Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Ringo

Release Date: November 2, 1973

Produced by Richard Perry

The 1991 Reissue Track Listing: I'm the Greatest; Have You Seen My Baby; Photograph; Down and Out; Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond); You're Sixteen; Oh My My; Step Lightly; Six O'clock; Devil Woman; You and Me (Babe); It Don't Come Easy; Early 1970

Perhaps the closest instance of the Beatles ever reuniting was for Ringo's eponymous 1973 album. All three of Ringo's bandmates contributed songs and took part in the recording process, albeit, all four were never in the studio together. Yet a d├ętente was in the air during 1973 among the Beatles despite ongoing litigation over the breakup which had alienated McCartney from the others.

Ringo's former bandmates had all established successful solo careers. In 1970 Ringo released two solo records: a collection of pre-rock standards Sentimental Journey and country-western covers on Beaucoups of Blues. Starr took a few years off from music to focus on acting, he notably played a fictional version of himself in That'll Be the Day, a film inspired by the early life of John Lennon.

For the recording of Ringo, an all-star group of musicians were assembled including members of The Band, Marc Bolan, Harry Nilsson, Billy Preston and many others.

The album begins with the tongue in cheek "I'm the Greatest" Lennon gave to Ringo. Using Muhammad Ali's iconic line, the narrator recounts a life of being beloved by everyone who comes into his presence in a satire of rock star egotism. Like "Glass Onion," there are many references to Beatle lore like Ringo's alter ego "Billy Shears," even mimicking John's vocal from "Revolution." As John himself stated, coming from him the song would've had a sardonic quality, but Ringo singing it took the edge off. 

Ringo turned in a laconic performance for Randy Newman's bluesy ballad "Have You Seen My Baby." "Photograph" became a smash hit, hitting No.1 in several countries. The simple eloquence of the lyrics and the immaculate production by Richard Perry are matched by Ringo's impassioned vocal that provides a timeless quality. Included on the reissue, "Down and Out" was the B-side to "Photograph," another bluesy rocker.

"Sunshine Life for Me (Sail Away) was written by Harrison, a Celtic inspired folk rock song in the style of The Band who also played on the track. A cover of Johnny Burnette's 1950s jukebox hit "You're Sixteen" also became a hit, reintroduced to audiences that same year in the George Lucas film American Graffiti. "Oh My My" and "Step Lightly" were both quirky additions written by Ringo

"Six O'clock" was recorded in London with Paul and Linda McCartney. And the song is undoubtedly McCartney, a stately ballad reminiscent of "The Long and Winding Road" from Let it Be and "Man We Was Lonely" from McCartney. An underrated gem.

"Devil Woman" is more of a '70s style rock song done with glam theatricality. "You and Me (Babe)" was the closing track on the original release with Ringo offering a proper farewell, thanking all who contributed in spoken word on the fadeout.

"It Don't Come Easy" was a hit single in 1971, a creative breakthrough for Starr who was concerned if a solo career was in the offing. A pop song written with Harrison (who also produced), it remains a staple of the post-Beatles era. Another B-side, "Early 1970" expresses Starr's state of mind at the time of the breakup taking some good-natured jabs at the others (including himself), but also a bit of longing for the old days.

Ringo brought nostalgia and some good vibes to the heady atmosphere of 1973, providing both a sense of continuity and fun.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Al Green: Call Me

Release Date: April 1973

Produced by Willie Mitchell, Al Green

Side One: Call Me (Come Back Home); Have You Been Making Out Ok; Stand Up; I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry; Your Love is like the Morning Sun

Side Two: Here I Am (Come and Take Me); Funny How Time Slips Away; You Ought to Be with Me; Jesus is Waiting

Widely considered one of the best Soul albums of 1973 (if not for all time), Call Me yielded three hit singles. At 36 minutes each track is meticulously produced with grace alongside Green's stunning vocal performances.

"Call Me (Come Back Home)" declares devotion but not desperation, the organ, strings, and the steady drumbeat compliment Green's performance. Green's vocal is double tracked on "Have You Been Making Out Ok", a melancholy message to someone who's moved on. "Stand Up" is aimed at a friend undergoing hard times. A Hank Williams country classic, "I'm So Lonesome I could Cry" is reimagined as a soulful Gospel song. An expression of longing, "You Love is Like the Morning Sun", Green sang as if in prayer as the morning sun hits the windows.

"Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" employs a more rocking groove. "Funny How Time Slips Away" was written by Willie Nelson was a 1961 hit for Jimmy Elledge and covered by many others, Green's version became a hit, capturing all the melancholy and heartbreak. "You Oughta Be with Me" hit number one on the Soul singles chart. "Jesus is Waiting" is another gospel infused song, closing out the album with a sense of renewal. 

