Posts Tagged ‘1983’

Last night, I found myself watching Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on HBO Max. I first saw the film last fall, when Diane and I journeyed into Durham on a weekend afternoon to see it at the historic Carolina Theatre; although those were days of miracle and wonder, aka no masks or social distancing, there weren’t many folks in attendance. Part of that was due, no doubt, to it being a late-day matinee, but I’d wager a larger factor was that its target audience was content to wait for the film to show up on TV.

Anyway, then and now, I found it a well-done documentary filled with cogent insights from Linda and such friends and colleagues as Peter Asher, John Boylan, David Geffen, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Dolly Parton and J.D. Souther, as well as many clips that could well have been (and likely were) lifted from YouTube – there were only a handful I hadn’t seen before, in other words. (The Rare TV Appearances DVD collection features many of them, too, including the footage of her being interviewed at her Malibu home.) Which was and is fine. At the Carolina Theatre, it was cool to see them play on a movie screen; and last night, it was cool to see them flicker across our 42-inch TV. (Although I can pull up YouTube on the TV, I rarely do – surfing the site is much more of a computer experience for me.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt Live. Given the idiosyncrasies of YouTube, where unauthorized videos come and go, some of these will likely go missing in the days, months and years ahead, so play them early and often….

1) Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert. Linda appeared on the March 14th, 1974, episode of the music series. (The other performers that night: Jackson Browne and the Eagles.) Her set features “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heart is Like a Wheel,” “You’re No Good,” “You Can Close Your Eyes” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

2) Passaic, NJ, 12/6/1975. Although the one-hour, seven-minute concert is in black and white, Linda’s vocals are accented by the hues of the heart. The set: “Colorado”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Love Has No Pride”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Many Rivers to Cross”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Lose Again”; “Faithless Love”; “Roll Um Easy”; “Hey Mister That’s Me Up on the Jukebox”; “I Can’ Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”; “Desperado”; “Love Is a Rose”; “You’re No Good”; “Heat Wave”; “Rivers of Babylon”; and “Heart Like a Wheel.”

3) Los Angeles, 10/3/1977. This audio-only treat captures an entire concert from Linda’s Fall 1977 tour. (Sound quality is very good.) The set: “Lose Again”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Blue Bayou”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Faithless Love”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Crazy”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “Desperado”; “Love Me Tender”; “Simple Man, Simple Dream”; “Love Is a Rose”; “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”; band introductions”; “Tumbling Dice”; “You’re No Good”; “Heart Like a Wheel”; and “Heat Wave.”

4) The FM concert sequence. Linda figures in a subplot of this forgettable 1978 movie, as the staff of one radio station sets out to broadcast a concert of hers that’s being sponsored by a rival station. Incidentally, the concert sequence wasn’t recorded in L.A., where the film is set, but the Summit in Houston – likely on November 17th, 1977, as she played there that night.) The songs: “Tumbling Dice,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and “Love Me Tender.”

 5) Boston 7/22/1983. This audio-only delight captures the final night of the Get Closer tour. (Sound is so-so, but more than listenable.) The set: “Tumbling Dice”; “It’s So Easy”; “I Knew You When”; “Get Closer”; “Easy For You to Say”; “I Can’t Let Go”; “Party Girl”; “All That You Dream”; “Blue Bayou”; “Willin’”; “That’ll Be The Day”; “Prisoner In Disguise”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Bandit & a Heart Breaker”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “Back in the U.S.A.”; “Heat Wave”; “Blowing Away”; and “Desperado.”

And one bonus…

Rally for Nuclear Disarmament, 6/12/1982. Not Linda’s entire set, unfortunately, but part of it. (It’s a playlist, so when one clip ends, the next should kick in.) Sound quality is subpar, but still fun to watch.

It’s an album many Neil fans dislike, if not despise, due to the clinical rhythms and distorted vocals that accent much of the music. For me and my tastes, however, it’s a great, if eccentric set that’s well worth a few listens. As I wrote in the CSN/Y discography on the original Old Grey Cat (1997-2006) website, “if you listen past the surface, you’ll hear a strong heartbeat – and many treasures. [It] also features the mini-epic ‘Like an Inca,’ which includes this couplet from its last verse that aptly sums up Neil’s ’80s career path: ‘There’s a bridge across the river/that I have to cross alone.’” It’s not my most-played Neil album, but it’s one I’ve returned to, time and again, throughout the years.

