia, also inspired by Southern California, with reflections on fleeting fame.

"Uniforms (Corp D'Esprit)" - Militarism was in the air in 1982, unlike the directness of The Clash, Townshend takes a quirkier approach.

"North Country Girl" - A version of the Bob Dylan song, reimagined as a swinging synth heavy pop song sounds quite nice. Slightly altered lyrics as well.

"Somebody Saved Me" - Perhaps the moodiest and most confessional track on the album, many references to rehab and possibly the events leading to it and the aftermath.

"Slit Skirts" - Builds into an anthem of encroaching middle age malaise, a relationship on fumes, everything blurred by conflicting emotions. Townshend's evocative lyrics and passionate vocal crystallizes into an epic rocker. 

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, unwieldy title, and all, is an earnest and quite impressive after repeated listening, existing from within and without its era. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Albums of 1982: The Time: What Time Is It?

Release Date: August 25, 1982

Produced by Morris Day & The Starr * Company (Prince)

Track List: Wild and Loose; 777-9311; Onedayi'mgonnabesomebody; The Walk; Gigolos Get Lonely Too; I Don't Wanna Leave You

Prince was the genesis of The Time as an outfit to continue to expand his funk and R&B "Minneapolis" sound and to be featured as his opening act when on tour. With Morris Day as front man, The Time released a string of successful records during the 1980s, What Time Is It? was the second album and peaked at #26 on the Billboard 200. Prince played all the instruments, while Day contributed the vocals. 

"Wild and Loose" brought the record to nice start, setting up the playful party vibe going on throughout. At over eight minutes "777-9311" features infectious bass lines, flamboyant synthesizers, and Prince wailing on the guitar. "Onedayi'mgonnabesomebody" and "The Walk" are foot stompers "Gigolos Get Lonely Too" and "I Don't Wanna Leave You" are slightly more serious in tone, musing on loneliness and longing. 

With adventurous production, melodious hooks, Day's refined vocals, with Prince's musicality taking center stage - What Time Is it? stands as a solid record from 1982.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Albums of 1982: The Dream Syndicate: The Days of Wine and Roses

Release Date: October 28, 1982

Members: Steve Wynn (guitar and vocals); Karl Precoda (guitar); Kendra Smith (bass); Dennis Duck (drums)

Produced by Chris D

Track List: Tell Me When It's Over; Definitely Clean; That's What You Always Say; Then She Remembers; Halloween; When You Smile; Until Lately; Too Little, Too Late; The Days of Wine and Roses

The Days of Wine and Roses was the debut LP by the L.A. based band The Dream Syndicate, a seminal record of the Paisley Underground sound generally associated the early 1980s and centered on the West Coast. Incorporating a multitude of influences from the 1960s, the style also drew upon Punk and New Wave. The debut record is melodic with fuzzy guitars and Steve Wynn's versatile vocal style.

"Tell Me When It's Over" set the album's tone with its melodic guitars reminiscent of The Beatles Revolver record, but still danceable. Wynn's weary deliveries create a sense both angst and ease. "Definitely Clean" is more punk in tone, with the angst rising a bit. The moodiness continues on "That's What You Always Say", Wynn laments "you know how the moods change all the time" after numerous attempts to connect with subject of the song. Once again the onslaught of melodic guitars sustains the track. "Then She Remembers What She Said" recounts a physically abusive relationship with a sense of both anger and irony.

"Halloween" is the centerpiece of the record, setting an irresistible atmosphere of abandon and menace, both minimal and surreal. I saw The Dream Syndicate perform live in 2017 and seeing "Halloween" played live - it took the show to another level. 

The Velvet Underground influenced "When You Smile," features the hypnotic refrain "It seems like the end of the world, When You Smile." The manically gleeful "Until Lately" satirizes the nascent yuppy culture taking hold in America, adding in some harmonica for a bluesy vibe. Kendra Smith takes over vocals on the quietly effective "Too Little, Too Late" The album closes with "The Days of Wine and Roses," a fuzzy jam filled with reverb about an onlooker witnessing a girl drawing a crowd by standing on a ledge while he tries to recall "the days of wine and roses."

An album worth repeated spins, The Days of Wine and Roses invites the listener to get lost in its sonically pleasing landscapes and sardonic observations. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Albums of 1971: O.V. Wright: A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades

Release Date: 1971

Produced by Willie Mitchell

Track Listing: Don't Let My Baby Ride; Born All Over; Ace of Spades; Eight Men, Four Women; He Made Woman for Man; I Can't Take It; Afflicted; When You Took Your Love From Me; A Nickel and a Nail; Don't Take it Away

In a year of superb soul albums, O.V. Wright's 1971 LP  A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades was among the best.  With The Memphis Horns and the Hi Rhythm Section supporting Wright's passionate vocals, the record is stellar from the opening to closing track. O.V. Wright (1939-1980) was known as one of the great gospel singers who like Sam Cooke transitioned into secular music, building a lasting reputation as one of the great soul performers of the era.

"Don't Let My Baby Ride" is the classic Memphis sound personified with vocals and instrumentation wonderfully playing off each other. "Born All Over" recalls Wright's beginnings in Gospel.  On "Ace of Spades" Wright sings "I ain't no fool/I'm Memphis Cool" in a swaggering soul song. "Eight Men And Four Women" refers to a jury, creating vivid imagery and muses on the lengths one will go for love. "He Made Woman For Man" is a tender hymn of devotion. 

The bluesy "I Can't Take It"  is a lament of loss, "Afflicted" a haunting expression of devotion that turns into obsession. On "When You Took Your Love From Me" Wright intones "I'm a prisoner of your love baby" in another ballad of emotional wreckage. With the horns playing minor chords on "A Nickel and a Nail" reflects on (almost) losing everything and coming out stronger on the other side. "Don't Take it Away" ends the record with a plea for reconciliation. 