Call Me flies by at 36 minutes, each track blending into each other, yet each constructed like a sculpture of pure emotion. The steadiness of the production serves as a guiding light on a record suited for good and trying times. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

REM #3: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

Release Date: June 10, 1985

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Michael Mills (bass, keyboards); Bill Berry (percussion)

Produced by Joe Boyd

Track List: Feeling Gravity's Pull; Maps and Legends; Driver 8; Life and How to Live It; Old Man Kensey

Side Two: Can't Get There from Here; Green Grow the Rushes; Kohoutek; Auctioneer (Another Engine); Good Advices; Wendell Gee

Fables of the Reconstruction marked REM's third LP in as many years, continuing to hone and build upon the sound developed in Murmur and Reckoning

A hypnotic "D" chord opens "Feeling Gravity's Pull" a song about falling asleep while reading, but the lyrics suggest much more. A musing on the basic forces around us and how strange they are in reality, "Time and distance are out of place here" sings Stipe. Entering into the realm of sleep and dreams means going outside of linear time, the moment of falling asleep remains an intangible part of being human. References to experimental artist Man Ray's skies and strings on the fadeout add to the majestic mosaic of sound in a metaphysical pop song.

"Maps and Legends" marks the first appearance of the many eccentrics who appear on the record. Peter Buck's melodic hooks are on full display in a modern folk song. "Driver 8" is pure Americana in its recounting of a train journey through a surreal and often empty landscape. "Life and How to Live It" probably dealt with a local eccentric in Athens, Georgia, home base of REM, adding to the homespun feel of the album. As the title suggests, "Old Man Kinsey" is another hermit who seems to be both a curiosity and a menace, carried along by Buck's guitar which tells a tale of its own.

"Can't Get There from Here" may be the first time Stipe inhabits a character in a song, singing in a thick Georgia accent, inhabiting the characters he's writing about, there's a Gothic touch and a horn section. "Green Grow the Rushes" is more in the baroque pop of Reckoning with its lavish production, lyrically a song about economic exploitation. "Kohoutek" relates another oblique fable, a reference to a comet that passed Earth in 1973 but failed to live up to spectacular predictions of an amazing night sky. 

"Auctioneer (Another Engine)" is a surreal break up song packed imagery from the old America of trains, perhaps a prequel to one of the earlier tracks, it would made for an intriguing short film. A song of loneliness with images of old shoes and odd encounters, "Good Advices" seems to assuage the listener in its melodies and melancholy musings. "Wendell Gee" has a country western flavor with a prominent banjo, inspired by an Athens local the band once knew, tells another hazy story of mortality with hints of sentimentality. 

Fables of the Reconstruction consists of fragments of folk tales, inspired by Athens, but all given a poignancy in their subtle constructions. In the tradition of literary luminaries like Faulkner and Twain, the album's appeal has ebbed and flowed but offers rewards for all. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Albums of 1973: George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Release Date: May 30, 1973

Produced by George Harrison (with Phil Spector on "Try Some, Buy Some")

Side One: Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth); Sue Me, Sue You Blues; The Light That Has Lighted the World; Don't Let Me Wait Too Long; Living in the Material World

Side Two: The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord); Be Here Now; Try Some, Buy Some; The Day the World Gets 'Round; That is All

The follow up to George Harrison's epic post-Beatles release All Things Must Pass, Living in the Material World continued to explore spiritual themes.

"Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" became an international hit and a standard in Harrison's personal canon. Similar to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's eloquent pleas for peace in songs like "Give Peace a Chance," but directed at the divine in examining existential issues of birth and death, and also a harbinger of the toned down production of the record with its quiet pianos and guitars. 

Harrison employs his icy wit on "Sue Me, Sue You," a response to the legalistic chaos in the aftermath of The Beatles breakup. Legendary session man Nicky Hopkins provides melodic piano on "The Light That Has Lighted the World." The song laments people who are "hateful of anyone that's happy or free" because of a refusal to see outside themselves. 

"Don't Let Me Wait Too Long" is more of a straightforward love song with more of a pop sound, the chorus echoes a song Harrison wrote with the Beatles, "Blue Jay Way." "Who Can See It" is more lavishly produced, a confessional of sorts. 

The album's central piece "Living in the Material World" is both playful and serious. Cynics may view it as trite musings from a rich rock star, but there's a self-awareness that takes the edge off. Harrison contrasts the conflicting plains of the material and spiritual in the music and lyrics. Former bandmates John, Paul, and "Richie" are referenced and how they "all got caught up in the material world." Harrison wrote of having his body used up like a car and "being worn out." Interludes in the track recall "Within You, Without You" to further communicate the difference between worldly pop and spiritual music. 

"The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)" could be considered preachy, but the lyrics simply point out those who believe they own the world (billionaires) are in a spiritual death spiral, very much in keeping Harrison's prior catalog, and heavily influenced by the Bhagavad Gita (which I still need to read). 

"Be Here Now" is direct in its messaging of being in the present, a sitar drone with an organ creates a solemn atmosphere. "Try Some, Buy Some" was covered by Ronnie Spector in a much better version vocally, there's an air of mystery in the lyrics built on metaphor, the orchestration is majestic.

"The Day the World Gets 'Round" takes the personal themes of the record and applies them to the wider world in a vision of a hopeful future, while the closing track "That is All" is more in the vein of All Things Must Pass with its muscular production.

