Thursday, February 11, 2010

Album of the Day #176: BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD

Buffalo SpringfieldArtist: Buffalo Springfield

Title: Buffalo Springfield
Year: 1966/1967
Label: Atco
First Release: Go And Say Goodbye*/Sit Down I Think I Love You*/Leave*/Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing**/Hot Dusty Roads*/Everybody's Wrong*/Flying On The Ground Is Wrong**/Burned**/Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It**/Baby Don't Scold Me*/Out Of My Mind**/Pay The Price*
Second Release: For What It's Worth*/Go And Say Goodbye*/Sit Down I Think I Love You*/Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing**/Hot Dusty Roads*/Everybody's Wrong*/Flying On The Ground Is Wrong**/Burned**/Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It**/Leave*/Out Of My Mind**/Pay The Price*
Written by: *Stephen Stills and **Neil Young
Produced by: Charles Greene & Brian Stone
Thoughts: It's truly amazing how much great material groups were able to produce in the 1960s with such short lifespans. Buffalo Springfield lasted just two years, releasing three records and one hit single. The group was lead by three men with huge egos, all of whom would go on to make significant impacts on the rock world in their own right. Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay were the three guitarists, with Stills singing his own songs and Neil's songs split between Richie and himself. Bruce Palmer played bass and Dewey Martin played drums, although anyone could really have filled those roles, I think. Palmer and Martin never really stand out as important pieces of a band that seemed cursed from the start. 
Their first record, however, has the image of a functioning, working band. The songs, even on the first version, are brilliant, even if the love songs seem to stand on the side of being excruciatingly cliche. How Atco decided songs like "Go And Say Goodbye", "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong" and "Hot Dusty Roads" were unsuitable for single releases is insane. 
Stills and Young's songs (especially Young's) are vastly different from songs they would write later in their careers, but they are still great. Young's love songs dominate the record, with Furay singing the majority of them. It's hard to believe that the same man who wrote all those nasty songs on On The Beach is the same man who wrote the beautiful "Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It". Stills' love songs are much less conventional, but his early brilliance doesn't show until the Furay-sung "For What It's Worth" came out.
"For What It's Worth" came out after the initial issue of Buffalo Springfield as a single-only track. Atco felt that since the original version didn't sell so well, rather than include it on their next album, they would just re-issue Buffalo Springfield with song added at the beginning (screwing up the fantastic intro that is "Go And Say Goodbye") and take off "Baby Don't Scold Me", which was easily the worst song on the album.
The CD version of the album includes the mono version of the original album and the stereo version of the second version on one disc. This means that we miss the mono version of "For What It's Worth" and the stereo version of "Baby Don't Scold Me" (both versions of the album had mono and stereo versions). It's not that big a loss, but considering that even with both editions of the album on one disc, there's still twenty minutes of disc space left, they would have made nice bonus cuts.
I think the album is pretty good, but it's not really one of the greatest ever. None of the songs on this album that aren't on their hits set are revelations. Their next album is where it's at, though. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Album of the Day #175: BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US - Daryl Hall & John Oates

Artist: Daryl Hall & John Oates

Title: Bigger Than Both Of Us
Year: 1976
Label: RCA
Songs: Back Together Again*/Rich Girl**/Crazy Eyes*/Do What You Want, Be What You Are+/Kerry++/London, Luck & Love ^/Room To Breathe^/You'll Never Learn+/Falling**
Written by: *John Oates, **Daryl Hall, +Daryl Hall & John Oates, ++Daryl Hall & Sam Dees and ^Sara Allen, Daryl Hall & John Oates
Produced by: Christopher Bonds
Thoughts: Bigger Than Both Of Us is a good record, showing Hall & Oates at the height of their mid-70s creativity. During this period, they got three hit singles, "She's Gone", "Sara Smile" and "Rich Girl", before languishing at the bottom of the charts, only to come back in the early '80s.
This album might feel a little empty - it's just nine songs and runs barely 35 minutes - but it's got some great material. Aside from "Rich Girl", side one is pretty bland, with the really cheese-ball "Do What You Want, Be What You Are" and John's terrible '60s tribute opener "Back Together Again". It does end with "Kerry", which is a lot better than the side two opener, "London, Luck & Love". The rest of side two actually features a string of great songs. Daryl's rocker "Room To Breathe" and John's really cool "You'll Never Learn" are great. Daryl's extended closer, "Falling", is pretty interesting. It's kind of like "Everytime I Look At You" on Abandoned Luncheonette except with synthesizers.
There's really not much to say about this record other than it's a cool one and if you like Hall & Oates, you should have no problem enjoying this one.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Album of the Day #174: MUD SLIDE SLIM AND THE BLUE HORIZON - James Taylor

