Posts Tagged ‘1974’

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:

1974 was a bad year. Leave aside, for a moment, the horrors of Watergate and Richard Nixon, which culminated on August 9th with that wretched excuse of a president tendering his resignation. The economy was in tatters. At year’s start, unemployment clocked in at 5.10 percent – not bad, but it was on an upward trajectory to, by year’s end, 7.2 percent. Inflation, too, was spiraling upward. It began the year at 9.4 percent and surged to 11 percent by December.

There were many reasons for the turmoil; this 1974 end-of-year report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, aptly titled “The Limping Giant,” does a good job of explaining them.

In the months between Nixon’s resignation and this September 26th issue of Rolling Stone, new president Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon and offered a conditional amnesty to draft dodgers; and, in related news, Evel Knievel failed in his attempt to jump Snake River Canyon.

According to Weekly Top 40, the No. 1 song this week was Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”; and, according to Billboard (via Wikipedia), the No. 1 album was Stevie Wonder’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale. Top TV shows included All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, The Jeffersons and M*A*S*H. The year’s top films included Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Godfather Part II and The Longest Yard.

Not that I saw any of them at the time. I was all of 9 years old that fall and just starting fourth grade. As I’ve written here, here and here, at the time we lived overseas – in Saudi Arabia, one of the countries responsible for the oil embargo that had helped stall the already sputtering U.S. economy the year before. I liked music, but had yet to become obsessed with it, though Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits got a lot of play on my portable Sanyo record player.

img_2655I’d never heard of Tanya Tucker, the country singer whose face graces this Rolling Stone, and wasn’t familiar with any contemporary singer except Neil Diamond, though distinct memories of some songs – “Doctor My Eyes” and “Bennie and the Jets” especially – bounce about my brain from time to time. I’m sure I was exposed to popular music, in other words, but it wasn’t where my attention was fixed.

Anyway, Tanya – who I discovered in 1978 with her incendiary TNT album – first found success in 1972, at the age of 13, with her rendition of “Delta Dawn,” which she recorded after either she or producer Billy Sherrill heard Bette Midler sing it on The Tonight Show. (Different stories abound.) She sounded older than her years.

fullsizeoutput_1242Titled “Tanya, the Teenage Teaser,” the Chet Flippo-written profile catches up with Tucker at the Fifth Annual Altoona Fire Fighters Show in Altoona, Pa., where her rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” apparently sparked flames of lust in the male folk. “Her face was a study in wide-eyed childish innocence, but her body had another message and her knee drops and pelvic thrusts raised the temperature several degrees around the stage,” Flippo writes.

The article was likely Tucker’s introduction to many Rolling Stone readers; it delves into who she is, both as a person and an artist, and explains that “[s]he has had five Number One country hits in two years, including ‘Delta Dawn,’ ‘Blood Red and Going Down,’ and ‘Would You Lay with Me (in a Field of Stone).’ She has Nashville’s top producer, Billy Sherrill—his other major artist is Charlie Rich—working for her. She has limitless ambition and energy, complete backing from her family and a powerful, instantly identifiable voice —low, brassy and vibrating, like a country Ste. Marie. And she has a natural stage presence that is all things to all people.”

fullsizeoutput_1243

fullsizeoutput_1245img_2806In the article, she acknowledges that “[p]eople say I act older and look older and talk older and sing older, but I don’t know. You don’t find many 15-year-olds with a strong voice. To me—I think everybody should be able to sing, but it’s not that easy. Just like I can’t play guitar or walk a high wire. That’s easy to some people.” Later, she also says “I don’t want to be labeled just a country singer. Right now I guess I am but I’d rather, you know, be labeled like Elvis.”

Onward to today’s Top 5:

1) Tanya Tucker – “Would You Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone).” Her rendition of the David Allen Coe-penned classic apparently didn’t go over well with some because of her young age. “An executive of another record company told me that if you were one of his acts he’d stop having you record what he called ‘scurrilous’ songs,” Flippo tells her.

fullsizeoutput_1240“‘Well,’ she huffed, ‘people get the wrong ideas. Like I had an interview in New York City the other day and the guy was an older man and he asked me to name my songs and I said ‘Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone,’ and he said, ‘What? You’re 15 and you sing songs like that?’ I said, you don’t even know nothin’ about it—you haven’t even heard the song, that’s just like judging a book by its cover. I gave him the record and he called me the next day and said, ‘I liked you when I interviewed you but now I love you.’

“‘I think I’ll use that song for my wedding vows. There’s not much love like that hangin’ around. You don’t find it on every street corner. But some people would like to try to tell me what I should and should not sing….I think two radio stations wouldn’t play ‘Lay with Me.’ So—I just think their minds were in the gutter, they were thinking bad, not me. Some people are always gonna take anything you say dirty. But we don’t need them anyway. We sold 300,000 copies.’”

fullsizeoutput_12472) Stevie Wonder – “Creepin’.” The review section spotlights a few major releases, including Stevie Wonder’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale, which – as I noted above – was the No. 1 album this week. Ken Emerson writes that “FFF concerns the love of God. Wonder’s faith has become more inner-directed and otherwordly, less easily threatened by the here and now. ‘Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away’ but Stevie Wonder can feel God within him, despite His seeming absence from the contemporary scene.” Later, Emerson observes that “FFF is less funky, less specifically black than its predecessors. For Wonder’s onward and upward development has consistently been away from strict soul music and racial categories or limitations. Because of this, his appeal – greater than that of almost any other performer today – cuts across social and racial barriers.”

His conclusion: “The album explores rich harmonies with splendid results, particularly the duet with Wonder’s protégée, Minnie Riperton, on the slinky ‘Creepin’.’ The refrain is ‘in my dreams.’ FFF succeeds in making Stevie Wonder’s dreams seem attractive and real.”

fullsizeoutput_12493) Neil Young – “Revolution Blues.” Stephen Holden tackles Neil’s classic On the Beach: “The hard-edged sound of On the Beach is a contributing factor to its greatness, since the album poses aesthetic and political questions too serious to be treated prettily. Through various opposed personae, Young evokes primary social and psychic polarities that exemplify the deterioration of American culture. Though not named, the figures of Charles Manson and Patricia Hearst appear as emblems of apocalyptic social dislocation in the album’s two masterpieces, ‘Revolution Blues’ and ‘Ambulance Blues.’ In each song, by empathizing with the emotions of both predators and victims, Young has dared what no other major white rock artist (except John Lennon) has—to embrace, expose and perhaps help purge the collective paranoia and guilt of an insane society, acting it out without apology or explanation.”

fullsizeoutput_124a4) Harry Nilsson – “Black Sails.” Ken Barnes says of Pussy Cats: “On his new album Harry Nilsson combines the fashionable practice of revamping hits of the past with originals; fortunately the result, though occasionally unsettling, is always entertaining.” He calls this song “the most intriguing new number, with haunting strings and a clever piratical/anatomical metaphor, highlighted by a neat ‘You’re so vain’-like chorus. Nilsson’s lyrics, as usual, are characterized by seemingly offhand but highly adroit wordplay, and tend to overshadow the essentially low-key music. Nilsson’s vocals, unusually, are confined to a limited range, with none of the normal legerdemain, and contrive to sound hoarse.”

img_2830img_28315) Minnie Riperton – “Lovin’ You.” Believe it or not, but Mark Vining never mentions the classic “Lovin’ You” in his review of Riperton’s second album, Perfect Angel, which he mistakes for her debut (which was actually Come to My Garden in 1970): “Even Minnie Riperton’s octave-bounding, quietly commanding voice can’t keep her debut solo album from losing some of its radiance after a week or two of play.” He concludes with: “Perfect Angel is sometimes subtly fine within its set boundaries but a stronger, more varied production would draw out the hidden color and zest in her voice.”