Posts Tagged ‘1974’

As the early 1970s edged into the mid-1970s, the subdivision of America’s sonic landscape picked up speed. Perhaps no better evidence of it can be found than in the burgeoning numbers of singer-songwriters geared toward the college-and-older crowd. Theirs weren’t teen laments and/or rants; instead, they sang about love won and lost, plus life’s other hardships, with subjects ripped not from the headlines but their hearts. Much of the credit (or blame) can be directed to the success of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s eponymous 1969 album and releases from Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens and James Taylor.

In late 1972, Dan Fogelberg released his debut, Home Free. It sold poorly out of the gate for a variety of reasons, including a lack of promotion from his label, Columbia, but between then and the release of his sophomore set, Souvenirs, in October 1974, a lot had changed. For starters, there had been something of a groundswell of support for Home Free; a two-page piece in the Denver Post spurred sales in Colorado, for instance, and he’d found a receptive home in – of all places – Jackson, Miss., due to a local FM station. The same was true in other places across the U.S.; he may not have been a household name, but he was winning over listeners. As importantly: He formed his own record label, Full Moon Records, and inked a distribution deal with Epic. 

He’d gained two years more experience, as well. Home Free was musically strong despite (or perhaps because of) the overt CSN influence, but marred by Fogelberg’s frequently subpar lyrics. On Souvenirs, he continues with the same harmony-laden style as before, but ups his lyrical game. Produced by Joe Walsh, it features top-notch studio personnel. In addition to Walsh, it includes the N from CSN, Graham Nash, who provides backing vocals on two tracks; drummer extraordinaire Russ Kunkel; bassist Bryan Garofalo, who – among other credits – was once in a band with Kunkel; and Manassas refugees Paul Harris (piano), Joe Lala (percussion), Kenny Passarelli (bass) and Al Perkins (pedal steel) – Passarelli, of course, was also the bassist in Barnstorm, while the other three backed the band in the studio. The Eagles’ Don Henley also plays drums and sings harmony on one song and, alongside bandmate Glenn Frey, provides backing vocals on another track.

“Part of the Plan” opens the album to nice effect, with its mid-tempo gait complementing well-written lyrics: “I have these moments all steady and strong/I’m feeling so holy and humble/The next thing I know I’m all worried and weak/And I feel myself starting to crumble/The meanings get lost and the teachings get tossed/And you don’t know what you’re going to do next…”

The dose of homesickness that is “Illinois” continues with the same pleasant vibe – and, at least to my ears, echoes Stephen Stills’ similarly themed “Colorado.” Musically speaking, “Changing Horses,” “Better Change” and the title track continue in the same vein, but at a slower pace, with well-written lyrics complementing a soft-rock sound. These are songs for a Sunday morning or weeknight before bed that are sure not to disturb the neighbors; some may call the lyrics pretentious, and at times they are – but within the construct of the songs, they work. “Here is a poem that my lady sent down/Some morning while I was away/Wrote on the back of a leaf that she found/Somewhere around Monterey…”

“As the Raven Flies” conjures not CSN, but Crosby & Nash backed by the Mighty Jitters. It’s a stunner that, similar to Home Free’s “The River,” seems at odds with the other songs on the album. It’s my favorite of the 11 tracks.

“Morning Sky” is another delight. Sporting a distinct country feel, it foreshadows his classic (if oft-overlooked) High Country Snows LP while laying down a story of a relationship doomed by his restlessness. “(Someone’s Been) Telling You Stories,” which follows, sounds like an outtake from Stephen Stills’ double-LP Manassas set, but with lyrics far more defensive than anything Stills ever penned. (Fogelberg lays out several scenarios of infidelity before claiming they never happened.) Coupled together, they paint a portrait of a young man unsure of himself.

The set ends with “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler,” which conjures both CSN and the Eagles. It’s meant, I think, to be a grand statement to end the album. Musically, it builds bit by bit, expanding the soundscape into something far larger than the lyrics achieve: “There’s a light in the depths of your darkness/There’s a calm at the eye of every storm/There’s a light in the depths of your darkness/let it shine…oh, let it shine.” Lyrical shortcomings aside, however, it’s still a damn good song.

All in all, Souvenirs is a step up from Home Free. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Fogelberg gained traction with this set, which reached No. 17 on the charts, despite the sonic landscape being littered with so many other singer-songwriters and “soft rock” practitioners. It’s a solid outing with a handful of stellar moments. My suggestion: Some Sunday morning, give it a whirl.

The track list:

I’ve been holding off on writing about Neil Young’s Archives Vol. II, which was released on November 20, 2020, until I finished listening to each and every of its 10 discs. For those not in the know, it covers the fertile period from 11/15/1972 through 3/10/76, when he recorded such classic albums as Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach and Zuma – and held back a treasure trove of audio delights, including the since-released Tuscaloosa and Homegrown LPs. Also recorded during the timespan: the ill-fated Stills-Young collaboration Long May You Run. In total, 63 of the 131 tracks are previously unreleased, though the bulk of those are alternate or live versions of known songs. Twelve tunes are – theoretically speaking – brand-new to our ears. (I say “theoretically” because a few, such as the tender “Sweet Joni,” have been available on bootlegs for decades.)

