Friday, February 24, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Neil Young: Time Fades Away

Released: October 15, 1973

Produced by Neil Young and Elliot Mazer

Side One: Time Fades Away; Journey Through the Past; Yonder Stands the Sinner; L.A.; Love in Mind

Side Two: Don't Be Denied; The Bridge; Last Dance

Time Fades Away was for a long time considered an obscure live album that provided mere snapshots from Neil Young's early 1973 tour backed by Nashville/LA session musicians The Stray Gators and David Crosby and Graham Nash who joined up on the last leg of the tour. A hectic ordeal for all involved with Neil wearing out his voice and clashing with his new band. Time Fades Away was received poorly upon release and it never got a CD release until very late in the game, but in recent decades its reputation has risen. 

The hard rocking "Time Fades Away" opens the record, a screed against the passing of time as the title suggests. "Journey Through the Past" is a stately piano ballad. Introduced as an "experimental" song, "Yonder Comes the Sinner" is a guitar driven rocker. "L.A.' is dedicated to the "city in the smog" is both weary and sarcastic - the best track on the album. "Love in Mind" is another piano ballad in the vein of Harvest.

Side two relied more on extended jams. "Don't Be Denied" is more mid-tempo weariness while the lyrics are autobiographical with references to Young growing up in Canada and moving to L.A. Another piano ballad with harmonica, "The Bridge" builds towards a catharsis. Running over eight minutes, "Last Dance" meanders and hints at the exhaustion hitting everyone, Neil repeating "No, No, No . ." on the fadeout.

Ragged and rough, the downbeat mode of the record evolves into an eloquent defiance. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Gram Parsons: GP

Released: January 1973

Produced by Gram Parsons and Ric Grech

Side One: Still Feeling Blue; We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning; A Song For You; Streets of Baltimore; She

Side Two: That's All it Took; The New Soft Shoe; Kiss the Children; Cry One More Time; How Much I've Lied; Big Mouth Blues

The music of Gram Parsons (1946-1973) has cast a wide net in rock history in terms of influence. Peers considered him a visionary and every new generation eventually discovers him. 

Parsons was the scion of a wealthy Southern family in Georgia. As a youth he played in various folk bands and got admitted to Harvard but left after one semester. He joined the International Submarine Band which released the album Safe at Home in 1967 which sold poorly. The following year he became an unofficial member of The Byrds for the recording of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, their highly acclaimed country rock album. From there he joined the The Flying Burrito Brothers who continued to evolve the country rock sound (a term that annoyed Parsons). He was also a close associate of The Rolling Stones and joined them in France for the recording of Exile on Main Street. But his indulgence in drugs and alcohol was too much even for the Stones and got himself banished from their circle. 

GP was recorded in September-October 1972 in Hollywood. Given a solo deal with Warner Bros records, Parsons assembled three members of Elvis Presley's band with Emmylou Harris to join him on vocals - of course Harris went on to an amazing career. More straight up country than his previous work, like his previous albums it sold poorly but received high acclaim. 

In "Still Feeling Blue" Parsons reflects on loneliness after his girl left, lyrically like Neil Young's "Oh Lonesome Me." Parsons and Harris swap verses on the bittersweet "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning." On "A Song for You" Parsons melancholy vocal is combined with surreal imagery. Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard's "Streets of Baltimore" is covered nicely with Harris and Parsons in duet. "She" is a wonderful recording, a highlight of the record, delightfully in some zone between country and rock. 

A reverential version of "That's All it Took" by George Jones opens the second side, "The New Soft Shoe" is a placid, more laid back ballad. "Kiss the Children" has an estranged husband addressing his wife in a debauched stated, "one more night like this would put me six feet under." "Cry One More Time" is more of an R&B track. Parsons embodies a careless but sincere persona on "How Much I've Had to Lie." "Big Mouth Blues" is fanciful Chuck Berry homage by way of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. 

Any listener of GP will immediately recognize its influence and Parsons unique gifts as a singer/songwriter. He would record one more solo album Grievous Angel, released posthumously in 1974. On September 19, 1973, during one of his trips to Joshua Tree National Park, he overdosed on drugs on alcohol at age 26. A senseless loss that left a pall over the music scene in the decades to come. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Albums of 1973: John Lennon: Mind Games

Release Date: October 29, 1973

Produced by John Lennon

Side One: Mind Games; Tight A$; Aisumasen (I'm Sorry); One Day (At a Time); Bring on the Lucie (Freda Pepple); 

Side Two: Intuition; Out of the Blue; Only People; I Know (I Know); You are Here; Meat City

While the other three former Beatles were finding their footing in 1973, John Lennon was in the midst of personal turmoil. Separated from his wife and creative partner Yoko Ono, he was also trying to attain U.S. citizenship and dealing with FBI surveillance. Recorded hastily over the summer of 1973, Mind Games received mixed reviews and is considered a minor work in Lennon's canon. In saying that, the songs hold up fairly well and provide insight into John's state of mind at the time - and to a certain extent the emerging 1970s culture.

The classic opener "Mind Games" remains one of Lennon's best songs. A lethargic rhythm section sustains the song are buttressed by John's soulful vocal expressing post-Hippy sentiments, inspired by a New Age bestseller of the same title.

