Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

Released in June 1979, Back to the Egg was lambasted by rock critics the world over. In Rolling Stone, for instance, well-respected scribe Timothy White called it “[a] veritable slide show of dead-end flights of fancy and yesterday’s dross” and claimed it “doesn’t contain one cut that’s the least bit fleshed out or brought to any logical conclusion.” Sales-wise, it was something of a disappointment, too. Although it did go platinum in the U.S. and gold in the U.K., it didn’t sell anywhere near as well as anticipated.

Yet it remains a favorite of many Wings connoisseurs, myself included, due to the spiky sound Paul McCartney often found with the latest (and last) iteration of his band, which now included guitarist Laurence Juber and drummer Steve Holley. Co-produced with Chris Thomas, whose credits included records by Chris Spedding, the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music and Badfinger, Back to the Egg features a mix of new wave, power pop and old-fashioned rock, with lots of Macca’s patented whimsy sprinkled throughout.

But, first, let me set the stage: I joined the Wings Fun Club at some point in early 1979, and not long thereafter received the first all-color edition of its Club Sandwich newsletter, which alerted me that Paul and Wings were recording a new album. After learning that, I stopped in the Hatboro Music Shop just about every day to see if it was out…until the proprietor (and future Hatboro mayor) Joe Celano finally explained to me that new releases only came out on Tuesdays. By the time of its release, June 8th, I was bouncing off the walls as only 13-year-old me could.

The Club Sandwich trumpeting Back to the Egg, which is pictured up top, arrived a week or two before the album itself was released, though I could be wrong. It went in-depth into the recording, with Laurence delving into the guitar side of the songs and this article expanding upon the overall process:

I immediately heard it as an approximation of the radio experience – and still do, though that wasn’t McCartney’s intent. Listening to it is akin to twisting the radio dial in search of that sound, whatever that sound may be, and coming across an array of infectious tunes. There was rock, pop, new wave, disco-light and even some psychedelia, plus a true Beatles-like “happening”: a who’s who of rock’s (primarily) old guard in an orchestral-like setting for the “Rockestra Theme” and “So Glad to See You Here.”

Replicating the radio experience wasn’t the concept, however. It was meant to convey the experiences of a band on the road, but that concept cracks shortly after Back to the Egg start begins. The “Reception” is said to be the band listening to the radio on the way to a venue; “Getting Closer” signals, uh, getting closer to the venue; and “We’re Open Tonight” – the working title for the album – is the arrival.

“Spin It On,” thus, is the concert’s start.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch. The only thing that connects the songs to the concept are the titles, as – aside from “We’re Open Tonight” – the lyrics are about matters of the heart; and the concept further deflates by the time the LP is flipped from Side A to Side B, which includes not one, but two medleys. In a metaphoric sense, then, the band’s van got stuck in a ditch before it reached the venue. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fine album. A good album. I loved it as a kid and still like it, now, though I think it would have worked better if they’d ironed out the kinks and embraced an “Around the Dial” theme instead of a band on the run from town to town.

The guitar-driven “Getting Closer” features a catchy chorus, but is lyrically slight. The concise “Spin It On,” on the other hand, is one of McCartney’s top rockers – as are the Grammy Award-winning “Rockestra Theme” and “So Glad to See You Here.” And “Old Siam Sir” is a psychedelic delight with some tasty guitar licks. One can almost smell the smoke and see the black light swirling from the speakers.

“To You” is another tasty little rocker. And one of the medleys, “Winter Rose/Love Awake,” tugs at the heart in its first half and then flowers into bloom in the second in an easy, engaging manner. (In retrospect, they should have been separate tracks.)

Denny Laine’s “Again and Again and Again” is another highlight. 

In some respects, at least to my ears, Back to the Egg uses the same basic template Linda Ronstadt used for her 1980 Mad Love album – an old-guard artist embracing the new wave…though not really. At the end of the day, it’s McCartney and cohorts cranking out some good tunes. Is it his or their best? No. But it’s a fun set, nonetheless, and features one of the coolest LP covers of all time.

I should add that it will be a no-brainer purchase if or when it’s released in deluxe form. (It was said to be slated for the end of 2019, but put on hold for reasons unknown.) The band filmed umpteen promotional videos, some of which are on YouTube, which would make for a cool bonus DVD, especially if the TV special that arose from the “Rockestra” sessions is included. Also, soon after the album’s release, the band hit the road for a U.K. tour that culminated with their appearance at the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea on December 29th, 1979. Although this version of Wings didn’t quite reach the heights of the Wings Over the World-era band, the shows were solid. (Various bootlegs and the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea LP are proof of that.) A concert could be included, in other words.

The Back to the Egg track listing:

Released on March 31st, 1978, Wings’ London Town album wasn’t well received by the rock press at the time. Rolling Stone’s Janet Maslin described it as “so lighthearted that the album’s feeling of familial strength and affection is virtually the only thing that binds it to earth” in her review, for example, and – if my memory’s correct – Dave Marsh slammed it in the (blue) Rolling Stone Record Guide a few years later.

Don’t believe the disses.

While not a five-star album from Paul McCartney and pals, the 14-song set features an enjoyable mix of soft rock, pop and light psychedelia. The keyboard-driven title track, which opens the album, is a good example, with its whimsical lyrics painting a colorful scene: “Walking down the sidewalk on a purple afternoon/I was accosted by a barker playing a simple tune upon his flute/Toot, toot, toot, toot/Silver rain was falling down upon the dirty ground of London town…” 

Musically, it eschews the new strains of rock bubbling up from the streets (aka punk and new wave), with the brief guitar break at 3:25 instead conjuring the old-school vibe of Abbey Road instead of, say, “Anarchy in the U.K.” It’s an airy delight. The second track, “Cafe on the Left Bank,” continues the timeless sound; in some respects, it echoes Paul’s work on Rubber Soul and Revolver.

Just as McCartney sidesteps punk and new wave, the disco beats then heating up the pop charts are nowhere to be heard on the album. Instead, we’re treated to “I’m Carrying,” one of McCartney’s most unheralded love songs: 

I should back up for a second here to explain the album’s background: It began life in early 1977 when Wings regrouped in the studio after their mega-successful 1975-76 world tour. Reportedly, the plan was to record a new album and return to the road – but Linda’s unexpected pregnancy (with son James) caused the McCartneys to change their mind about touring again anytime soon. Instead, in the spring, they headed to the Virgin Islands, where they rented a few yachts, one of which they turned into a recording studio, and enjoyed a working holiday. (In a sense, you could say it’s actual “yacht rock.”) As Paul explained to Melody Maker that same year, “There was a nice free feeling. We’d swim in the day and record at night.”

It’s understandable, then, that the laidback recording sessions led to a laidback sound; and, as if he needed it, the notion of being a dad again likely buoyed Paul’s natural optimism, which is on full display in the album’s lead single, “With a Little Luck.”

The single fades out a minute-and-a-half earlier than the album version, however, and the coda on the album version is quite cool. (As I wrote long ago, this song is what led 12-year-old me to become a McCartney fan. First I bought the single, then the album. And when I heard the longer version, it blew my little mind.) How anyone can hear it and not be swept away by its unbridled hope is beyond me.

“I’ve Had Enough,” which closes Side 1, is an old-school rocker that could well have been written at any point in the preceding 15 years. Written and recorded during the yacht sessions, it protests everything from backseat drivers to the taxman: “I earn the money and you take it away/When I don’t know where you’re from/I should be worried but they say/It’ll pay for a bomb…”

Another of my favorites is “Deliver Your Children,” a driving folk-flavored number and one of five tracks written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine. In this instance, it was a song that Denny had been working on since the Venus & Mars sessions; Paul helped finish it.

“Girlfriend,” which McCartney wrote for Michael Jackson to record, is another highlight. (McCartney recorded it first, obviously, with MJ getting to it in 1979 on his Off the Wall album.)

Another track I enjoy, though some might not, is the closing “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose,” a sprawling, eccentric rocker in the mode of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”; it’s also a broad hint of what’s to come on McCartney II. 

The bulk of the songs feature the classic Wings Mach II lineup: Paul, Linda, Denny, Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English, although guitarist McCulloch and drummer English flew the coop midway through the sessions – McCulloch to the reformed Small Faces and the American-born English back to the States, as he’d grown homesick.

On the charts, the album didn’t do as well as expected (No. 2 in the U.S., though it did go platinum, and No. 4 in the U.K.), which set the stage for the following year’s Back to the Egg. But make no mistake: Despite a few stumbles (“Children Children” and “Famous Groupies”), it’s a solid set that’s sure to please all but the most hard-hearted. 