Artist: James Taylor

Title: Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon
Year: 1971
Label: Warner Bros.
Songs: Love Has Brought Me Around/You've Got A Friend*/Places In My Past/Riding On A Rail Road/Soldiers/Mud Slide Slim/Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox/You Can Close Your Eyes/Machine Gun Kelly**/Long Ago And Far Away/Let Me Ride/Highway Song/Isn't It Nice To Be Home Again
Written by: James Taylor, except *by Carole King and **by Danny Kortchmar
Produced by: Pater Asher
Thoughts: To start his career, JT put together a fantastic string of three albums highlighted by fantastic singles and peaceful album tracks that could make even tensest person relax.
On James Taylor and Sweet Baby James, Taylor provides the fresh air that many records lacked. They're relaxing embraces of peace and quiet. Plus, it's just the stuff that laid the ground-work for the singer/songwriter explosion that he found himself at the head of.
However, Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon is a much more laid-back affair that features songs that beg for release. It's obvious that Taylor wants to escape the fame he's found. "Riding On A Rail Road" on side one and practically the entirety of side two is just Taylor begging to go back to the homes he's familiar with. It's like he took "Carolina In My Mind" and extended it by a half-hour. The wonderful thing about this album's lyrics, though, is that even though so many of these songs focus on the same topic, they are so varied that you almost never realize it. "Riding On A Rail Road" is akin to "Sweet Baby James" and "Fire And Rain", but "Let Me Ride" is more like the rockers that he would write throughout the rest of the 1970's.
The remaining songs are as amazing as you might expect them. From the rousing opening of "Love Has Brought Me Around" to the sad story of a lost soul in "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox", JT covers a lot of ground. There's also three centerpieces to this record: the two singles and the title track. Carole King's "You've Got A Friend" is timeless no matter who does it, but the way he sings it is even more tender and (dare I say) 'genuine' than King's version. You genuinely believe that Taylor is going to escape that piece of plastic and help you through your troubles. "Long Ago And Far Away" is a touching story that only Taylor could sing. Then, there's the side one closer, "Mud Slide Slim". Now, this is what I'm talking about. Everything about Taylor that I love is wrapped up in it - from the great lyrics to his amazing vocals. I love the way he sings "'Cause there's nothing like the sound of sweet soul music/To change a young lady's mind...". That's a classic line.
Maybe I'm gushing over this record too much, but it's hard to find fault in a record I enjoy so much. I will say that the album could use a really good clean-up by Warner. It's a shame that neither this album nor Sweet Baby James has ever been re-issued in a superior form. The vinyl version of this album sounds so crisp and intimate that it puts the CD to shame.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Album of the Day #173: IMAGINE - John Lennon

Artist: John Lennon

Title: Imagine
Year: 1971
Label: Apple/EMI
Songs: Imagine/Crippled Inside/Jealous Guy/It's So Hard/I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier/Gimmie Some Truth/Oh My Love*/How Do You Sleep?/How?/Oh Yoko!
Written by: John Lennon, except *by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Produced by: John & Yoko and Phil Spector
Thoughts: Despite the fact that the world reveres the title track, the album itself is not perfect. Its ten tracks are heavily produced, with Spector's "Wall of Sound" being more intrusive than on any other solo Beatle record he produced. It truly is amazing, considering the stripped down approach that we are all so thankful he gave John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
To me, the number one transgression is the over-use of strings. Hard, dirty blues songs like "It's So Hard" does not need strings. It completely wrecks the song. The only good thing that John did with Elephant's Memory was the rocked-out version of the song on Live In New York.
The best part of the record, though, is George Harrison's incredible solos. His solo in "How Do You Sleep?" is just breathtaking. (Thankfully it overtakes Spector's strings.) Then there's his dobro playing on "Crippled Inside".
John's songwriting is also at a peak here. He matured from the straightforward, emotional "laying-it-all-out" style of Plastic Ono Band to a more commercial style. You might think this doesn't work, but it results in songs like "How?" where you don't know whether the singer is emotionally lost or just in love. "Imagine" is "Give Peace A Chance", but without the silly mantra and "Gimmie Some Truth" is, like the Plastic Ono Band songs, blatant and in your face (plus, it's a perfect side two opener). "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier" overstays its welcome a bit (it's kind of like Imagine's "Well Well Well"), but then there's "Oh My Love", probably one of John's best love songs.
All in all, I think Imagine does deserve to up there with the greats. It's not as good as Plastic Ono Band, but it gets the job done, despite being a mixed bag (a very good, incredibly awesome mixed bag).

Friday, December 04, 2009

Top 5 Worst Beatles Solo Albums

It's true that the Beatles, especially after they broke up, are not immortal. They made some serious mistakes after they separated, so this list is to celebrate their worst of the worst!
  1. BAD BOY - Ringo Starr, 1978 - Of course, Ringo was going to get the top spot. There is nothing rewarding about listening to this album. From the terror of his "Where Did Our Love Go?" to the freak-show "Monkey See - Monkey Do". Maybe "Old Time Relovin'" is good, but one song does not make an album good.
  2. PIPES OF PEACE - Paul McCartney, 1982 - At some point of your career, you have to make a truly unlistenable album. Paul came close throughout the 1970's with Wings, but at least Wild Life came with a few rewards. Pipes Of Peace has nothing rewarding. The songs might seem enjoyable on the surface, but that's all they are. There's nothing here that goes beyond the surface. Sure, Paul isn't the Beatle we expect to be introspective, but things like "Sweetest Little Show" or "The Other Me" don't help fix Paul's reputation.
  3. SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY/LIVE JAM - John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, 1972 - The year 1972 was the worst year for the Beatles in the 1970s. Aside from Paul's three bizarre singles and Ringo's "Back Off Boogaloo", Some Time In New York City was the only Beatles release of the year. This is truly a terrible record from start to finish. The fact that John only has three solo lead vocal jobs doesn't help. On top of that, none of them are his best. "Woman Is The Nigger Of The World" is easily the worst protest song he ever wrote. "John Sinclair" is good, only because of his steel guitar playing. "New York City" is a rambling, pointless sequel to "The Ballad Of John & Yoko". As for Yoko's songs....well, at least "Sisters O Sisters" has a good rhythm.
  4. RINGO THE 4TH - Ringo Starr, 1977 - When I first got this, I thought this was the worst Beatles solo record...then I heard the above and figured out that it could get worse. Anyway, the thing abouth Ringo The 4th, aside from the fact that it's numerically incorrect, is that Ringo's voice is totally shot. The songs themselves are actually half-way decent ("Sneaking Sally Through The Alley" and "Can She Do It Like She Dances?" are actually two of my favorite Ringo songs), but Ringo just sounds drunk out of his mind for the majority of the record.
  5. DRIVING RAIN - Paul McCartney, 2001 - The trouble with Driving Rain is that it's just too god-damned long. There's some fantastic material on it ("About You", "Lonely Road", "She's Given Up Talking", "Your Way" and "From A Lover To A Friend"), but there's so much crap hanging around it ("Riding To Jaipur", "Back In The Sunshine", "Driving Rain" and "Spinning On An Axis"). On top of that, Paul's voice, like Ringo's on Ringo The 4th, is shot. He strains it to the point where you can feel it hurt.
Wow, that was actually harder than I thought it was going to be. Why no George? Well, I honestly don't think he ever made a truly bad record. Dark Horse and EXTRA TEXTURE have some pretty bad moments, but overall, I find them enjoyable records. Also, the avant garde John & Yoko albums don't count, simply because I don't have them. Because of that, I think it would have been unfair to consider George's Electronic Sound. Archival releases also had to be thrown out (which really just means that I couldn't consider John's Anthology, since that's the only real 'archival' release by any of them). Finally, Give My Regards To Broad Street could have been thrown in, but that's a soundtrack with only three new songs and the majority of those re-recorded were Beatles songs.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Album of the Day #172: PRIVATE EYES - Daryl Hall & John Oates

