Welcome to the latest column in the IRS, Amélie’s Astro Hell. Every week she will start her column off with some song that any of us old enough to turn on an AM radio have forgotten and remind us why it is worth remembering. After that she’ll review the latest retro CD re-releases and fill us in on the trivia associated with them all. Amélie is the most gifted keeper of trivia I know, but with Amélie it is more than just being able to remember the year that Bubble Yum came out, she also realizes the value of good memories and how nostalgia has the power to turn any bad mood around. But she also realizes that trivia does not always equal trivial. When she tells us that Dusty Springfield was kicked out of South Africa in 1964 for refusing to play to racially segregated audiences, she is also letting us know that the singer of “Son of a Preacher Man” was also the harbinger of an artist driven social movement against apartheid that would not take real hold until the 1980’s. Ladies and gentlemen, Amélie Frank. ED. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD
This Issues Song to Remember
ONE FINE MORNING
What do I know about Lighthouse? Like their chart rivals The Stampeders (who were vying with “Sweet City Woman”), the fine keepers of Lighthouse were Canadians. That’s right . . . they were northern lights. What fixes them so keenly in my affections is their kick-ass horn section. Pop tunes with good horn charts were far more common in the late ’60s and early ’70s with bands like Chase, Blood Sweet & Tears, and the early Chicago. Lighthouse’s chops on “One Fine Morning” can dismantle any bad mood in under five seconds, especially for this daughter of a big band leader. Throw in lead singer Bob McBride’s earnest polish (over all that brass!) on funsy lyrics like “I’ll buy you candies made of stardust / little dolls dressed up in moonbeams,” and I can just play this one over and over without getting bored. Bonus goody: the high adrenaline opening guitar solo used to be played on radio commercials for motor car events and funny car rallies at places like the Malibu Grand Prix, so it evokes for me a Southern California where land, even commercial land, was often used for fun stuff (as opposed to today’s mindless and rampant development of architecturally stultifying housing most people here will never be able to afford). The song has nothing special to say. One fine morning, Bob and his bitchin’ horn section will take his best girl out flying across the universe, stopping along the way for celestial carnival prizes and sugary snacks. Then “we’ll fly to the east, fly to the west, no place we can’t call our own; we’ll fly to the north, fly to the south, every planet will become our home.” For nothing special, though, it still sends me. Here you can find something similar to this post – What the Hell is Computer?
Here are the stats:
ONE FINE MORNING (album)
Recorded in 1970 at Thunder Sound Recording Studios, Toronto Canada
Released by GRT Records in Canada and Evolution Records in the USA
Produced by Jimmy Ienner
Mixed at O.D.O. Recording Studios, New York City
Engineered by Phil Sheridan
Mastered at Mercury Sound Studios by Gilbert Kong, New York City
Cover design by Brad Johannsen
One Fine Morning (song) written by Skip Prokop arranged by Skip Prokop and Keith Jollimore clocking in at 5:11
Skip Prokop – drums, percussion and vocals
Paul Hoffert – piano and vibes
Ralph Cole – guitar and vocals
Louie Yacknin – bass
Bob McBride – lead vocals and percussion
Don Dinovo – viola
Dick Armin – cello
Pete Pantaluk – trumpet
Keith Jollimore – sax, flute and vocals
Howard Shore – sax
Larry Smith – trombone and vocals
Added percussion by the Maltese Falcon and the Edmonton Hawks
Added bass vocals by “Teeth”
If I’m not mistaken, that Canadian sax player, Howard Shore, grew up to become the Canadian film composer (and one of my faves) Howard Shore (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SEVEN, ED WOOD). And one other famous name emerged from the ranks of Lighthouse, but not from where you’d expect. It seems that during the band’s touring days, they employed the services of a young roadie from Arkansas (oh yeah, my friends can see this one coming) named Billy Bob Thornton. Maybe fine day Howard will eventually wind up scoring one of Billy’s movies… there’s a happy reunion waiting to happen.
RETRO HELL REVIEWS
Hot August Night – Reissue
(Recorded in Concert at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles)
To call the evening of August 24, 1972, a seminal moment in Neil Diamond’s career is to acknowledge there is something rather onanistic about Mr. Diamond’s pose on the cover. That sure don’t look like air guitar to me. However, it’s hard not to be mad about the boy, especially because he is singing to “the tree people” at the Greek,_those plucky souls who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay admission to see featured performers, merrily opting to climb the trees surrounding the theater (which is nestled in the woods downhill from the Griffith Park Observatory) to get their superstar serenades for free. “Tree people” is a phrase I haven’t heard in about 25 years. Siiiiiiiighhhhhhh. I was all of twelve when this album was recorded, barely allowed to listen to rock ‘n’ roll music on my piece-of-shit AM-only radio that cut out at inopportune moments (if my galled friends wonder why I suddenly stop singing along to songs then pick back up after a few seconds, it’s because I learned them off a radio that cut out a lot). When I was finally allowed to listen to Boss Radio KHJ toward the end of 1971, Neil Diamond had released his “Moods” album, as fine and mellow a way to be introduced to his music as any (although the less said about “Porcupine Pie,” the better).