"Tight A$" goes for a more retro sound resembling rockabilly with double entendre in the lyrics. "Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)" is directed at Yoko, while on "One Day (At a Time) Lennon sings in a falsetto repeating a self-help mantra in an expression of malaise. A plea for peace, "Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)" fits in well with Lennon's other peace anthems, it was famously used by Alfonso Cuaron to end his 2006 film Children of Men

"Intuition" is another New Age tract as a happy go lucky pop song. "Out of the Blue" glides through various styles, also eccentric in lyric, "like a UFO you came to me." "Only People" could be a commercial jingle for unity, "We don't want no Big Brother scene." Another confessional, "I Know" favors optimism above all else. "You Are Here" has a slight country-western vibe, an underrated track with production reminiscent of George Martin. "Meat City" ends the album, heavier guitars and more biting lyrics end the record on an exuberant note. 

An eclectic collection of songs, Mind Games explores different facets of Lennon's personality and artistic inspirations. 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

REM #4: Life's Rich Pageant

Release Date: July 28, 1986

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

Produced by Don Gehman

Track List: Begin the Begin; These Days; Fall on Me; Cuyahoga; Hyena; Underneath the Bunker

Side Two: The Flowers of Guatemala; I Believe; What If We Give it Away; Just a Touch; Swan Song H; Superman

Life's Rich Pageant signaled REM's transition from a college radio staple to one of America's premier bands on the cusp of superstardom.

"Begin the Begin" serves as an overture for the album which elliptically touches upon the state of the nation in the late Reagan era. The lyrics here are about seizing the moment and eschewing apathy, extorting, "Example, the finest example is you." In a similar vein, "These Days" could serve as a Gen X anthem, an update of "Radio Free Europe" reimagined as a summertime jangle. "Fall on Me" is richly melodic in the classic REM way, also well suited for a children's singalong.

"Cuyahoga" carries along the ecological theme running through the record (the river that burned - also covered in Randy Newman's "Burn On") and ties it to a lost childhood, and uses the imagery as a call for renewal:

Let's put our heads together and start a new country up
Up underneath the riverbed we'll burn the river down

"Hyena" is widely viewed as a nuclear war analogy, or more generally the predatory nature of man. Originally a hidden track, the playful "Underneath the Bunker," is mostly an instrumental with a pastiche Spanish sound.

"The Flowers of Guatemala" obliquely references the consequences of U.S. foreign policy in Central America, a mid-tempo track with effective harmonies. "I Believe" is about realizations that come with late stage youth. Another song of possibilities and epiphanies, "What if we give it away?" could be read as a mission statement for the band. "Just a Touch" goes back to the punk origins of REM, the lyrics mimic the eccentricates of a jaded teenager in the album's most frantic song. 

"Swan Song H" breaks down time barriers in its evocation of past wars, ghostly in tone and delivery. For the final track, REM performed a cover version of "Superman" originally by Texas based band The Clique. A favorite of the band's since their early days, the song imagines Superman fuming over losing his girl to another guy, ending the record on an effusive note.

A record of seasoned and youthful ruminations with one eye cast to the past and another eye looking forward, Life's Rich Pageant could be considered by turns sincere and playful. Mixed emotions run through the record, the ebb and flow of swirling possibilities in the middle of the 1980s.

Friday, February 3, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Paul McCartney and Wings: Red Rose Speedway

Release Date: April 30, 1973

Produced by Paul McCartney

Personnel: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Henry McCullough, Denny Seiwell

Side One: Big Barn Bed; My Love: Get on the Right Thing; One More Kiss; Little Lamb Dragonfly

Side Two: Single Pidgeon; When the Night; LOUP (1st Indian on the Moon); Medley: Hold Me Tight; Lazy Dynamite; Hands of Love; Power Cut

Originally intended to be a double album that was recorded mostly in 1972, Red Rose Speedway met with a tepid critical response. It produced a lone hit single in "My Love" that hit #1 in America and became a 70s/80s staple of FM radio. Despite the criticism, Red Rose Speedway has aged well with its retro good time vibe. In 2018, the double album version was released as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.

While all the former Beatles released strong albums in 1973, it would be a standout year in particular for McCartney and Wings. In June they released the popular "Live and Let Die" for the James Bond film, and then went off to Nigeria and recorded Band on the Run, arguably their best record of the decade. 

"Big Barn Bed" is a strong opener with Paul's whimsically surreal imagery that becomes a singalong rock song. Written for Linda, "My Love" features a nice guitar solo by Henry McCullough. Criticized for being corny and a far cry from his previous work by a mostly pro-Lennon press, the song has since become a standard. "Get on the Right Thing" is well produced, a sly update of early rock and roll reimagined as epic power pop. "One More Kiss" is more in the country rock vein and the mini-suite "Little Lamb Dragonfly" is both melodic and folkish. 

A piano ballad, "Little Pigeon" resembles "Martha My Dear" from the White Album. "When the Night" is another modernized ode to '50s rock with energized background vocals, a highlight of the record. An instrumental, "LOUP (1st Indian on the Moon)" provides a glimpse into Paul's more experimental side in what sounds like the theme of a quirky Sci-Fi film of the era. 

Ending the record with a medley was an attempt to emulate Abbey Road. Once again, the critical knives were out, and while the Red Rose suite may have a tossed off feel, the songs are fun and include a variety of instruments and contrasting styles, evoking the mood of the album in microcosm. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #2: You're Gonna Get It

Release Date: May 2, 1978 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass); Stan...