Life at 33 1/3
By Carl Meyer
Music from a lost weekend
Harry Nilsson, Pussy Cats (RCA)
Blame it on the bottle, Harry Nilsson makes another phenomenal
attempt to dismantle his own career. It had all been eccentric
career moves and nonstop partying since “Without You” stunned
the world and made him a star back in 1972. Bringing along
ex-beatles John and Ringo (sometimes George and Paul stopped by
as well) and a trail of thirsty celebrities (like Keith Moon) as
cheerleaders, wasn’t the smartest thing to do, at least
according to his doctor and his record company. RCA probably
thought their star had gone insane. I don’t think “Son Of
Dracula” (1974) is Mariah Carey’s favorite album (or movie), to
put it that way.
“Pussy Cats” was born during John Lennon’s 18-month “lost
weekend” in Los Angeles. Out on his own he turned into your
drinking buddy from hell, having a lot of catching up to do.
John and Harry triggered each other in their drunken stupors,
feeding the gossip press with marvelous scandals. In between
fistfights, heckling and being thrown out of night cubs with a
sanitary pad on his head, John offered to produce Harry’s next
album. Not surprisingly it turned into an open doors session,
party time, drinks and drugs and a gallery of famous people who
stopped by for a piece of the madness. Now and then they even
created some music. In 1974 it was definitely not advisable to
place Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr in the same
Lennon woke up during the chaos and realized that things were
getting out of hand big time. So he brought the tapes and a very
jagged Nilsson with him to New York to regain focus. It must
have worried him that Nilsson’s voice sounded broken, but they
probably didn’t discuss it. Actually it was more serious than
John was aware of: Harry had ruptured one of his vocal cords
during all the partying, but he didn’t dare to tell John.
Is “Pussy Cats” an underrated classic? Not at all. John Lennon
was not a great producer and most of the songs suffer from his
trademark narrow and clattering soundscape, his Phil Spector
light. The content is eccentric, not unexpectedly. There are
only four Nilsson originals (not among his most remarkable,
except the beautiful “Black Sails”, a real treat), and one
Lennon/Nilsson joint effort called “Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga”, which
simply is disposable nonsense.
As for the five cover songs, there is no telling why they were
chosen. Could be rejects from Lennon’s own
“Rock’n’Roll”-project. However they weaken rather that
strengthen the album. They turn “Pussy Cats” into a little of
this and a little of that instead of making it sound like a
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” is absolutely horrible; the lyrics
are drowned in the noise, a complete misjudgement as the lyrics
are the reason for this very song’s existence. Then there’s an
utterly botched and clattered “Rock Around The Clock” (Keltner,
Ringo and Moon on drums, and still, what a mess!). Surprisingly
the version of “Save The Last Dance For Me” is marvellous,
Nilsson injects so much passion into those simple words that it
sounds like the end of the world.
Lennon could have bettered the album some by replacing a couple
of the covers with Nilsson’s own “Down By The Sea” and “The
Flying Saucer Song”. Both songs were recorded during the
sessions, but ended up as rejects (Nilsson re-recorded them
later for “Duit On Mon Dei” (1975) and “Sandman” in 1976.
“Pussy Cats” was no big seller. And thus Nilsson’s time as a pop
star was brought to an end. He got his voice back and recorded a
number of outstanding albums later, but unfortunately they
headed for the cut-out bins as soon as they were released.
As an artefact from a period in the history of rock when the
heroes of the 60’s got a premature taste of midlife crisis and
went temporarily bonkers, “Pussy Cats” works well. It is far
better than Keith Moon’s “Two Sides Of The Moon”, holds its own
compared to Ringo’s “Goodnight Vienna”, and there indeed is an
affinity between “Pussy Cats” and Lennon’s “Walls And Bridges”.
None of the artists created their best work during this period.
It was party time for desperate grown-ups behaving like college
boys with too much money on their hands, living on a diet of
dope and alcohol. They even recorded some music when they found
time for it (and were able to stand up). The record sleeve of
“Pussy Cats” says it all, telling its inside joke with a
sledgehammer. Check out the floor under the table in the doll’s
house: D + rug + S = DRUGS. Giggle, giggle, aren’t we crazy!
Released: August 19, 1974
Produced by: John Lennon.