After a lifetime with Warner Bros.’ Reprise Records, in 1982 Neil Young signed with Geffen Records in a deal that reportedly guaranteed him $1 million per album. However, when he turned in his first effort, Islands in the Sun, Geffen rejected it. In 1995, Neil explained to Mojo that Islands “was a tropical thing all about sailing, ancient civilizations, islands and water”; a prototypical Neil LP, in other words. But, as he recalled in Jimmy McDonough’s Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography (page 556), “[David Geffen] didn’t think it was good enough. ‘Neil, you can do more with these songs – keep going.’ It was healthy what he was telling me. But instead of going forward, I went back – to all the stuff that had been buried. I really did all the Trans stuff at the end of Warner Bros., not at the beginning of Geffen.”

Those old sessions, also detailed in Shakey (pages 551-552), were essentially an extension of the re*ac*tor jams in 1981: 

Young continued to record with the Horse. Poncho recalls Young – all jacked up after seeing the Rolling Stones play San Francisco – coming in with a song sporting Stones-like riffs entitled ‘Computer Age.’

Around this time, Young also purchased a vocoder, an odd device that enabled him to mask his voice as a variety of characters, none of which sounded too human – imagine robotic voices from fifties science fiction movies. Young then took the mutated vocals and played them through the Synclavier keyboard, which essentially turned it into music.

‘When we got the vocoder, we started listening to Kraftwerk,” said [David] Briggs. All this would eventually become Trans. Even a version of ‘Mr. Soul’ – complete with backward guitar – got the machine treatment. And the further Neil got into the new music, the less company he took with him.

‘Trans started like we do always – two guitars, bass, drums,” said Poncho. “Next thing we knew, Neil stripped all our music off, overdubbed all this stuff – the vocoder, weird sequencing, and put the synth shit on it. Briggs felt no one around Young tried to understand. “Billy and Ralph and Poncho, all the other participants, they dismissed it. They played on the stuff, but didn’t think it was music.”

Thus, the resulting album mixed six tracks from the old sessions with three from the new; and Geffen Records, believing it had a dud on its hands, simply shrugged and dumped the LP in the arid sales stretch that lies between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Radio, at least as I remember it, pretty much ignored it.

The critical consensus was (and remains) decidedly mixed. In the February 3rd, 1983, Rolling Stone, Parke Puterbaugh gave it four (out of five) stars and wrote, “In truth, once you get past its radical sonic veneer, Trans turns out to be a pretty whimsical treatise on the theme of man-meets-machine, with Young wisecracking his way through the high-tech numbers – note the wild coyotes who yowl on the computer cowboy’s range, and the mate-hunting automaton who sings. “I need a unit to sample and hold/But not the angry one, a new design, new design” – and tossing off the treacle of the straight love songs with casual disinterest.”

In the Rolling Stone offshoot magazine Record, however, Stuart Cohn was much less kind. He says “the listener is left like Dorothy in Oz, discovering there’s no wizard behind the curtain”; and sums up with: “Trans…is just a closed circuit: no future, no options. Just a man and his toys, without the songs or ideas that can make the toys so much fun to play with.” 

Neil, for his part, describes it well on the Neil Young Archives: “Trans is one of my best records, from a standpoint of being misunderstood. Trans was made with the idea of supporting it with a series of videos that went with the story. Bots of all kinds, with their digital voices sang the words and melodies of a tale of communication for the disabled, those of us who cannot speak. Here, these folks, especially my son Ben Young, were cared for by robots trying to help them learn how to communicate.” 

Looking back, I can understand why many longtime fans were (and remain) dismayed by the shift to electronica beats – but I didn’t have the same longterm connection. Re*ac*tor was my first Neil LP, which I purchased at age 16 in late 1981; Hawks & Doves was my second, which I picked up a few months later; and, in the final week of 1982 – when I was flush with Christmas cash – I picked up not one, not two, but five Neil Young albums on cassette to play in the Sanyo Mini AM/FM Stereo Cassette Recorder my parents had gifted me with.