The upbeat first side is countered by the more brooding second side emphasizing loss and loneliness, bordering on gothic. Despite legal and personal issues, Wright continued recording throughout the 1970s, passing away from a heart attack at age 41 in 1980. Wright's impressive body of work continues to influence a new generation of soul singers. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Isley Brothers: Givin' It Back

Release Date: September 25, 1971

Members: Ronald Isley (vocals); Ernie Isley (lead guitar); Marvin Isley (bass); O'Kelly Isley (vocals); Rudolph Isley (vocals); Chris Jasper (piano); Chester Woodard (guitar)

Produced by Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley

Track List: Ohio/Machine Gun; Fire and Rain; Lay Lady Lay; Spill the Wine; Nothing to Do But Today; Cold Bologna; Love the One You're With

The Isley Brothers began their career in 1954 as teenagers when rock and roll was still in its infancy and continue performing and recording seven decades later. Their astoundingly long and varied career is a history of modern popular music itself. Yet there's no book length study of The Isley Brothers, at least nothing like the tomes written on so many other artists from the era. Hopefully that will change with a documentary in the works.

The Isley Brothers hailed from Cincinnati. They started out as a gospel group and recorded many crossover hits in the early 1960s including "Twist and Shout" and "Shout" and many other charting singles with various labels. Motown was their home base from 1966-69 where they continued recording hit singles, but they were just getting started. With younger brothers Ernie and Marvin joining the group in 1970, their sound continued to evolve with each record - ranging from rock, folk, and funk. 

Givin' It Back is an album of covers by mostly white artists, returning the favor since so many white bands had covered them, the freaking Beatles chose "Twist and Shout" as the grand finale on their debut LP!

The album opens with "Ohio/Machine Gun", a hypnotic mash up of Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix (a former guitarist for the Isley Brothers). The original CSN&Y recording featured an onslaught of sonic infused anger, the Isleys incorporated gospel, doo-wop, while retaining the rock roots of the song, creating a complex emotional journey on the ramifications of  the Kent St. massacre. "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor begins as a soulful lament and settles into an impassioned acoustic number. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is reimagined as a ten minute long reggae/country western foot stomper. 

A rendition of War's "Spill the Wine" never strays too far from the original source (even includes the flute). "Nothing to do Today" by Stephen Stills is performed as easy going soul in the polished Motown style. "Cold Bologna" written by Bill Withers is a reflective acoustic track recalling childhood in Harlem. Another Stephen Stills cover, "Love the One You're With," ends the record on a festive note. 

Givin' It Back features the versatility of The Isley Brothers at the start of a revolutionary decade in their epic career - highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse

Release Date: 1971

Produced by Joel Dorn

Track Listing: The Lord is Back; Jagger the Dagger; Lovin' Man; Headless Heroes; Susan Jane; Freedom Death Dance; Supermarket Blues; The Parasite (for Buffy)

Eugene McDaniels (1935-2011) was remembered as a "Sixties Soul Hitmaker" in many obituaries, but during the 1970s he recorded two influential albums that continue to resonate decades later, Outlaw (1970) and Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971). 

McDaniels began his career a soul/pop recording artist in the early 1960s who recorded several chart topping singles including "A Hundred Pounds of Clay" and "Tower of Strength." He wrote the protest song "Compared to What" for Roberta Flack, the 1969 live version by Les McCain and Eddie Harris became famous. In 1970 McDaniels recorded Outlaw for Atlantic, the album skewered Nixon's America with soul infused songs embedded with a Dylanesque punch to the lyrics. Headless Heroes was recorded the following year took a more impressionistic approach to the cultural climate, supported by members of the jazz fusion band Weather Report.

The album opens with "The Lord is Back," blending rock with jazz with lyrics inspired by the Book of Revelation. "Jagger the Dagger" is moody and improvisational, telling of a figure being manipulated by evil forces within society. "Lovin' Man" follows a messianic figure who may conceal a sinister agenda. "Headless Heroes" examines the roots of hatred, suggesting nefarious forces at work (a companion song to Dylan's "Masters of War"). "Susan Jane" celebrates an independent woman with folkish style vocal. "Freedom Death Dance" offers a warning:

There's no amount of dancing we can do
That will ban the bomb
Feed the starving children
Bring justice and equality to you and me

A blend of jazz, pop, folk, and soul with a weighty message: flower power will not save the world.

The narrative of "Supermarket Blues" deals with a racial confrontation at a grocery store, viewed as satirical at the time, in 2021 such an occurrence is not beyond the imagination. The narrator is at the store to return some tainted items, the manager argues and things escalate. The police are called as white customers taunt the narrator with racial slurs. More violence ensues, the narrator wishes he stayed home and gotten high.

At nine minutes, the historically themed "The Parasite (for Buffy)" recalls English settlers landing in Massachusetts and encountering the indigenous population and deceiving them, spreading disease, and displacing the natives from their land and culture. The song was inspired by singer-songwriter Buffy St. Marie who was blacklisted by American radio during the 1970s. The sorrow of McDaniel's vocal builds to a crescendo, ending the record with a cascade of terrified screams. 

Headless Heroes drew the ire of the Nixon Administration. Vice President Spiro Agnew allegedly complained to Atlantic Records and demanded that the record be suppressed. By the 1980s, Headless Heroes was obscure, but returned to public consciousness when hip hop artists used samples from the album. Still potent, the record may be more relevant 50 years later. 

The Albums of 1982: Kate Bush: The Dreaming

Release Date: September 13, 1982 All songs written and produced by Kate Bush Side One: Sat in Your Lap; There Goes a Tenner; Pull Out the Pi...