Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

1978 was a monumental year in my life, so much so that I’ve littered this blog with posts about it. (Click here for those.) For the uninitiated: I was 12 when the year dawned, and 13 when it faded to black; and graduated from listening to the oldies to the era’s new music during those 12 months.

This day was a Saturday, the first of the traditional start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend. Which meant I slept later than usual, watched Saturday morning TV while reading the morning newspaper, and…who knows? We likely visited the grandparents, or great-aunts and -uncles. Temperatures were in the 60s for the day. 

In the wider world: As with most of the decade, life could have been better: The unemployment rate was a notch below 6 percent, and inflation clocked in at 7 percent. Even if you had a job, in other words, it was difficult to get ahead. Beyond those pocketbook issues, at the end of the prior month, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was discontinued, with the units being integrated into the Army proper. And, though we didn’t know it at the time, the first Unabomber attack took place just two days earlier.

Here’s an entire newscast, complete with commercials, for this day from WJKW in Cleveland:

When it came to popular films and music, America had been gripped by a “Night Fever” for much of the winter and spring thanks to Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees. But “Disco Inferno” was slowly subsiding. Among the movies in the theaters this weekend: FM; I Wanna Hold Your Hand; The End; The Buddy Holly Story; and Thank God It’s Friday. And among the songs on the radio…

Yep, you guessed it. Here’s today’s Top 5: May 27, 1978 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” The single concludes its two-week run at the top of the charts. I featured the music video for it a few weeks back, so here’s something a tad different: the 1978 UK DJ promo 45. I know some folks hear the song as lightweight, but I hear it as great: A commercial for the London Town album that featured the song spurred me to begin investigating new music, after all.

2) Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” The oeuvres of these artists are blind spots for me, and unlike the other songs in this week’s chart, I have no memory of this specific song, which clocks in at No. 2. According to Wikipedia, Mathis is the third best-selling artist of the 20th century, behind only the Beatles and Frank Sinatra; and Williams, who has a four-octave range, would go on to win a Grammy in 1987.

3) John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – “You’re the One That I Want.” The week’s No. 3 single is another song that I never grow tired of. Grease wouldn’t open for a few weeks, so it’s success, thus far, was due to its own charms.

4) Andy Gibb – “Shadow Dancing.” To my ears, the No. 4 sounds a lot like Andy’s older brothers, the Bee Gees. But that’s a conclusion I’ve come to after only a few cursory listens.

5) Roberta Flack & Donnie Hathaway – “The Closer I Get to You.” Rounding out the Top 5 is this sweet love song.

And two bonuses…

6) The O’Jays – “Used Ta Be My Girl.” One of the week’s power plays is this propulsive ode about a lost love, which jumps from No. 54 to 44.

7) Steve Martin – “King Tut.” Debuting on the charts is this catchy novelty tune, which still makes me laugh. Here he is on Saturday Night Live performing it…

(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.)

It’s easy to dismiss Hank Williams Jr. as a reactionary clown due to the conservative canards he long ago embraced, and a wide swath of America has done just that. At best, in their eyes, he’s the cartoonish buffoon who sings the Monday Night Football theme. At worst, they don’t think of him at all. Hank Who?

Which is a shame. From the landmark Hank Williams Jr. & Friends LP in 1975, when he embraced the outlaw ethos, through his last truly great album, Lone Wolf in 1990, he released a string of solid-to-stellar studio albums along with a truly stupendous live set, 1987’s Hank Live, and not one, not two, but three best-of collections. He was, as he brags in the live version of “My Name Is Bocephus,” the “platinum boy that does the rock ’n’ roll-country-blues.”

Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, released in November 1979, rates among his greatest works. Remember that the Iranian Revolution early in the year caused the price of oil to soar, which upended the economy as a whole. Auto sales plummeted, and inflation – which had been a scourge on working people for most of the decade – ratcheted past 10 percent. It was, for many, a bleak time.

As a result, as a whole, the album’s mostly downbeat. The title tune, for instance, tells of a life on the road, and the guilt that comes from a booze-fueled attempt to remedy loneliness. Like many a country song, in other words, it’s about cheating. The woozy rhythm accentuates the lyrics, which find the narrator begging for certain jukebox standards – including one by Hank Sr. – not to be played, lest he be reminded of his failing.

“Tired of Being Johnny B. Good,” the second track, reflects the era’s anger to a T. (In some ways, to share an observation from my wife, it’s a Tea Party anthem from a pre-Tea Party time. I’d only say that the lyrics are actually democratic – note the lower-case “d.”)

“Outlaw Women”…well, what can be said about this other than it’s a classic? Here’s a great version from 2004, with Hank joined by Gretchen Wilson.

Another high point: Hank’s bluesy take on the Allman Brothers’ “Come and Go Blues.”