Contents: Many Rivers to Cross/Subterranean Homesick
Blues/Don’t Forget Me/All My Life/Old Forgotten Soldier/Save the
Last Dance for Me/Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga/Loop De Loop/Black
Sails/Rock Around the Clock
The cast of thousands:
Nathalie Altman - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Kenny Ascher - Piano, Conductor, Orchestration
Susie Bell - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Gene Cipriano - Saxophone
Jesse Ed Davis - Guitar
Chuck Findley - Trombone
Troy Germano - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Jane Getz - Piano
Jim Horn - Saxophone
Jim Keltner - Drums
Bobby Keys - Saxophone
Sneaky Pete Kleinow - Pedal Steel
Danny Kortchmar - Guitar
Trevor Lawrence - Saxophone
Keith Moon - Conga, Drums, Wood Block
Erik Mueller - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Rachel Mueller - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Harry Nilsson - Piano, Piano (Electric), Vocals, Performer,
Phylida Paterson - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Peri Prestopino - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Willie “The Lion” Smith - Organ
Ringo Starr - Drums, Maracas
David Steinberg - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Cantey Turner - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Kristin Turner - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Damon Vigiano - Choir, Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Klaus Voormann - Bass
Cynthia Webb – Marimba
Carnival time with The Band
The Band, Rock Of Ages (Capitol)
These excerpts from The Band’s New Year concerts in New
York, 28.-31. December 1971, were released in August 1972. Spread across
four album sides, and completely reshuffled from the actual playlist. The
Band were in excellent shape on those evenings, delivering a summing up of
their career so far, celebrating their roots and adding an inspired touch of
rediscovery by trying out a whole new musical setting by fleshing out about
half of the songs with horns. Say hello to Allen Toussaint.
Toussaint had already given the group the feisty horn arrangement for “Life
Is A Carnival” on the 1971 album “Cahoots”. This boisterous shot of New
Orleans whetted Robbie Robertson appetite. He wanted more. Toussaint was
installed in a cabin up in Woodstock and wrote horn arrangements for 11
songs, all handpicked by Robertson. These would constitute the second half
of the concert program. The audience was thus first served The Band as they
knew them from their first three albums, and then the stage was set for the
The concert on New Year’s Eve was very special as Bob Dylan surprisingly
appeared and led the group through four of his songs, one of his very few
live appearances between 1966 and the touring-comeback in 1974. The album
sleeve contains a photo of Dylan, but none of the four songs mentioned were
included on the original vinyl version.
Robertson chose to focus on the Toussaint arrangements when he programmed
“Rock Of Ages”. All of Toussaint’s 11 are included among its 17 tracks. An
inspired decision as it makes the album a very independent entity in the
group’s discography. No other The Band record sounds like this one.
The horn arrangements suit the tunes perfectly. It’s not the blasting,
powerful riffs one associates with Stax soul. This is New Orleans. Carnival
time. The guys move all over the songs, curling notes around the melody
lines, commenting on, answering or even teasing with certain phrases from
the vocalists, firing them up, chilling them down. The horn players don’t
march as an organized body, some go up, some go down, some go left, some go
right, always on the move giving the music its playful swagger. Party time
all over the rock solid ensemble playing of The Band, the members
communicate telepathically, they know each other inside out. And when the
horn players invite him in, Robbie Robertson takes off and heads for the
French Quarter. What a show! And boy do I miss Levon Helm, Rick Danko and
Richard Manuel! May they rest in peace!
I didn’t fall head over heels for “Rock Of Ages”. It took time to digest the
unfamiliar Toussaint overhaul of songs I loved. To me “The Band” (1969) was
the definitive sound of this wonderful group, and now I had to readjust. But
“Rock Of Ages” has grown over time - to a far greater extent than “Cahoots”,
which I still have problems with.
On CD, the album got the bonus tracks treatment of course. I prefer the 2001
edition which collects the original album on one CD and delivers 10 selected
tracks (including the four with Dylan) on a second CD. If you are hardcore
you’d go for “Live at the Academy of Music in 1971: The Rock of Ages
Concerts”, four CDs and one DVD chock full of recordings from those
legendary December evenings in 1971 (including the December 31 concert in
Released: August 15, 1972
Produced by: The Band
Contents: Introduction by Robertson/Don’t Do It/King Harvest (Has
Surely Come/Caledonia Mission/Get Up Jake/The W. S. Walcott Medicine
Sho/Stage Fright/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down/Across the Great
Divide/This Wheel’s on Fire/Rag Mama Rag” /The Weight/The Shape I’m In/The
Unfaithful Servant/Life Is a Carnival/The Genetic Method/Chest Fever/(I
Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes
Rick Danko – vocal, bass, violin
Levon Helm – vocal, drums, mandolin
Garth Hudson – organ, piano, accordion, tenor saxophone and soprano
Richard Manuel – vocal, piano, organ, clavinet, drums
Robbie Robertson – guitar, backing vocal, introduction
Howard Johnson – tuba, euphonium, baritone saxophone
Snooky Young – trumpet, flugelhorn
Joe Farrell – tenor and soprano saxophones, English horn
Earl McIntyre – trombone
J. D. Parran – alto saxophone and E-flat clarinet
All the young dudes
Mott The Hoople, All The Young Dudes (CBS)
August 9, 1972, a little over 43 years ago, “All The
Young Dudes” climbs into the New Musical Express’ Top 30 at a modest 29.
Glamrock is the latest fad, Bowie rules with his “Ziggy Stardust” album and
Alice Cooper tops the singles charts with “School’s Out”.
Mott The Hoople is a new name for most people, the song is written by Bowie,
sounds like a mixture of the “Ziggy”-album’s opening and finale (“Five
Years” and “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”), sporting a glorious singalong chorus
pouring out from behind verses that are unconditionally adaptable to the
frustrated post-Beatles generation. An apocalyptic hymn (that would not have
been out of place in “A Clockwork Orange”) and a glam rock’s call to arms,
sung by a mysterious guy who already had turned 33 and was older than all of
It is a perfect recording from start to finish, the adrenaline burns in a
whoosh of guitars and wailing backing vocals, and Ian Hunter’s flamboyant
phrasing set the standard for the entire British glamrock genre and its
neighbouring counties (say hello to Steve Harley).
What people didn’t know was that Mott The Hoople were an old band, a bunch
of worn toilers who had soldiered through the club circuit for ages without
getting anywhere. They had four albums of varying quality on their
conscience, all released on the Island label. I discovered them back in 1969
on the cheap-o sampler “Nice Enough To Eat”. Mott’s mighty, forever droning
version of Doug Sahm “At The Crossroads” was a true delight and whetted my
appetite for more.
I bought their debut album with its fascinating Escher sleeve. At the time
Hunter looked like a “Blonde On Blonde”-sleeve outtake and sounded more like
Dylan on amphetamine than the androgyne whizz kid on “Dudes”. I bought all
their albums the moment they were released, but Mott never managed to find
the redeeming formula, although parts of their fourth album, “Brain Capers”,
were close. And then they gave up.
It turned out, however, that David Bowie was a fan. When he heard that Mott
was imploding, he offered them “Suffragette City” from the still not
released “Ziggy” album. The group declined. A wise decision it turned out to
be, as Bowie was not willing to take no for an answer. According to the myth
he simply composed “All The Young Dudes” on the spot, sitting cross legged
on the floor strumming his guitar, in front of a baffled Ian Hunter. And
would they like him to produce their next album? The revitalized Mott The
Hoople was ready for the world.
“All The Young Dudes” never got any higher than #3 on the British charts.
But the recording would prove to be so durable that it sounds just as
triumphant and relevant today, 43 years later. And though Bowie repeatedly
tried to steal it back, Mott The Hoople’s version will forever stay the
I am so old that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Mott The Hoople (with Mick
Ronson) perform it back in 1974, and Ian Hunter doing the same thing at the
Hammersmith Odeon in 1979. Back in the real old days. I guess you can call
As for the album that took its name from that classic piece of 45 rpm vinyl,
it doesn’t quite match its namesake. In fact, some of the tracks probably
were meant for an aborted fifth Island- album. However the album does
include a handful of strong tracks that point towards Mott’s key works,
“Mott” (1973) and “The Hoople” (1974). The cleverly subdued version of Lour
Reed’s “Sweet Jane” is a humdinger, and so is the call to arms “One Of The
Boys”. The romantic mystic Ian Hunter delivers the dark beauty “Sea Diver”,
and in “Mama’s Little Jewel” he proves yet again that as a Dylan
impersonator, he is in a league of his own.
The album offers Mick Ralphs plenty of space for his Stones like riffing and
tense, ringing solo-runs. He is also responsible for one of the album’s best
tracks, “Ready For Love”, which he sings himself.
“All The Young Dudes” is not the best Mott The Hoople-album, far from it,
but it did what it was supposed to do. It saved the band, or rather delayed
their disintegration long enough for them to record two of the greatest
albums ever made by a British rock’n’roll-band – and turning Mott The Hoople
into a legend.
Ian Hunter is still performing (and recording excellent albums). 76 years
old. God bless him.
Released: September 8, 1972
Produced by: David Bowie
Contents: Sweet Jane/Momma’s Little Jewel/All the Young
Dudes/Sucker/Jerkin’ Crocus/One of the Boys/Soft Ground/Ready for Love/After
Mott The Hoople:
Ian Hunter – vocals, guitar, piano
Mick Ralphs – guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Ready For Love / After
Verden Allen – organ, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Soft Ground”
Pete Overend Watts – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dale “Buffin” Griffin – drums, percussion, backing vocals
The Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (Colgems/RCA)
beyond doubt that they were a real group capable of playing their own
instruments and even composing the odd well crafted ditty, The Monkees upped
their ambitions on their follow-up to the highly successfull “Headquarters”.
They decided to tighten up a bit, replacing Mickey with a real drummer (the
highly regarded Eddie Hoh), who, together with bass player Chip Douglas,
made up the powerful and rock solid rhythm section that even allowed the
four Monkees a couple of left-turns.
Surprisingly the group didn’t write more than a couple of tracks themselves,
but the tunes were handpicked by the four members, not stuffed down their
throats by Colgems.
Mike Nesmith is the
dominant force on this album, being the main vocalist on five of its 12
songs, leaving Mickey with only three and Davy with four. The 13th number,
by the way, is a short, spoken track credited to Peter Tork.
Not many people know that The Monkees predated the Beatles by almost two
years using the Moog synthesizer on a record. It’s on three of the tracks on
“Pisces...”, sounding very much like a novelty I have to admit (especially
in the hopelessly silly Moog rave-up “Star Collector”). It still was a
remarkable hint of the future, and who would have guessed that The Monkees
would be among the pioneers.
The alien sound effects of the Moog wasn’t the only thing that made this,
the fourth Monkees-album (in a little over a year), different. They didn’t
even try to be cuddly. The opening track, “Salesman”, was a screwball; pushy
with a metallic slam attached to it, sung by Nesmith with a strained voice
and lyrics that are much darker than they appears to be at first glance.
Then comes a groovy, horn driven piece called “She Hangs Out”, written by
Jeff Berry and sung by Davy Jones. It’s got a sting in it and moves way off
the lovable track you’d expect from him. And then Nesmith returns with “The
Door Into Summer”, another uphill struggle for the teenyboppers, a
semi-surrealistic social comment that both attacks materialism and the
Vietnam war, not even pretending to be nice. What was going on?
Mickey Dolenz doesn’t enter until track four, “Love Is Only Sleeping”,
originally meant to be their next single. Then the record company suddenly
realised that the lyrics weren’t about heartbreak and love gone cold at all,
but rather about slowly turning a reluctant girl on and ready for sex. At
least it was possible to interpret it that way. So it ended up as an album
track instead, being replaced by “Daydream Believer”, the original B-side. I
guess we can all live with that. “Daydream Believer» became one of the
group’s biggest hits, and “Love Is Only Sleeping”, found its perfect slot on
side 1 of this eccentric and eclectic album.
Even “Cuddly Toy”, all sugar coated and a typical Davy Jones showcase, has
fangs. Written by Harry Nilsson it’s actually a sarcastic homage to a girl
who sleeps around… a lot.
The album doesn’t give you any relief until the stylus hits the last track
on side 1, “Words”, a wonderful Dolenz/Tork duet with a refrain that sucks
you in the moment you hear it.
Don’t know how the average Monkees-fan reacted first time they heard this,
but I bet he or she was both bewildered and disappointed. They didn’t know
it, but this was what real rock music with a country twist to it sounded
like. A little psychedelia too, for good measure. If only people that didn’t
like the Monkees had listened, maybe the group would’ve been saved from the
rot that set in just a few months later.
I did an interview with Neil Young one evening in 1975. My photographer had
bought “Pisces… “ second hand earlier that day and carried it with him in a
plastic bag. When the interview was done he asked me for some paper. He
wanted Neil’s autograph. I said, “Ask him to sign your Monkees-album”. My
photographer found that embarrassing, but I insisted. “He’ll do it, I
promise!” So he reluctantly pulled the album out of the bag. Young lightened
up. “The Monkees!” he called out, enthusiastically. “That’s a damn good
album! Sign it? Sure!” And so he did: “Rock’n’roll forever! Neil Young” A
sure fire collector’s item was born.
The second side is an inspired extension of the first: more social comments,
more quirky structures. There’s Nesmith’s “Daily Nightly” which concerns
itself with the sunset strip curfew riots in 1966, a nasty put-down of
groupies (“Star Collector”), the superb “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?”
and the forever magnificent “Pleasant Valley Sunday” zooming in on the self
delusions and empty headed life style of the upper middleclass, the song
taking its title from a street called Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange,
A surprisingly strong and eclectic album it is, and all four contribute to
its success as a team. Unfortunately they would never try to record an album
as a group again.
“Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” is The Monkees’ strongest album,
and a natural successor to the much loved “Headquarters”. Some might have
forgotten how good “Pisces… “ is, some might not even have bothered to
listen to it at all. It’s never too late. And you won’t regret it. As the
man said, clutching this very album: rock’n’roll forever!
Released: November 6, 1967
Produced by: Chip Douglas
Contents: Salesman/She Hangs Out/The Door into Summer/Love Is Only
Sleeping/Cuddly Toy/Words/Hard to Believe/What Am I Doing Hangin’
‘Round?/Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky/Pleasant Valley
Sunday/Daily Nightly/Don’t Call on Me/Star Collector