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Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer

 

Update October 31, 2015

Betrayal and redemption

Slade, Sladest (Polydor)

Interviewing Don Powell (left) of Slade in Norway in 1973.

1971 - Grisly times for people like me who had grown up with the UK charts and still tried to stay updated on the latest hits and trends. All my old heroes preferred albums now, and so did I. But albums were expensive. The 45 was more accessible for youngsters without regular income, and the format still possessed some of its old magic, even if it was waning fast.
We were subjected to ordeals. In the summer 1971, when I was in London for the first time, the ordeals were called Middle Of The Road, Sweet (in “Co-Co” mode), New World, White Plains, Dawn, New Seekers. Disgusting stuff, they sounded like Coca Cola ads and looked the part, brainless smiles and all. The teenyboppers who turned these nobodies into stars and the hit parade into a pile of garbage, were actually destroying the idea of the vinyl single as a work of art. Civilization as we know it was on the brink of collapse.
But there were glimmers of hope. Like T. Rex blasting from all the jukeboxes I came across during my few weeks in London. I bought their transitional album, “T. Rex”. And when I returned to Norway, I quickly purchased the hit-singles “Hot Love” and “Get It On” too.
T. Rex were the real thing. But even with his elf-like looks Marc Bolan was an old hero. He’d been in the game for years. I already had a couple of the Tyrannosaurus Rex-albums, hippie-folksongs for Tolkien-heads. Bolan was one of the rare species, an established artist focusing on hit-singles while the rest of his peers had abandoned the format. Singles were for kids. Albums ruled.
There was another group doing good business on the jukeboxes of London too. Slade. They were new to me and looked funny with their short haircuts, but their singer sounded like a cross between a chiming alarm and a bull being skinned alive, they made a lot of noise and played real rock ’n’ roll. “Get Down And Get With It” was stomping around in the lower regions of the Top 20, it made an impression. I bought that single too when I got back home.
Slade were genuine. They sounded fresh and angry. And even better, I had never seen any albums by them. I thought this single was their debut. (It wasn’t, it was their fifth, and they already had two albums out, but they both bombed, so I was excused.)
I was on their case now, and the sequel “Coz I Luv You” convinced me. Slade had more to them than foot stomping, hollering and electric guitars. This tune was quirky, playful and shamelessly catchy in a Beatles sort of way. And so was the next one, “Look Wot You Dun”.
By now I should have been a fan, but unfortunately, I was also a patronising snob. With the group’s enormous breakthrough among the treacherous teenyboppers, I raised myself above the group just as I raised myself above T. Rex. No way I was gonna be caught supporting the same teams as the silly little girls and boys did. Slade and T. Rex weren’t cool anymore, they dominated the front pages of all the glossy teen mags. I was a fool, my prejudice clouded my eyes and ears, even more so when the daily newspapers started comparing the popularity of Slade and T. Rex with Beatlemania.
Beatlemania it was not. That could never happen again. I was annoyed. The painful break-up of The Beatles was still too close for comfort, the wounds had not yet healed. And now those unworthy upstarts claimed their throne. How dare they!
Consequently, I ignored Slade’s most intense scream, stomp and yell phase, I didn’t care to investigate, it was all teenybopper-trash to me, the idiot side of glam. This was 1972. The year of classic albums like “Exile On Main St.”, “Machine Head”, “Harvest”, “Manassas”, “Roxy Music”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Close To The Edge”, “Black Sabbath Vol. 4”, “Rock Of Ages”, “Foxtrot”, “Transformer”, and “Made In Japan”.
Go away with your “Crazeee Mamas” and silly top hats. It took me a full year to come to my senses. An embarrassing moment. How could I have missed out on the marvellous power pop of “Gudbuy T’Jane”, one of the singles of ’72?
By Christmas 1973 everything was different. With “Merry Xmas Everybody” Slade delivered a rousing ending to a year that had restored The Beatles to their former glory with two massive million sellers, the red and the blue compilations, “1962-1966” and “1967-1970”. George had done good business during summer with “Living In The Material World”, and now Ringo surprised everyone with “Ringo”, bringing all four ex-Beatles together again on one album (not on the same song, however). And Paul finally hit back after two years of struggle, with “Band On The Run”. Hell, I even started to like Slade again, playing their Christmas-anthem to death.
My appreciation of Slade got a new boost in 1974 with the fabulous “Far Far Away”. By then they were slowly sliding, losing their grip on the teens. They were learning: Never trust a teenybopper, they leave you cold when they turn 15.
“Merry Xmas Everybody” probably is the greatest Yuletide pop single of all time, it’s impossible to dislike. The fact that I had met the group a couple of weeks before its release made it even easier to cave in. Slade visited Norway in November 1973, playing for a packed indoor stadium in Oslo. I had the pleasure of interviewing them for a daily newspaper, and they appeared to be a very likeable, down to earth bunch, even forgiving me for having dismissed them as teenybop fodder: “That’s OK”, said Noddy, patting me on my head, “we wouldn’t have liked us either. If we were you, that is.” I think I was forgiven.
They had a new album out, “Sladest”, a summary of their career so far. It was my first Slade-LP. I played it a lot in the coming years while Slade’s star on teenage heaven slowly faded, and I became increasingly fond of songs that had owned 1972 and 1973, but had eluded me: “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, “Gudbuy T’Jane,” “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me”. They were all included on this 14 track collection, along with my early Slade favourites from before I betrayed them, “Get Down And Get With It,” “Coz I Luv You” and “Look Wot You Dun”.
In addition to these seven classics, the album offered the transitional hit “Take Me Bak ‘Ome” (which I’ve never liked), and the three early misses, “Wild Winds Are Blowing”, “Know Who You Are” and “The Shape Of Things To Come”, plus three cleverly picked album tracks. A superb package and an excellent introduction to a band that deserved far more honour than they were given by the critics, contemporary musicians and people like me.
“Sladest” also contains numerous examples of what a wonderful song-writing team Noddy Holder and Jim Lea was.
Slade and T. Rex held the fort during the difficult years 1971-72 when pop music faded away, apparently to be reborn as Tony Orlando. And when T. Rex started running out of fuel, Slade soldiered on through 1973, spearheading the rehabilitation of the pop single. Suddenly it was all fun again.
So let’s drink to Slade. Unassuming, unpretentious and damned strong on what it’s all about: Electric guitars, a voice drugged on life, and choruses made of superglue.
Released: September 28, 1973
Produced by: Chas Chandler
Contents: Cum on Feel the Noize/ Look Wot You Dun/ Gudbuy T’Jane/ One Way Hotel/ Skweeze Me Pleeze Me/ Pouk Hill/ The Shape of Things to Come/ Take Me Bak ‘Ome/ Coz I Luv You/ Wild Winds are Blowing/ Know Who You Are/ Get Down and Get With It/ Look at Last Nite/ Mama Weer All Crazee Now.
Personnel:
Noddy Holder – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Dave Hill – lead guitar
Jim Lea – bass guitar, violin on “Coz I Luv You”
Don Powell – drums


Update October 17, 2015

No crisis after all

Supertramp, Crisis? What Crisis? (A&M)

A photo of the scribe taken in Paris minutes before the Orient Express left for Venice with Supertramp and a couple of very thirsty Norwegian journalists onboard.

“Crime Of The Century” is a brilliant album, and gave Supertramp the commercial breakthrough that key members Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies had been struggling for through five frustrating and sometimes very miserable years. They’d been down in the deepest valleys, especially on a disastrous tour in Norway where they lost most of their equipment. It’s to their credit that they kept going as the future on frequent occasions must have looked very dim.
Then suddenly, with “Crime Of The Century” everything fell into place. In September 1974 I was present at the launch in one of London’s small theatres where they performed the entire album “live”. I was utterly impressed.
By early summer 1975 their record company started pushing for a sequel. They wanted it released well before Christmas. Not very good news for a band that had been touring non-stop, and if anything needed a rest. Supertramp was by now a highly successful unit, and they probably should have refused, but they didn’t. So in the summer of 1975 they duly entered the A&M studios in Los Angeles without a single new song to record.
They had no other option but to go through their own waste bins, checking out discarded material, leftovers and outtakes from the “Crime Of The Century”-sessions. And this would become “Crisis? What Crisis? “. Actually there wasn’t even enough material to fill a complete album, so Rick Davis and Roger Hodgson were forced to write two new songs on the spot.
The group members have never talked nicely about the album. It was a nightmare to record, and lacked both the cohesion and quality songs that made “Crime Of The Century” such an impressive work. But the sleeve is striking, it’s both funny and scary, carrying a message that is just as valid today as it was 40 years ago.
To be fair, the music has stood the test of time surprisingly well. Their keyboard-driven prog light with its airy coat of pop has an immediate appeal to it, boosted even more by the way the two singers’ very different voices are blended; Davis scruffy and worn, Hodgson bright, almost childish.
The album is very playable on lazy summer mornings. I have a weak spot for “A Soapbox Opera”. Neither of the single releases - “Lady” and “Ain’t Nobody But Me” (one of the two new songs) - were hits. But the album sold well enough, and quite a few of the tracks became fan favourites when performed live.
Hodgson still plays songs from the album, and they lose none of their appeal when performed solo, just him and his electric piano. Check on YouTube.
Supertramp never tried to make a new “Crime Of The Century”. They were going somewhere else, working their way step by step towards the airy and elegant “Breakfast In America”. To get there they had to shake off some of their more pretentious habits. Probably not to Rick Davies’ liking as the band relapsed after Hodgson left them in 1983. Davis now being the group’s sole writer, took them on a trip to nowhere called “Brother Where You Bound”.
That album was premiered for the press in May 1985 on a chartered train ride from Paris to Venice with the Orient Express. I was there too. Rick Davis neither liked me nor my Norwegian colleague. We laughed too much, and kept hiding in the bar every time they tried to play the record. Don’t think they ever got through a single track as they had problems with the electricity.
In Venice, introducing the pretentious and extremely tedious 30 minute video made to accompany the album, Davis uttered these angry words:
- And to the Norwegian journalists I just want to say: This is not a comedy!
And it wasn’t.
Released: September 14, 1975
Produced by: Ken Scott and Supertramp.
Contents: Easy Does It/Sister Moonshine/Ain’t Nobody But Me/A Soapbox Opera/Another Man’s Woman/Lady/Poor Boy/Just a Normal Day/The Meaning/Two of Us
Personnel:
Rick Davies – vocals, keyboards
John Anthony Helliwell – wind instruments, vocals
Roger Hodgson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
Bob C. Benberg – drums, percussion
Dougie Thomson – bass


Update October 10, 2015

Under the spell of Zelda Plum

Juicy Lucy, Juicy Lucy (Vertigo)

Record sleeves were important back in the old days when you were 17, browsing through the albums at the local second-hand store, the miserable amount of cash you could raise burning in your pocket. Some of the city’s aging music journalists who despised progressive and alternative rock must have been regular customers, as you could come across brand new records that had just been reviewed in recent editions of New Musical Express and Melody Maker. The albums had hardly been played, you could strike gold in there.
I was a sucker for cool experimental labels like Harvest, Island, Deram, Charisma and - yes, perhaps the coolest of them all - Vertigo. The early releases on these labels took you on a trip into the mystic. And the music was always wrapped in those incredible gatefold sleeves.
Vertigo was introduced to the world in the autumn of 1969. “Juicy Lucy” was their second release, and you simply couldn’t ignore it. Not with that sleeve. It probably should have been X-rated. Both the Dutch and the US versions came in a moderated sleeve design, choosing a less explicit version of burlesque dancer Zelda Plum and her assorted fruits.
Luckily it was the UK edition that ended up in my local second-hand shop in Oslo, Norway. And there she lay, Zelda Plum, the ageing dancer in the nude, slightly covered up in fruits, the juices running down her thighs, eyeing me under dark and heavy and very English makeup, with a playful expression on her face. She triggered fantasies of submission and abuse. I was 17 and completely lost.
Juicy Lucy. What a band name, what a sleeve! I just had to own it. I shall not dwell too much on the sleeve’s different areas of utilisation, it’s after all the music that counts. And luckily it was just as dirty and hard-hitting as I had hoped for. The original British blues boom was fading by 1969, being replaced by a harder version, still in transition on its way towards what we now would call heavy rock, the blues fingerprints still highly visible (as can be heard on the first two Zeppelin-albums, both released in 1969), and it was getting quite common for groups to take detours down the side roads to what we now call Americana.
The British electric blues was opening up, some got tougher, some got rootsier, they didn’t quite know where they were going. That’s what makes the best recordings from this period so fascinating.
Juicy Lucy’s debut album was a remarkable fresh statement then, and still is. It sounds very American, gritty, traces of the Deep South, some blistering guitar performances, the kind that makes your fingers bleed. The ultimate teaser is the album’s hit single, their version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, three absolutely sensational minutes where the combination of Glenn Ross Campbell’s breakneck slide and Ray Owens bloodcurdling grunt of a voice (Captain Beefheart meets Screamin ‘Jay Hawkins) delivers savagery times ten.
Californian Campbell already was a cult hero at the time as he had led the highly influential psychedelic rock band The Misunderstood, that moved to London in 1966 and had John Peel as their manager. The Misunderstood unfortunately lived up to their name when it came to commercial success and eventually disbanded. Campbell then started Juicy Lucy and immediately became their center-point on stage, thanks to his wild gymnastics on the lap steel guitar. Search for “Who Do You Love” on YouTube, and you will see what I mean.
Of the album’s nine songs, six were written by the band members while the three covers were picked from Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Miles. It’s Americana, sometimes with a brutal punch and a snake bite to it, other times looser, even laidback as in the mandolin-tinged and swampy “Just On Time” (check out that wonderful, slow swaying horn solo). The album’s longest track, “Are You Satisfied?”, is also the quietest, a vibrant, slow simmering mantra, half unplugged, that puts you into a trance-like condition, ready for Zelda Plum.
The band members play multiple instruments, so Campbell’s signature slide doesn’t own the soundscape alone (he doubles on mandolin and marimbas), their keyboard player also blows the saxophone and they got another guitar player too. But they stay close to the roots at all times, the dust roads and the swamps of the Mississippi Delta, masterly re-created and preserved in a recording studio in London in 1969.
A phenomenal debut album. The sequel “Lie Back And Enjoy It”, is not inferior, but Juicy Lucy was a completely different band by then. People left and were replaced fast as lightning early in 1970.
Released: October 1, 1969
Produced by: Gerry Bron and Nigel Thomas.
Contents: “Mississippi Woman” (Juicy Lucy, Ray Owen)/”Who Do You Love?” (Bo Diddley)/”She’s Mine” (Ellis, Thomas)/”She’s Yours” (Ellis, Thomas)/”Just One Time” (Hubbard, Campbell)/”Chicago North-Western” (Hubbard, Campbell)/ “Train” (Buddy Miles, Rich)/”Nadine” (Chuck Berry)/”Are You Satisfied?” (Dobson, Mercer, Thomas)
Personnel:
Ray Owen - lead vocals
Chris Mercer - saxophone, organ, piano
Neil Hubbard - electric and acoustic guitars
Glenn Ross Campbell - steel guitar, backing vocals, mandolin, marimba
Keith Ellis - bass, backing vocals
Pete Dobson - drums, percussion