The album ends with Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings joining forces for “The Conversation,” in which they trade stories about Hank’s famous dad. Here’s the two of them from sometimes in the early ‘80s…

Say what you will about Hank’s politics (which are pretty much diametrically opposite of mine), but don’t let his outspoken stances get in the way of what is a damn good set of songs. Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound is one of the touchstone albums in my life, in fact. It’s outlaw country at its best.

Side One:

  1. Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound
  2. Tired of Being Johnny B. Good
  3. Outlaw Women
  4. (I Don’t Have) Anymore Love Songs
  5. White Lightnin’

Side Two:

  1. Women I’ve Never Had
  2. O.D.’d in Denver
  3. Come and Go Blues
  4. Old Nashville Cowboy
  5. The Conversation

April 30, 1977: Even at my young age – a mere 11 years and 10 months – I knew enough to note the momentous event of the date in my rarely used desk diary: legendary Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF championship to the colorful and flamboyant Superstar Billy Graham! 

Over the prior two years – less, actually – I’d become a big fan of the “sport.” When we returned from Saudi Arabia in the summer of ’75, after a near 5-year spell, I was a few months shy of 10. I was totally out of the loop on current American everything. I didn’t know anything about baseball, basketball, football or hockey, color TV, TV shows, popular music, or anything else. Oh, I knew about Mighty Mouse – the only Saudi TV station played those cartoons, along with a variety of other American and British shows, most of which were older than I was. Returning to the States was a bit like getting tossed into the deep end of the culture pool – all I could do was flail around and pray not to drown. One thing that I grabbed hold of: pro wrestling. The colorful characters, the drama and violence grabbed hold of my young imagination. I watched the syndicated shows that aired every weekend, bought and read the wrestling magazines, and slowly, ever-so-slowly, came to realize that “sport” wasn’t totally on the up-and-up.

I thought of that earlier this month when it was announced that Bruno had passed away at the age of 82. He was a good man, a great champion – but not my favorite wrestler. That was…yep, you guessed it: the Superstar! The excitement of learning he had won the coveted championship belt is evident in my scrawl, I think.

Beyond pro ‘rassling, as I now call it, I was often glued to the TV…though pop music was gradually infiltrating my world. The previous week, I picked up the Monkees’ Greatest Hits; and, by year’s end, I’d also own The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits, the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, and a few Elvis Presley LPs. But, back to TV: I watched almost everything ABC, including the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on Sunday, The Captain & Tennille Show every Monday night, and the Brady Bunch Variety Hour when it aired in the same slot; Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Eight Is Enough on Tuesdays; Welcome Back, Kotter on Thursdays; and Donny & Marie every Friday.

I’ve written a fair bit about this year before, so won’t dredge up the same stats here. (And now that I’ve looked them over, there is some overlap in the chart hits…but rest assured that the renditions featured here are different than the ones there, wherever there may be.) To revisit those past entries, along with everything else 1977-related I’ve written, go here. 

And, with that out of the way, onward to today’s Top 5: April 30th, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Glen Campbell – “Southern Nights.” The No. 1 single in the land this week was this joyous tune from the Rhinestone Cowboy. Written by the legendary Allen Toussaint, it conjures the magic of childhood memories, star-lit nights and family. 

2) Eagles – “Hotel California.” From Glen’s moony optimism to the Eagles’ bitter cynicism in one slot…how’s that for summing up the ‘70s? “You can check out anytime you like/but you can never leave.”

3) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Say what you will about disco, but know this: There were plenty of great – and I do mean great – singles that came out of the genre. This is one of them. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert, the song was originally recorded by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes in 1975, and hit No. 3 on the disco charts. This version? It went to No. 1 on the disco and pop charts – though, this week, it dropped from that top spot to No. 3.

4) Leo Sayer – “When I Need You.” Rising to No. 4 from No. 9 is this song from bushy-haired Leo Sayer, of whom I know little. In fact, I’ve never knowingly heard any Sayer recording until this very moment, while writing this sentence. (And now that I have, I don’t feel compelled to seek out his other hits.) Anyway, this song was written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager, and was first released by Hammond in 1976; and was later covered by Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and Luther Vandross, among others. 

5) Natalie Cole – “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.” Rising to No. 5 from No. 6 is this treatise on love (or should I say L-O-V-E?), which was written and produced by Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. True story: in 1990 or early ’91, prior to her Unforgettable comeback, Diane and I, and some friends, bought tickets to see Ray Charles with Natalie Cole at the now-defunct Valley Forge Music Fair. Ray was supposed to be the headliner, but due to a hiccup in her travel plans, he went on first…which meant the friends, who purposely arrived late to miss Ms. Cole’s set, wound up missing Ray! (Worse: She screeched most of the night, and the venue slowly emptied out as she sang. It was sad.)

And two bonuses…

6) Yvonne Elliman – “Hello Stranger.” Rising to No. 24 from 33 is Yvonne’s smoky rendition of the classic Barbara Lewis hit.

7) Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – “(Theme From) Charlie’s Angels.” Jumping from No. 51 to 45 is this, one of the week’s “power plays,” as kitsch a hit as I’ve ever heard – without the opening montage of Angels, it just doesn’t pack much of a punch. (And, no, I didn’t miss Charlie’s Angels on the list of ABC shows I watched above – I didn’t start watching until Season 2.)

In November 1972, Neil Young was gearing to go on the road for what should have been a celebratory tour – Harvest, his studio set from February, had hit No. 1 on the album charts and “Heart of Gold,” its first single, went to No. 1, as well. And it wasn’t just any tour, but his first non-CSNY headlining arena tour.

The band he built to support him included Ben Keith, Jack Nitzche, Tim Drummond and Kenny Buttrey, and was to have also included Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who’d provided incendiary backing on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and the tours that preceded and followed that essential LP. “Backing” is a bit of a misnomer, however. At their zenith, their guitars intertwined to the point that they seemed and sounded almost as if they were one; and Whitten’s vocals provided a warm bed for Neil’s oft-reedy lead.

Danny was a junkie, however, and it quickly became apparent during rehearsals that he couldn’t keep up with the rest of the band. Neil sent him packing, reportedly giving him $50 and a plane ticket home. As Neil told Cameron Crowe in 1975, “He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. ‘It’s not happening, man. You’re not together enough.’ He just said, ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?’ And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he’d ODed. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible.”

As documented by the Time Fades Away album, and a myriad of unofficial recordings, the tour that followed wasn’t Neil’s best. Some performances were good if not great, of course, but by and large most shows were perfunctory, if not pallid, affairs. It wasn’t just that he was grieving a friend. He blamed himself for what happened: if he hadn’t fired him, maybe Whitten would’ve lived. That guilt – misplaced though it was – weighed on him. (The reality is that the only person responsible for Danny’s death was Danny.) Fast-forward to June 1973, when another cohort – CSNY roadie Bruce Berry – died from a heroin overdose.

A few months later, Neil gathered a group of like-minded souls, aka the Santa Monica Flyers (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina), at Studio Instrument Rentals, aka SIR, which was owned by Bruce’s brother Ken, and set out to eulogize his late friends while simultaneously exorcising his grief and guilt. Neil recalled in the Times-Contrarian, “We had nine songs and played them twice a night for a long time until we thought we had them.” Those tracks formed the heart of what became Neil’s most intense album, Tonight’s the Night, which was released in 1975. As he also told Crowe, “If you’re gonna put a record on at 11:00 in the morning, don’t put on Tonight’s the Night. Put on the Doobie Brothers.”

Which leads to ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live. Neil explains in the liner notes that “We had finished recording and decided to celebrate with a gig at a new club opening on the Sunset Strip, the ROXY. We went there and recorded for a few nights, opening the ROXY. We really knew the Tonight’s the Night songs after playing them for a month, so we just played them again, the album, top to bottom, two sets a night for a few days. We had a great time.” 

ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live isn’t as intense as the Tonight’s the Night acetate or the 1975 album that many fans, including me, know like the back of our hands. It’s still a wake, still celebratory and sad at once, and still loose – but not quite as loose. (The tequila likely wasn’t flowing as freely.) “The faster you drink, the better we play,” quips someone – Nils Lofgren, maybe? – just prior to the band introductions, but it’s a misdirection. The band reaches for and hits every note and chord it’s supposed to, and does so with practiced precision.

One example: The opening “Tonight’s the Night.”

Another: “Speakin’ Out,” which features a great guitar solo from Nils Logren. The song is about seeking solace in the arms of another, and in a new life: “I’ve been a searcher/I’ve been a fool/But I’ve been a long time coming to you/I’m hoping for your love to carry me through/You’re holding my baby and I’m holding you/and it’s alright.”

“Albuquerque” is another highlight. The performance is less woozy and more meticulous than the TTN rendition, but no less powerful. Neil explains in the intro that he wrote it while on the Time Fades Away tour: “I’ve been flyin’/down the road/and I’ve been starvin’ to be alone/and independent from the scene/I’ve known.”

If you listened to any of those (official) YouTube clips, you’ll have heard the stellar audio of the recording. As someone who whiled away more time than I care to recall listening to umpteenth-generation tapes and audience recordings of shows from the Tonight’s the Night tour (including some that this set is drawn from) – wow. It’s astonishing how crystal clear everything is.

The set’s power also comes from Neil and the Santa Monica Flyers performing for an audience. At SIR, in a sense, they turned some songs into seances. But at the ROXY, they’re no longer trying to contact the dead. Instead, they’re doing what Neil sings about in “Speakin’ Out” – connecting with others. Sharing one’s grief helps to lessen one’s grief, oddly.

Anyway, if you’re a hardcore Neil fan, ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live is a no-brainer. If you’re a casual fan who maybe found the boozy atmospherics of the Tonight’s the Night album a tad off-putting…give this one a go on Apple Music or Spotify, or even YouTube. It’s not as boozy, or woozy. It’s less a wake, now that I think about it, and more an acceptance of life in all its many facets – the good, the bad, and the in-betweens.