Artist: Daryl Hall & John Oates

Title: Private Eyes
Year: 1981
Label: RCA
Songs: Private Eyes [Sara Allen, Janna Allen, Daryl Hall & Warren Pash]/Looking For A Good Sign [Daryl Hall]/I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)/Mano A Mano [John Oates]/Did It In A Minute [Sara Allen, Janna Allen & Daryl Hall]/Head Above Water/Tell Me What You Want [Sara Allen & Daryl Hall]/Friday Let Me Down/Unguarded Minute/You Imagination [Daryl Hall]/Some Men [Daryl Hall]
Written by: Sara Allen, Daryl Hall & John Oates, except where noted
Produced by: Daryl Hall, John Oates & Neil Kernon
Thoughts: If there's one album by Hall & Oates that should be in everyone's collection, it is easily Private Eyes. Seriously, the three singles on this album are probably the best of the early 1980s and 28 years later, they're just as powerful.
The fact that there's no filler here also helps. None of these songs feel like throwaways, although the fact that Daryl is the more prolific of the two is annoyingly evident. John gets just one solo credit, "Mano A Mano", which is the silliest track on the record, but also a pretty good one. It, along with "Friday Let Me Down", is his only lead vocal, meaning that his role in the duo is rather questionable. He doesn't provide a unique sound to the backing vocals, which turn out to sound like the most robotic, dated parts of the album, behind Daryl.
To me, this is the one annoying piece of Hall & Oates. Based on the six albums that I have, they don't consistently create a unique harmony, like the ones that we associate with some of the classic duos (The Everly Brothers and The Righteous Brothers come to mind). It always feels like they simply take turns singing lead on a song. Thankfully, the two have such distinct vocals that it makes the songs vary from one to the next, but the beautiful harmonies we hear on "Sara Smile", "She's Gone" and "Rich Girl" don't creep up to much on this album or the next.
The singles on Private Eyes are as good as anything else. "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" is one of the most haunting singles ever and probably the only time a drum machine was put to good use. "Private Eyes" is a fantastic opener and "Did It In A Minute" has a fantastic hook ("Ya did it, ya did it, ya did it in a minute!"). Although there are no songs on here that could have also been singles, the album tracks are still great pop gems. "Looking For A Good Sign", "Tell Me What You Want" and "Your Imagination" are definitely highlights.
It is also interesting that the overall album does have a very dark tone, with songs about rejected love and stalkers, but isn't that what all '80s songs are about?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Album of the Day #171: TAPESTRY - Carole King

Artist: Carole King

Title: Tapestry
Year: 1971
Label: Ode
Songs: I Feel The Earth Move/So Far Away/It's Too Late*/Home Again/Beautiful/Way Over Yonder/You've Got A Friend/Where You Lead*/Will You Love Me Tomorrow**/Smackwater Jack**/Tapestry/(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman+
Written by: Carole King, except *Carole King & Toni Stern, **Gerry Goffin & Carole King and +Gerry Goffin, Carole King & Jerry Wexler
Produced by: Lou Adler
Thoughts: Carole King was the writer of so many amazing hits throughout the sixties with her then-husband, Gerry Goffin, but she had never had any success as a performer herself until Tapestry.
The album has since proven to be a cultural phenomenon that has survived over the years simply because it's pretty hard for such beautiful songs to age. This twelve song platter is really a kind of 'greatest hits' for King and it features many of the songs that were already familiar hits for others ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "...Natural Woman" were standards by 1971 and James Taylor just had a hit with "You've Got A Friend"). It was kind of like her Freewheelin' album.
To try to pick a favorite from this album is a really tough thing to do, but if you really wanted me to chose, I would have to say "It's Too Late". It's such an amazing song about pain and heartbreak and, for some reason, those are the kind of songs I like. Of the obscure songs on the album, which in reality are those that weren't released as singles, "Home Again" is pretty good and the title track is really something else.
The truth about Tapestry is that it is literally a Murderer's Row of songs. I really love King's voice and would like to pick up a few more of her records, but she never reached the heights of Tapestry again. You have to admit, it certainly doesn't help when you unload all of your best songs on one album. Still, that's what makes Tapestry so after song you already know. Plus, it means that there's no filler...all killer and in this case, the killer is a little Jewish girl from Brooklyn.