I can tell you that, as I was floating in our pool a mere 12 miles away from the Greek on that hot August night, Neil et al. were kicking off the festivities with a heavily orchestrated prologue right into the joyful opening licks of “Crunchy Granola Suite.” Listening to it now, I can say it’s not deep, but it’s surely crunchy, and it’s hard not to be thrilled by the boy’s baritone–it is a thing of beauty. Liner notes and critics blurbs make much of Neil Diamond’s ability to connect intimately with his audiences. That ability is no big secret. It’s the warm, resonating voice. When he sings, you do feel its conviction in your solar plexus, in the soles of your feet. No wonder women went bonkers over him in the ’70s (not me–I was crushed out on Elton John back then, little knowing that he didn’t much fancy girls). Dave Barry makes much of the silly lyrics to Diamond’s songs and can’t seem to fathom why women love him so much. It’s the voice, Dave! The voice! It ain’t the dessert recipes!
The Neil Diamond of 1972 does a convincing job of playing a down home, “aw shucks” kinda feller, even though he’s actually a nice Jewish boy from New York (brace yourselves, fans: he attended NYU as a pre-med student . . . ON A FENCING SCHOLARSHIP!?!?!). Okay, so he says to the audience, “Ya want me to play “Walk on Wootah?” He still brings a certain, self-effacing charm that served both John Denver and Barry Manilow well in concert (perhaps it’s because the ’70s were a sweeter, relaxed, and far less raunchy era). Think of him as Kinky Friedman lite. He capably straddles pop, C&W;, and folk, and he can throw down a little gospel without sounding whitebread. Again, Dave, it’s the voice, okay? Can’t you at least cut Neil some slack for writing “I’m a Believer”?
Most of the hits that are worth a good goddamn are on this album: “Solitary Man,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline” “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” “Kentucky Woman” “Play Me,” (with the immortal lyric “song she sang to me, song she brang to me”) “Song Sung Blue,” and “I Am . . . I Said” (in which our white jumpsuited hero can’t even get a response from his furniture). Of special note: “Walk on Water,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “Stones” are bonus tracks from the concert that weren’t included on the original two-album set back in the day when men were long-haired men and vinyl ruled.
The arrangements are thrilling and fun and not too far removed from their original versions. “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” is handled differently–spare and acoustic, but it’s gentle and just right for a sticky summer evening. A piece like “Play Me” seamlessly melds honky tonk elements with the sweet (but never treacly) string lines, and it still sends me straight back to our backyard pool where I first heard it 30 years ago. Toward the end of the evening, on “Holly Holy” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” his voice is getting that certain “Love on the Rocks” raggedness. Still, he can be forgiven because he delivers “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” for a finale, and that tent revival lends itself to the distressed throat. At least it’s ten years before he’ll pen “Turn on Your Heartlight.”
“Walk on Wootah,” “Play Me,” and “Stones” are my particular faves, and it all sounds summer outdoor ambient, like Neil’s been playing it to me that particular evening, at poolside, as I float out of my childhood into the murkier waters of adolescence. The songs put me in mind of gentler times, and “Stones” in particular is like the last-ever lullaby.
Here’s the link to the Original Neil Diamond Home Page (“Serving the Neil Diamond Community Since 1995!”): www.neildiamondhomepage.com
What’s Going On – Reissue
Motown/Tamla Records (MCA)
(Warning: this review begins with a movie spoiler. Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.”)
At the climax of one of my fave Spike Lee films, “Jungle Fever,” Ossie Davis, as the Reverend Purify, shoots dead his crack-addicted son Gator (played by Samuel L. Jackson in a performance that left me weeping inconsolably in my theater seat for 15 minutes after the lights came up). The murder takes place in the Purify home, just as Marvin Gaye’s murder at the hands of his minister father took place in the elder Gaye’s Los Angeles home in 1984. I have worked on the marketing of five of Spike Lee’s films, and I do not doubt for a moment that Spike Lee deliberately drew those parallels between the Purify family and the Gaye tragedy.