R&B/soul singer Merry Clayton’s name may not be well known, but her vocal prowess is – as documented in the 20 Feet From Stardom film, that’s her singing with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” She was 20 years old at the time of the recording, seven months pregnant and working on little sleep, as she was called into the recording studio in the middle of the night by an apologetic Jack Nitzsche, who was helping Mick and Keith Richards mix the song in L.A.; the Glimmer Twins realized it was lacking that something extra. Enter Merry, so named because she born on Christmas day. She arrived with her hair in curlers, did her thing and then left after three takes. (Sadly, she suffered a miscarriage upon returning home.)

She was far from a neophyte in the music business, as she explains in this 1986 L.A. Times article. Her first turn in a studio came in 1962, at age 14, when she sang with Bobby Darin on his swinging “Who Can I Count On? (When I Can’t Count on You),” which surfaced on his 1963 You’re the Reason I’m Living LP. She later joined the Raelettes, Ray Charles’ backup singers, and also provided backup vocals for everyone from Pearl Bailey to Neil Young.

It was “Gimme Shelter,” though, that opened the door to a recording contract with Lou Adler’s Ode label, and in 1970 her rendition of the song served as the title track for her solo debut, which also featured – among other highlights – tremendous renditions of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Van Morrison’s “Glad Tidings.” With a crack session band that included Billy Preston, Paul Humphrey, Joe Sample and David T. Walker, it’s a soulful delight, the kind of disc that demands repeated listens.

That the album failed to chart is one of the mysteries of life. It’s a great set. The history of popular music is littered with lost treasures, of course. But that’s the way the music business has worked since the dawn of time, with some albums and artists seemingly destined to be discovered by succeeding generations.

Released a year later, Clayton’s eponymous sophomore set equals the brilliance of Gimme Shelter and even, I think, surpasses it in spots. A soulful spin on Neil Young’s “Southern Man” opens the album to great effect. The lyrics take on an added poignancy and weight when sung by her.

Three songs penned by Ode labelmate Carole King, who also plays keyboards on the tracks, are additional highlights:

Her take on James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues,” titled “Steamroller,” is simply scintillating. 

And her rendition of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” may well be the best out there: 

There’s more. Far more. (As Diane just said of “Love Me or Let Me Be Lonely,” which was a hit for the Friends of Distinction a year earlier, “this is a great version.”) From top to bottom, this self-titled set from Merry Clayton is just a phenomenal, soulful set. Chart-wise, it did a little better than her debut, making it to No. 180 on the album charts and No. 36 on the R&B charts; and the 45 of “After All This Time” topped out at No. 71 on the pop charts and No. 36 on the R&B charts.

If you’re unfamiliar with Merry Clayton beyond “Gimme Shelter” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (another song she sings backup on), give this set – and her debut – a go.

Life has been upended and, even once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, likely won’t right itself for years. My hunch is that most folks will continue to congregate via the internet and that, by and large, many retail establishments will fade away faster than they would have, otherwise. In the U.S., after all, department stores and shopping malls have been on the verge of disappearing for a decade-plus. Why deal with the hustle and bustle (and possible COVID-19 exposure) when one can order what one wants and needs online? Malls, especially, are destined to become relics…

…which saddens me. I spent many hours hanging out at a mall and even more working in one.

Anyway, earlier this week, I pulled out my deluxe edition of Wings Over America and re-watched the Wings Over the World TV special for the first time since the massive set’s 2013 release. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Paul McCartney’s oeuvre, the 75-minute documentary – which first aired in the spring of 1979 (March 16th on CBS; April 8th on BBC 2) – chronicles his 1975-76 flight around the globe with his post-Beatles band, Wings. Unlike the 1980 Rockshow concert film, which presents a typical concert, it includes offstage footage alongside live clips, plus features a few archival delights, such as Wings Mach I performing “Lucille” at their first rehearsal in 1972.

I first saw it on that March night, a Friday, when it aired in the time slot reserved for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – 11:30PM. I was 13, an 8th grader and, on Fridays, often stayed up late to watch Carson and, sometimes, the music-centric Midnight Special, which followed at 1:00AM. 

Life was different then. In my suburban enclave, our main street was home to many mom-and-pop shops, though the only ones I frequented were the record store, bookstore and newsstand. The movie theater, owned by Budco, got my business, too. Twenty minutes away was a relatively small shopping mall – it housed many wonders, including a video arcade where I spent much time and many quarters, and a movie theater with not one, but two screens. 

Back on point: Wings Over the World fueled my Wings fandom, which was already over the top, and the disco-light “Goodnight Tonight” (backed with “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”) – released a few weeks later – further fanned those flames. 