A week later, I picked up the tape for Trans (along with Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask). I didn’t know the backstory. I just knew the beats were cool, the distorted vocals even cooler, and that “Like an Inca,” one of those prototypical Neil Young songs, soared.

In many respects, as I noted last week, McCartney II – Paul McCartney’s own eccentric electronica collection from 1980 – helped prepared me for Trans. Such off-kilter excursions, to me, were just something artists did from time to time. Maybe that’s why, from the moment I heard it, Trans just felt right to me; yeah, it’s odd, but it speaks to my heart and soul – perhaps because, as a child, I had a speech impediment that sometimes made it difficult to communicate with others.

Anyway, I enjoyed the set so much that, within a few months, I also bought it on LP – something I did on occasion. In this instance, it was to better appreciate the fascinating (to me, at least) cover art, which shows an old-school Neil and digital-age Neil hitching rides into the future and past. Oh, and though it’s listed on the album jacket and in the lyric sheet, “If You Got Love” was yanked at the last minute; the version of “Sample and Hold” on LP is three minutes shorter that the CD; and the version of “Like an Inca” on LP is a minute-and-change shorter than on CD. (Let’s hope that Islands in the Sun – which, as I write, isn’t listed in the NYA timeline – is one day released as part of Neil’s archival series; my hunch is it will be a sublime set.)

So…give Trans a go, sometime, be it on the LP (or, if you can find it, cassette) or CD. It’s not Neil’s best, by any stretch, but holds within it a lot of intriguing sounds. You may be disappointed, but you may be surprised.

 

(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.)

On back-to-back days in November 1983, I bought two double-LP compilations by two paradigm-shifting British bands: the Who’s The Kids Are Alright and the Jam’s Snap! I thoroughly enjoyed both right from the start. The Who’s set is, obviously, the odds-and-sods soundtrack to the 1979 documentary film about Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon. The comprehensive Jam collection, which was released the previous month, contains 29 of the then-recently disbanded group’s songs, including their 16 U.K. singles, b-sides and the “That’s Entertainment” demo.

Both sets are great, but only one – in my estimation, at least – is essential: The Jam’s Snap! It’s one of the greatest best-of collections ever released, and remains my go-to choice when in the mood to crank the Jam.

If you’re curious about Paul Weller’s first group, it’s the best place to start. If you’re a longtime fan, it’s still the best way to experience the taut trio’s top tracks in rapid-fire succession. Even in the streaming age, where “new-and-improved” compilations and playlists are a mere mouse-click away, it’s the only such set that matters.

About it’s only competition: Compact Snap!, released in 1984, which trims eight songs from the set (so that it could fit onto one CD). I picked it up a few years after that, in late 1987 or early ’88, at a now-defunct CD-only store in Jenkintown, Pa., that was called (if my memory is right) 21st Century Sound. The excised songs were “Away from the Numbers,” “Billy Hunt,” “English Rose,” “Mr. Clean,” “The Butterfly Collector,” “Thick As Thieves,” “Man in the Corner Shop” and “Tales from the Riverbank.”

The original Snap! eventually made its way to CD in 2006, and both the original and “compact” versions are available on most streaming outlets.

The track list:

April 30th, 1983: I was a high-school senior. All in all, life was grand. And, as this was a Saturday, that meant me heading to the Hatboro Record Shop, where I browsed for an hour or so before settling on my day’s purchases: Roxy Music’s High Road EP on vinyl and Avalon on cassette; and Bananarama’s Deep Sea Skiving on cassette.

I won’t go in-depth about the month itself; I’ve tread this period of time too much as is. (See here, here and here.) Instead, the reason for this particular post: Roxy Music’s sleek yet powerful rendition of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” from the High Road EP. By the end of the month, in my second-ever concert, I witnessed them perform it in person. It blew me away.

Unfortunately, the above version comes from the High Road concert film, which was shot at a different stop on the band’s 1982 tour than the EP. A full-length live album from the tour, Heart Is Still Beating, was eventually released on CD in 1990, but it’s basically the soundtrack to the film with the songs in a different order.

Anyway, the 12-inch EP featured just four songs: “Can’t Let Go” and “My Only Love” on Side 1 and “Like a Hurricane” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” on Side 2. I thought that it had been lost to time…until I discovered it on YouTube a few weeks ago. Here it is: