Archive for the ‘1970s’ Category

In 2012, in its third attempt to add order to rock history, Rolling Stone ranked the Top 500 Albums of All Time. Jackson Browne’s 1974 LP Late for the Sky came in at 375. I rate it much higher in my own Top 10, where it’s tied somewhere near the top with 100-or-so other albums. His lyrics are elegiac, knowing and human, akin (somewhat) to Robert Lowell poems set to music.

At the time of its release, I was a 9-year-old lad living in an arid foreign land. Although stark memories of various pop and rock songs from that era – including Jackson’s “Doctor My Eyes” – ricochet around my brain, my first remembrance of Late for the Sky comes from four years later, when my family lived in suburban Philadelphia. By then, an apprenticeship with Top 40 WIFI-92 had led me to the heavier rock sounds found on WMMR and WYSP, as well as the adult-oriented WIOQ; it was on those stations that I first heard the title cut, “Fountain of Sorrow,” “For a Dancer” and “The Road and the Sky.”

In short order, I picked up a few of his albums – beginning, in 1978, with his self-titled debut, the album home of “Doctor My Eyes,” which I’d already picked up on 45. I could lie and say I found the albums the best thing since sliced bread (or just Bread), but as I noted in this 2012 review of his concert at the Academy of Music, “lyrically speaking, Browne deals with subjects – love, disillusionment and death among them – that were beyond me at that point in my life. Yet there was a song or two on each of those albums that led me to buy the next, regardless, and through the years – and decades – I came to treasure the heartfelt insight of the songs I once dismissed.”

I remember listening to Late for the Sky for the first time and not knowing quite what to make of it. As I said above, many of its songs were beyond my 14- or 15-year-old comprehension – and yet they struck a chord, nonetheless. The uptempo “Road and the Sky” was my initial favorite.

As the years progressed and adulthood settled in, however, I came to hear those other songs for what they were: Adroit treatises on this thing called life. It’s often melancholic and wistful, but never downright depressing.

The title cut captures the final embers of a relationship, when the realization that it’s over has set in: “You never knew what I loved in you/I don’t know what you loved in me/Maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be.” From what Jackson told Uncut magazine in 2010, prior to writing the song, the phrase “late for the sky” had been clanging around his head for quite some time. “I wrote that whole song in order to say that one phrase at the end of it.” In his speech welcoming Jackson to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, Bruce Springsteen listed it among the Jackson songs he’d wished he’d written.

In “Fountain of Sorrow,” finding a photograph of an old lover sends him spinning through the realities of the relationship that he didn’t recognize or understand at the time. “When you see through love’s illusions/There lies the danger/And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool/So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger/While the loneliness seems to spring from your life/Like a fountain from a pool.” In an interview with Mojo, he explained that “[i]t acknowledges that people are always looking for something in each other that they may not find, and says that not only is that OK, but what’s more enduring is the goodwill and acceptance of each others’ right to be on this search and to make your own choices, and that one’s longing or sorrow is part of your own search, not a byproduct of somebody else’s.” 

Another favorite song is “For a Dancer,” which he wrote for a friend who died in a fire. I’d wager that it’s been a song that’s sent off many souls in the decades since Jackson shared it with the world. It astounds me that it was written by a 26-year-old kid.  

Late for the Sky spent 24 weeks in the Billboard charts, topping off at No. 14. It went gold by the end of 1974, and achieved platinum status 15 years later. Sales alone, both short- and longterm, don’t signal an album’s greatness, of course, and such is the case here. No, these are songs that reflect the human experience like few others – for that reason alone, they should be a part of the soundtrack to everyone’s life.

The song list:

As I write, 40 years ago this day was a Friday. I was 14 years old and a ninth-grader at Keith Valley Middle School, the Hatboro-Horsham School District’s second of two middle schools. (At the time, the district’s elementary schools were K-5; Loller Middle School was 6-7; Keith Valley was 8-9; and the high school was 10-12; in the decades since, Loller closed; KV became 6-8; and the high school became 9-12.) 

In the Delaware Valley, you never knew what a December day might bring: One morning, such as this day, might be a brisk 40 degrees (Fahrenheit); and the next could dip into the 20s.