In “Jungle Fever,” “Crooklyn,” and “Do the Right Thing,” soundtrack and dialogue references crop up throughout concerning the urgent, restless music of the early ’70s, when soul shifted from the upbeat dance groove of early Motown to a more socially conscious vibe. This shift gave rise to the likes of Curtis Mayfield (whose “Freddy’s Dead” should have won the Oscar for best song in 1972) and Isaac Hayes (at least he got the Oscar for “The Theme From Shaft” in 1971) and matured the talents of The Supremes (who went from “Baby Love” to “Love Child”), The Temptations (who went from “My Girl” to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”) and the Four Tops (from “Reach Out I’ll Be There” to “Keeper of the Castle”). Two such artists most profoundly transformed by their times were Stevie Wonder (whose “Lemme hear you say yeah!!!” turned decidedly darker and mission-oriented after he survived a near-fatal car crash) and Marvin Gaye.
Prior to his landmark album “What’s Going On,” Gaye’s major hits were mostly upbeat duets with such Motown songbirds as Mary Wells, Miss Ross, Tammi Terrell, and Kim Weston (who dropped out of sight until recently, resurfacing to sing for Shrub’s inaugural festivities). Terrell’s tragic illness and early death from a brain tumor (she collapsed in Gaye’s arms on stage during a concert performance), along with myriad pressures in the form of a difficult marriage to Berry Gordy’s sister Anna and harassment from the IRS, plunged Gaye into a profound, two-year depression. In 1970, Gaye shifted gears, writing and producing “What’s Going On?”, which was released in spring of 1971. Of this album, Gaye said, “Something happened with me during that period. I felt the strong urge to write music and to write lyrics that would touch the souls of men. And in that way I thought I could help.”
Smoky Robinson (who nowadays deejays for the fun of it on Mega 92.3 FM here in L.A.) wrote the intro to the 2001 reissue, and he declares, ” . . . “What’s Going On” is my favorite album of all time.” He also informs us that Berry Gordy, Jr. didn’t want Marvin Gaye to make this album, that Gordy didn’t want a protest record coming from Motown’s hottest sex symbol (and certainly Gaye would have his greatest hits the down the road with “Let’s Get It On” and “Sexual Healing”). Thankfully, Gaye listened to the message he felt was coming from God and channeled it into this extraordinary recording.
I cannot emphasize how important this album was in its day, how it managed through such singles as “What’s Going On,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues” to reach out across mainstream radio stations and tug at the conscience of middle class white kids, alerting them to the intolerable conditions of poverty in inner city America, drug addiction, pollution, and the slaughterhouse that had become Southeast Asia. It is grieving to see how little has changed and how much worse it has gotten in America since Marvin Gaye fired this stunning warning shot across the nation’s bow. What would Gaye have made of the Rodney King beating or the brutal murder of Amadou Diallo at the hands of the NYPD? The oil companies moving into the White House to dip their greedy, grubby hands into our supposedly protected wilderness regions? The terrifying diseases eating into our food supply? The Rampart scandal and L.A.’s stubborn failure to adopt the recommendations of the Christopher Commission? The lynchings of James Byrd and Matthew Shepherd? The nauseatingly routine school shootings? The music of “What’s Going On” is as vital and damning today with the Republican Shrub in the White House as it was when the Republican Nixon was in charge. La plus a change…
There are songs intimating that reconciliation between the races is still possible (“God Is Love,” “Right On,” “Wholly Holy”), and the indictment that is this collection is not without optimism. I wonder if Marvin would speak of redemption and forgiveness today. Part of me believes he would. “What’s Going On?” gives us the artistic measure of a man whose tormented soul, however briefly, saw the truth with astonishing clarity and glimpsed the equally astonishing possibilities. Here’s a glimpse of hope that the message is still getting out and perhaps getting through: the album has continued to sell solidly since its release in 1971. Its sales were unprecedented for the singles-centric Motown. The superb reissue CD comes with bonus tracks aplenty from both the original recording sessions and alternate Detroit mix as well as Gaye’s live performance of these pieces at the Kennedy Center and the original single versions of “What’s Going On” and “God Is Love.”
The first taste I ever had of Marvin Gaye was the sinewy funk of his “black bottoms,” the piano, bass, conga and bongo drums that usher in “Inner City Blues.” The moment I heard it, I knew I was listening to some serious distress signals from a world so close and so faraway from my cozy little neighborhood in the Valley. I leave you with these dire syncopations from “Inner City Blues,” and you tell me if anything has changed since 1971.