But McCartney and his old band, the Beatles, weren’t the only objects of my musical passion. Olivia Newton-John, as I’ve noted before, was Totally Hot; and, honestly, I liked pretty much everything I heard in those days, and most of what I heard came courtesy of WIFI-92, a Top 40 station in Philadelphia that usually provided the soundtrack when my friends and I played baseball, football and basketball in the street. “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb was played often that spring, as was “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones.

In the wider world, the economy was – as it always was in the ‘70s – stumbling. As this census report summarizing the year notes, “The median money income of households in the United States was $16,530 in 1979, an increase of 10 percent over the 1978 median of $15,060. However, after adjusting for the 11.3-percent increase in prices between 1978 and 1979, the 1979 median was slightly lower than the 1978 median.” (For comparison’s sake, the median household income in 2019 was $63,688.) The NBC Nightly News on May 6th, 1979, features a report on the driving force behind the year’s rising costs: gasoline. (Or, to be precise, a lack thereof. Some states, including California and Pennsylvania, introduced even-odd rationing.) 

If you take the time to watch the Jessica Savitch-anchored broadcast in full, you’ll also see a report on a massive anti-nuclear energy rally in Washington, D.C., that was inspired by the previous month’s Three Mile Island meltdown, plus a profile of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). It’s a good reflection of the year. Another reflection can be found in these films: Manhattan, Love at First Bite, The China Syndrome and Norma Rae.

I didn’t see those films at the time, however. My $5/week allowance only went so far – 45s were a dollar and albums ranged from $4.99 to $7.99; add in the music magazines I bought and… it’s easy to understand why I listened to the radio.

With all that said: April 25th, 1979, was a Wednesday – a school day. The temperature was in the high 50s by the time I reached the bus stop in the morning and rose to 77 by the time I arrived home in the afternoon – perfect weather for outdoor fun. I’m sure we hit the streets to play a game of some kind while WIFI-92 blasted; and that night, after homework, I’m sure I turned on the TV to watch Eight Is Enough and Charlie’s Angels. 

I should add that, back then, a large chunk of music – aka disco – was little more than escapism set to a beat. As many of my entries on the 1970s document, the economy was rarely on a sure footing that decade – inflation and unemployment were part and parcel of the era. My hunch, as this pandemic fades, is that a similar silly fad will sweep the land. People need mindless diversion.

And, based on the charts from from Weekly Top 40, here’s today’s Top 5: There Was a Time… (aka April 25th, 1979):

1) Amii Stewart – “Knock on Wood.” Sad to say, this is the first version of “Knock on Wood” I heard – Eddie Floyd’s classic version would come in a few years. Anyway, this week, Amii’s disco-fied remake jumped from No. 3 to No. 1, a perch it would hold for all of one week. It’s disco, obviously, as disco was all the rage, and may well turn some stomaches as a result – but c’est la vie. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.   

2) Gloria Gaynor – “I Will Survive.” Holding steady at No. 2 is the stereotypical disco anthem, which was released on October 23, 1978. Within its first two years, according to its Wikipedia page, it sold 14 million copies.  

3) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” Rising from No. 8 to No. 3 is Blondie’s breakthrough hit, which was on its way to No. 1.  

4) Frank Mills – “Music Box Dancer.” In retrospect, what I loved about WIFI-92 – and other Top 40 stations – is that they pretty much played everything that made the pop charts. The only genre they cared about, in other words, was “hit.” This tune is a great example: Originally recorded in 1974, and used as the b-side to a newer song, it found its way onto the airwaves due to the program director at an Ottawa pop station who heard and liked it. It gained traction and, over the course of several months, landed on the Easy Listening charts in the U.S. before transitioning onto the pop landscape. This week, it clocks in at No. 4, where it’ll hold steady for another week, then lurch to No. 3 and fall fast to No. 15. 

5) The Doobie Brothers – “What a Fool Believes.” Written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the infectious slice of blue-eyed soul lands at No. 5 while on its way to No. 1. Loggins released a version of the song five months before the Doobies on his 1978 Nightwatch album, but his remained an album track.

And two bonuses…

Rising up to No. 6 is this silky-smooth love song by Peaches & Herb, which – as I said above – flashes me back to 1979 with every listen. Here’s some trivia, though, which surprised me when I first learned it a few years ago: There have been seven Peaches through the years, and the one singing here (Linda Greene) is the second.

Debuting this week on the charts (at No. 79): “Deeper Than the Night” by Olivia Newton-John, the second single from her Totally Hot album, which was released in November 1978; it would eventually top out in the charts at No. 11 in early June