As was my custom, before leaving for school, I flipped through the Philadelphia Inquirer, which landed on our front porch every morn, while eating breakfast.

To me, the biggest news of the day was that the Philadelphia Flyers beat the L.A. Kings 9-4 and extended their unbeaten streak to 23 games. (The game was from the West Coast, so started late – too late to watch.) They’d continue with no losses for another month (12 games), racking up a record that still stands today.

I scanned the comics. Here’s this day’s Doonesbury, which is slightly prophetic: disco’s days were indeed numbered.

I’ve noted this before, but the late ‘70s were – economically speaking – tough. As the Inquirer reports on its front page, a jump in wholesale food prices showed that inflation had yet to be tamed:

For the year, inflation clocked in at 11.35 percent. That means, on average, items priced at $10 on January 1st, 1979, cost $11.35 by year’s end; but “on average” means just that. Some items skyrocketed higher while others remained about the same. If you look at fourth paragraph of the above article, you’ll see what I mean: “Energy prices rose by 2.5 percent in November, the smallest increase since February, but were still 62.7 percent higher than a year ago.”

Due to the increasing energy and food costs, something had to give: Discretionary spending. Except, that is, mine. My $5/week allowance still went far, especially when combined with Christmas and birthday cash. I hit the movies with regularity…

…and usually bought a 45 every week. LPs were a bigger expense, of course, so entered my collection at a slower pace. (That would change in a few years after I discovered a nearby used-record store.)

Speaking of albums, here are the Inky’s (uncredited) album reviews for the week:

Reading them now, I’m shocked: I had no idea I’d read a review of one of my essential albums, Hank Williams Jr.’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, this early in my musical development. (I discovered it a few years later.) 

For the TV aficionados, this was the night’s lineup:

And, with all of that context (and more) out of the way, here’s today’s Top 5: December 7th, 1979 (via the Top40Weekly.com charts that end Dec. 8th):

1) Styx – “Babe.” In some respects, Styx were little more than a white Commodores with Dennis DeYoung the Lionel Richie of the group. (Think about it.) This ballad tops the charts for the first of a two-week run at No. 1. 

2) Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” In her never-ending quest to stay hip, Babs pairs with the era’s Queen of the Top 40 for this kitschy curio, which drops to No. 2 after its own two-week stay atop the charts.

3) The Commodores – “Still.” In some respects, the Commodores were little more than a black Styx with Lionel Richie the Dennis DeYoung of the group. (Think about it.) This ballad holds steady at No. 3.

4) K.C. and the Sunshine Band – “Please Don’t Go.” Coming in at No. 4 for the second week in a row is this out-of-character K.C. tune, which sounds lifted from the Dennis DeYoung/Lionel Richie playbook. It would eventually land at No. 1.

5) Rupert Holmes – “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” – Rising a notch to No. 5 and on its way to No. 1, this pop tune – which was inspired by a personal ad Holmes read – has been derided as one of the worst songs of all time. (Rolling Stone named it the sixth worst song of the 1970s, for example.)

And a few bonuses…

Blondie – “Dreaming.” In its 11th week on the charts, this perfect slice of taut rock drops from No. 27 (its peak) to No. 31. 

The Buggles – “Video Killed the Radio Star.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this foreshadow of the future, which jumps from No. 44 to 41.

Days become weeks, months and then years, and soon enough the communal memories are relived on the Decades TV channel via its flagship “Through the Decades” program. For those who’ve never seen the show, it’s a magazine-styled documentary series that delves deep into what happened on a particular date across the decades. Sometimes, though, I wish it dove deeper into specific days or timeframes. 

Which leads to this date in 1979: September 8th. It was a Saturday and, in the Delaware Valley, a wondrous pre-fall day. As predicted by Jim O’Brien, the weather forecaster on Action News, temperatures remained in the low 70s through the afternoon, thanks in part to the sun hiding behind billowy clouds, and then dipped into the 60s that evening.

The main issue on everyone’s mind: the economy. The unemployment rate jumped from 5.7 percent in July to 6 in August, due in large part to layoffs in the manufacturing sector, and inflation was – yet again – on the move, clocking in at 15.4 percent.