Living in the Material World lends itself to repeated listening, the subtleties of the production come through. If there's a criticism, it's the monolithic nature of the sound and themes, but it's a compelling glimpse into Harrison's headspace in 1973. A continuation of ideas and sounds explored on the Beatles records - and an intriguing sequel to All Things Must Pass

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Albums of 1973: The Rolling Stones: Goats Head Soup

Release Date: August 31, 1973

Active Members: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts

Produced by Jimmy Miller

Side One: Dancing with Mr. D; 100 Years Ago; Coming Down Again; Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker); Angie

Side Two: Silver Train; Hide Your Love; Winter; Can You Hear the Music; Star Star

The Rolling Stones recorded Goats Head Soup in 1973 on the heels of their masterful double LP Exile on Main Street released the year before. A sense of weariness lingers throughout the record wavering between wistful reflections with remnants of the excess and the blues.

"Dancing with Mr. D" is a menacing rocker that sets a foreboding tone somewhere between hallucination and reality. "100 Years Ago" continues the reflective mode of the album, shifting between a country rock/fantastical pastoral that longs for quietude. 

"Coming Down Again" perfectly encapsulates the tone of the record, utilizing piano and keyboards. "Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" was more in line with the classic Stones sound, with Jagger's vamping vocal with hints of violence in the lyrics. 

The hit single "Angie" is an infectious ballad with syrupy strings and all, and Jagger's iconic vocal. Speculation about the inspiration of the song remains full of narrative red herrings. 

Fuzzy guitars and echoes of the blues punctuate "Silver Train." A mid-tempo R&B pastiche, "Hide Your Love" has a rollicking piano in the tradition of Fats Domino. "Winter" is my favorite track with its epic scope and a poetic grace the Stones were capable of at their best. "Can You Hear the Music" starts out sluggish but builds into a groove. "Star Star" satirizes 1970s Hollywood, ending the record in a fit of bathos.

Mostly recorded in Jamaica, where some of the best music of the year would originate, Goats Head Soup then and now sounds like an exhausted band still finding inspiration and pushing on. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Bruce Springsteen: Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J.

Release Date: January 5, 1973

Produced by Mike Appel, Jim Cretecos

Side One: Blinded by the Light; Growin' Up; Mary Queen of Arkansas; Does this Bus Stop at 82nd St?'; Lost in the Flood

Side Two: The Angel; For You; Spirit in the Night; It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City

Greetings from Ashbury Park marked the debut of one of the most vibrant and iconic voices in Rock - Bruce Springsteen. A working-class New Jersey kid, Springsteen, like millions was enraptured with the romance and promise of rock music, a step towards the promise of something revolutionary, even Utopian.

He played in many bands, shaping a sound and style with many musicians along the way in what would evolve into the E Street Band. In 1972, he was signed by Columbia and recorded the first album.

Springsteen's musical and autobiographical influences are all over Greetings From Ashbury Park, while also introducing themes and locales that would carry though his entire body of work. Verbose and romantic, Greetings made moderate sales but garnered glowing reviews from critics. 

Taking a cue from Dylan's 1965 LP Bringing it all Back Home, Greetings was initially intended to be divided between acoustic numbers and tracks recorded with the band, but only two acoustic songs made the final cut: "Mary Queen of Arkansas" and "The Angel." The former could be compared to Dylan's "Ramona", but also introduces the desperate star-crossed lovers on the run in so many of his songs. "The Angel" is a piano number, vaguely reminiscent of Randy Newman's mini epics, but also referencing Kerouac's road prose poetry, Bruce adds a touch of Gothic darkness and despair, a zone of pitiful desperation and dead ends. 

"Blinded by the Light", the bombastic opener written at the behest of Columbia who "did not hear a single," is one of the highlights of the record. Clearly Dylan inspired, while at the same time influenced by R&B and gospel, the surreal landscape of the song allows for playful wordplay:

And go-cart Mozart was checkin' out the weather chart to see if it was safe to go outside

And little Early-Pearly came in by her curly-wearly and asked me if I needed a ride

In the vein of Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" minus the icy cynicism and more in line with Marc Bolan's jukebox anthems of dreamy imagery, the joyful call and response on the fadeout welcomes all to join in.

"Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" is a poetical tapestry of New York Street scenes. "Lost in the Flood" revealed a cinematic lyrical style. Each of the three verses follows characters disillusioned with America in the wake of the Vietnam War, juxtaposed with violence and despair on city streets. "For You" is about a girl whose life was "one long emergency" in a frenetically paced vocal by Springsteen. 

"Spirit in the Night" eases the mood, a piano driven narrative held together by Clarence Carter's saxophone. Not interested in straight narrative, the song creates a youthful atmosphere, moments of release among wanderers of the night who will return in various incarnations on future songs. The closing track "It's Hard To Be A Saint in the City" begins with a jazzy piano and returns to street scenes with more adventure and temptation.

Other artists took notice of Ashbury Park, David Bowie was a fan and recorded versions of "For You" and "It's Hard To Be a Saint in the City." Fifty years later the sense of urgency still enraptures the listener and gives the album a distinct power. For anyone seeking new voices in 1973, one would've found it here. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #1

Release Date: November 9, 1976 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass);...