The original deluxe edition, which was limited to 3000 copies, sold out in a matter of hours despite its mammoth price of $249.98. A second run is now scheduled, with a release date of next March, as is a “retail edition” with a reduced price of $159.98. (The Greedy Hand store is aptly named.) Me, I’ll likely buy the set as high-resolution downloads…and, until then, enjoy it via the Neil Young Archives website and iPhone app. 

The online Archives, I should mention, is a tremendous value for both new and old fans. For those of us who, years long ago, traded tapes and CDRs on the Rust List or Human Highway email lists and/or browsed the bins of indie record stores in hopes of stumbling upon bootleg LPs and CDs…well, it’s (almost) all there. Every official release. Live sets. The first Archives box set and, now, Archives II. Plus, next year, bootlegs of bootlegs are slated to appear. And, if that’s not enough, there’s tons of video – Neil’s 1984 appearance on Austin City Limits, when he was backed by the International Harvesters, is currently available to watch. (For those curious, it’s free for the holidays – and even when it’s not…it’s only $19.99/year.)

Best of all, one can access it on one’s smartphone (Apple or Android). Most days, I’m enmeshed at my desk for anywhere from a few to 10 hours. Monday through Friday, of course, it’s for my job, while on weekends it’s for this blog – or just goofing off. When the former, and in the mood, I listen via my iPhone, either plugging it into my desktop speakers or using Bluetooth headphones. Enjoying the music in high-resolution form isn’t to be had, yet it still does its job: It makes the day go faster.

Anyway, back to the Archives II: The many plaudits it has received are well deserved; here are a few such reviews: The Everybody’s Dummy blog; The Guardian newspaper; The LA Beat; Louder Than Sound; Rolling Stone; and Ultimate Classic Rock. Among the gems that I’ve returned to time and again: “Sweet Joni,” which I’ve loved since first hearing it on the Rock ’n’ Roll Cowboy bootleg compilation many years ago, and Joni, Neil and the Stray Gators ripping through “Raised on Robbery.” You can hear a snippet of it in this trailer:

There are plenty of other treasures to be had, of course. This Zuma-era take on “Powderfinger” is one:

Whether one should splurge on either the deluxe or retail edition is really a decision best left to each fan. One factor holding me back: the inclusion of the recent archival releases Tuscaloosa, ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live and Homegrown, all of which I purchased. If you didn’t pony up the cash for them, the set makes better sense. Another factor: In my life, accompanying booklets – no matter how well done – are usually looked at once, maybe twice, and then placed back inside the box never to be seen again. (If high-resolution downloads aren’t to be had, I rip CDs as FLAC or ALAC files and listen to those.) Too, I’d rather put that $160 or $250 to supporting up-and-coming artists, most of whom are facing financial hardship.  

Anyway, as Diane can attest, I often cycle through my musical favorites – I can go months or more without playing anything by a longtime favorite simply because…well, to borrow a phrase from Neil’s erstwhile pal David Crosby, “time is the final currency.” For the last good while, for example, it’s been mostly Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Marie Andrews and Zach Phillips – but, after enjoying the Archives II for the past few weeks, I feel like it’s time to saddle up the Horse and go for a ride…

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 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 an album so good that I’ve bought it multiple times – first on vinyl, then CD, then via the two-CD The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, which actually contains her four Capitol albums in full (plus a handful of bonus tracks), then on high-resolution (24/192) and now, for a second time, vinyl – though this last time it was a Christmas gift from my wife, so perhaps I shouldn’t count it.

In any event, it’s Linda’s greatest work.

Even that young (now old) curmudgeon Dave Marsh, in the (blue) Rolling Stone Record Guide, had nice things to say about it – after calling her “at best a competent craftsman, and at worst an empty-headed, soulless dispenser of music as sheer commodity,” that is. (Side note: I recall reading those words – and similar criticisms Marsh leveled against other artists I like[d] – in the early ‘80s and thinking he must have a hearing impairment. Because we certainly weren’t hearing the same thing.) To the point: Of this album, the first Ronstadt LP produced by Peter Asher, Marsh writes that her “voice was finally pitted against fine material and pushed to convey some of the spirit as well as the outline of the songs. ‘You’re No Good’ and ‘When Will I Be Loved’ actually are better than the Betty Everett and Everly Brothers originals, and the title song, written by Anna McGarrigle, represents Ronstadt’s first important discovery of a new writer.”

Now, I happen to like Linda’s earlier efforts. To my ears, they’re solid efforts accented by moments of sheer grace – her rendition of Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water,” from her eponymous third LP, is the best example. But Heart Like a Wheel is when she found her voice. She may not have written the songs, but she sure sounds – to me, at least – as if she’s lived them. The performances are letter-note perfect, passionate and dramatic, beginning with the album’s opening cut.

Other highlights include “It Doesn’t Matter Any More”…

…“Dark End of the Street”…

…the title cut…

…”When Will I Be Loved”…

…and “Willin’.”

And thus began a streak of LPs that helped define the 1970s, including such gems as Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams and Living in the USA. They all followed the pattern Asher and Ronstadt implemented so well on Heart – well-chosen oldies alongside songs from up-and-coming singer-songwriters. Each of those albums is worth picking up. But none sparkle as much as this gem.

Side 1:

  1. You’re No Good
  2. It Doesn’t Matter Any More
  3. Faithless Love
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. Heart Like a Wheel

Side 2:

  1. When Will I Be Loved
  2. Willin’
  3. I Can’t Help If I’m Still in Love With You
  4. Keep Me From Blowin’ Away
  5. You Can Close Your Eyes