Update October 3, 2015

The fine line between love and disgust

Randy Newman, Good Old Boys (Reprise)

Randy Newman’s cleverly seductive satire and deadly accurate irony has never, before or after, been given better working conditions than in the sweet sounding songs on “Good Old Boys.”
The music takes you down memory lane, strolling along the dusty roads of the Deep South with a soft smile on its face, led by Newman’s playful ragtime syncopations on the piano. The mood is nostalgic, recreating times and places when there was no rush and a man’s value was measured by the colour of his skin, his bank account and his connections within the all white political system. “N***er” was just a word, as common in everyday life as “lynching”. Idyllic times. For some.
Randy enters the characters he portrays (with a slight “southern drawl”), poor whites and governors alike, and turns them into likeable, sympathetic individuals, until the views they so casually share with the listener start sinking in. The effect is absolutely terrifying. The marvellous opening track “Rednecks” sets the mood. It’s the most scary song you’ll ever love.
What impresses me even more is how Newman actually manages to communicate both a knowledge of and respect for the traditions and values of The South that has nothing to do with segregation. These are proud people in pain, he seems to be saying. Time has left them behind, their world is dying, only their crippled views on life survive. Newman walks a fine line between love and disgust, and it is some achievement that he succeeds.
As Randy’s journey through the mentality, the prejudices and the ideas of the white “Deep South” is so lovingly formulated and pleasantly conveyed, it appears even more vivid and real. I know of no other album that is as funny and scary simultaneously.
“Good Old Boys” doesn’t leave the listener back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. With an acidic twinkle in its eye it takes us all the way to the contemporary United States of 1974, in the wake of the downfall of President Nixon, the nation still shaken and in shame.
There are many beautiful moments here, but Newman wouldn’t be Newman if he didn’t inject them with hints of discomfort. As in the two drunkard’s laments “Marie” and “Guilty”, the latter includes puny doses of self-pity as well. Sweet songs with a dark twist to them.
The name list of musicians participating on this record is highly impressive: Ry Cooder, Eagles, Jim Keltner, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark and Al Perkins to name a few. But they are used with caution, the arrangements are stripped down and very organic.
“Good Old Boys” was definitely one of the albums of the year in 1974, and it has proven to be so durable that it still shines, equally valid, equally frightening, equally funny and, dear I say it, equally beautiful. Thank you Randy!
Released: September 10, 1974
Produced by: Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman
(All songs written and composed by Randy Newman except where noted)
Contents: Rednecks/Birmingham/Marie/Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)/Guilty/Louisiana 1927/Every Man a King (Huey P. Long, Castro Carazo)/Kingfish/Naked Man/Wedding in Cherokee County/Back on My Feet Again/Rollin’
Personnel:
Randy Newman - arranger, conductor, acoustic and electric piano, synthesizer, vocals
Ry Cooder - bottleneck guitar on “Back on My Feet Again”
John Platania - electric guitar
Ron Elliott - acoustic guitar
Dennis Budimir - acoustic guitar
Al Perkins - pedal steel guitar
Russ Titelman - bass
Willie Weeks - bass
Red Callender - bass
Jim Keltner - drums
Andy Newmark - drums
Bobbye Hall Porter - percussion
Milt Holland - percussion
Glenn Frey - background vocals
Don Henley - background vocals
Bernie Leadon - background vocals

 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Betrayal and redemption

No crisis after all

Under the spell of Zelda Plum

The fine line between love and disgust