Two months earlier, on July 15th, President Jimmy Carter had delivered his infamous “malaise” speech about the palpable unease in the land: “It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” Carter, it should be noted, was half-right: There was a crisis in confidence – but it wasn’t directed inward. Rather, the American people had lost confidence in him.

The median income of households in the U.S. was $16,530 (click here for a full report), which comes out to $58,418 in today’s money. (The average cost of a car, for those curious, was $6,848.)  

Anyway, Saturday being Saturday meant me heading up the street to play make-shift baseball, basketball, football or street hockey with friends, all to a soundtrack provided by the Top 40-oriented WIFI-92. That night, along with the mom of two of the friends, we took in one of the funniest movies I’d yet seen, The In-Laws.

I know the date not due to a photographic memory, but old-fashioned deduction: It’s the only Saturday in September that the movie was booked at the one-screen Hatboro Theater, which is where we saw it.

If I’d stayed home, my TV options would have been severely limited…

…so, odds are, I’d have hightailed it to my room and listened to music. And speaking of music, here’s today’s Top 5: September 8, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) The Knack – “My Sharona.” Topping the charts for the third week in a row is this tasty track, which I owned – and still own. In time, an anti-Knack backlash took hold, as the band was seen as calculating and somewhat crass. Whatever. 

2) Chic – “Good Times.” Within a year, Chic would find themselves cast aside due to the anti-disco backlash deejay Steve Dahl’s Disco Demolition Night ignited on July 12th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. But that doesn’t diminish their work. (Nile Rogers’ memoir, by the way, is well worth the read.)

3) Earth, Wind & Fire – “After the Love Has Gone.” The classic soul group channels their inner-Christopher Cross in this adult-contemporary classic.

4) Electric Light Orchestra – “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The final single from ELO’s 1978 Discovery album reached No. 3, their highest-charting 45 yet. (It would take an assist from Olivia Newton-John for them to hit No. 1, which they did the following year with the title tune to Xanadu.)

5) The Charlie Daniels Band – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Folks who heard this on country radio back in the day may not know, but the line that goes, “’Cause I told you once, you son of a gun, I’m the best that’s ever been” was dubbed in after the fact to accommodate radio airplay. As heard in the clip below, it originally went, “I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been.” 

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

By now, every fan should know the story behind Tonight’s the Night, but since some may not, here it is: Following the tragic deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, who both overdosed on heroin, Neil gathered a group of like-minded souls (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina) he dubbed the Santa Monica Flyers at Studio Instrument Rentals in Santa Monica, and set out to eulogize his late friends.

As Neil explained in a recent post to the Neil Young Archives, “We played starting at midnight, through the night, and drove home just before dawn to our hotel every night for a month. Visitors came by late at night. One of these nights we practically nailed the whole album, and that is what we wanted to do…keep it real. We drank tequila and smoked weed. Teenagers, don’t do what we did. We didn’t fix the mistakes. The whole album and why we made it and I wrote those songs was all a mistake. It won’t be repeated again. Some say it’s the best thing we ever did.”

In my estimation, Neil and band tapped into and channeled the collective unconscious, crafting a set that is guaranteed, no matter how often one hears it, to send shivers up the spine. Decades ago, for my old website, I wrote: Neil’s eulogy to fallen comrades Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, this album is his most intense—and one of his best, too. In addition to the harrowing title song, it includes the equally haunting “Borrowed Tune,” a song with a stolen melody that best sums Neil’s strengths even as it wallows in admitted “weaknesses” [i.e., drugs and booze]. (A+)

This is how much I treasure it: Through the years, I’ve purchased it on vinyl, cassette, CD, high-resolution FLAC, and the 2016 vinyl reissue. (Truth be told, however, nowadays I usually stream it – and all other Neil stuff – via his Archives site.) 

Here are a few highlights:

Although recorded in 1973, the album was held back until 1975. Reprise apparently didn’t think it would make a great followup to Time Fades Away. As I’ve noted in other posts, great art doesn’t necessarily equate with great sales, and this would be a good example of just that – although a critically acclaimed album, it never rose higher than No. 25 on the Billboard charts.

A purported acetate of the original Tonight’s the Night did surface years ago, but – honestly – this is the version to crank up. Play it if you got it. (And if you don’t have it, get it!)

Side I:

Side II: