A couple of weeks ago I checked out the Cash Box album chart from 50 years ago, made my selections from those listed between 101 – 150, dug out some old records & hit a problem. The soft rock of Loggins & Messina just didn’t seem as interesting & as engaging as it had done in 1972. It was the same with the Raiders (formerly Paul Revere & the…) & Harry Chapin. I’m an enthusiast not a critic, I don’t want to waste my, your’s, anybody’s time with music I don’t really like so, for the first time this year, I scrapped the weekend blog post. On to the chart for the 23rd of April 1972 & ah, that’s much better. One of my selections is a favourite record by a favourite group so excuse me if later it all gets a bit florid.
Philadelphian Todd Rundgren’s teenage band, the Nazz, made an impression with their Psych-Pop, now classic, “Open My Eyes”. Leaving after a second album Todd, with his own ideas about the recording process, found employment as a sound engineer/producer with Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman’s Bearsville organisation, preparing a mix (Glyn Johns did one too) for the Band’s “Stage Fright” (1970). The record “Runt”, written, produced but not released under his name was a vanity project, a favour from the boss. They were both surprised when the track “We Gotta Get You A Woman” made the US Top 20 & Todd had a solo career. “Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” (1971), like the debut, failed to attract big sales but those who were listening could hear the influence of sweet New York & Philly Soul & Laura Nyro, the melodicism of the Beatles, the Hard Rock of the Yardbirds, the inspiration of Jimi Hendrix – phew! All of this was evident on the next record, no more Runt, his name on the sleeve. Todd was in control & did not want to be viewed as just another singer-songwriter.
“Something/Anything?”, #124 on this week’s chart, is a double album, four different sides of a prolific & restlessly forward-thinking artist. There were long studio sessions while Todd played all the instruments & sang all the vocals on intricate arrangements. An L.A. earthquake took him back to the East Coast to finish the record with a band. Side one, “a bouquet of ear-catching melodies” opens with the sure-fire hit “I Saw The Light” & does exactly what it says on the label. There’s more than a touch of Prog on the “cerebral” side, a “Pop Operetta” revived “Hello It’s Me” for an even bigger hit. My selection, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”, may not have invented Power Pop but certainly raised the bar. More songs like this would have been welcome. “Something/Anything?” may. like many double albums, may be self-indulgent but it’s a major work by a major talent. If it was recorded on Ritalin & weed the follow-up “A Wizard, A True Star” (1973) employed synthesizers & acid & was as madly chaotic as a box of frogs. Todd himself called it “career suicide” though to say the album is worth sticking with is understating its appeal. He could care less anyway, keeping busy with his band Utopia, running in parallel to his solo releases, while establishing himself as a leading producer. My subscription to the “Todd Is God” society lapsed some time ago though I’ll always listen to his output when it comes my way. The early albums, well I’ll always have time for those.
When sixth form ( a college but still school really) had finished for the day me & Butch would hop into his Morris Minor & scoot over to a local record shop where his girlfriend Natalie would let us listen to the new albums we wanted to hear but couldn’t afford to buy. The song that brings to mind those two young idiots spilling out of the listening booth (remember those?) whooping with the Rock & Roll excitement of it all is “Coming Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from “On Tour With Eric Clapton” (1970). Delaney Bramlett, raised in Mississippi, moved to Los Angeles after service in the Navy hooking up with other Southern musicians in the orbit of Leon Russell. Bonnie O’Farrell’s experience as a backing singer included three days onstage with Ike & Turner as the first white Ikette. Moving West in 1967 she met Delaney & they were married later that year. Delaney & Bonnie had many “Friends”, their first record was recorded at the Stax studios with Booker T & the M.G.s & the Memphis Horns, released by the label as part of their 27 album reinvigoration it got a little lost in the crush. On “Home” & “Accept No Substitute” (both 1969) Gospel, Country & R&B coalesced into an intoxicating rootsy Southern Rock. With their killer band augmented by Clapton, Dave Mason & sometimes George Harrison they had a great live show, the set recorded at the less-than-glamourous Fairfield Halls, Croydon becoming their most successful album.
In 1970 that band, Bobby Whitlock (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) went off with Eric to be Derek & the Dominos. Delaney & Bonnie still had plenty of friends, Little Richard, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons – it’s a long list – to help out on their records. The acoustic “Motel Shot” included “Never Ending Song of Love”, a US Top 20 entry as was their version of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know & I Know”. The latter, like the studio version of “Coming Home” was released was released by Atco along with the accompanying album “Country Life” which was withdrawn by label boss Jerry Wexler who thought it lacked quality. Columbia picked up the record, shuffled the tracks & released it as “D & B Together”, #101 on the Cash Box chart. Wexler made a tough call, audiences may have been moving towards the guitar-based Southern rockers (Allman Brothers, ZZ Top) but there’s plenty of passion & soul on the record including “Groupie (Superstar)”, later a hit for the Carpenters. While D & B were “together” professionally they were separated then divorced by the end of the year. For a while it had seemed to be a sure thing that they would be big stars but it didn’t happen. Their five albums, particularly “”Accept No Substitute” & “On Tour” still rock.
In 1965 the Kinks were one of the biggest bands in the world. The previous year “You Really Got Me” started a pretty much five year long unbroken run of UK Top 10 singles, the first three of them hitting the same in the US. Preceded by a fractious reputation an American tour was marred by poor ticket sales, in-band arguments, unsatisfactory shows & finally a punch-up before an appearance on the “Dick Cavett Show”. The American Federation of Musicians were now able to defy the invasion of the Limey Longhairs & the Kinks’ ban from performing in the US lasted four years. Ray Davies developed an idiosyncratic British sensibility, sometimes cynical, increasingly nostalgic, a catalogue of great albums & popular 45s, all embellished by the guitar of brother Dave. “Waterloo Sunset”, a perfect, pivotal moment in 1960s British music made no impression on the US charts. In the UK the now influential, still wonderful “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” (1968) failed to match the commercial success of albums by their contemporaries but in 1970, their US ban served, “Lola” was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The group ended their US deal with Reprise who now had a load of great, deserving of a wider hearing, music & the label found an imaginative way to re-release it.
“The Kink Kronikles”, a new entry at #142, is not a greatest hits kollektion (sorry). Compiled by critic & big fan John Mendelsohn it’s a 28 track non-chronological selection from the group’s 1966-71 output. There are great 60s singles (“Dead End Street”, “Autumn Almanac”), the later hits (“Lola”, “Apeman”), three songs by Dave, who never released the solo album he should have done, album tracks & some hard-to-get in the US stuff. Of course there are omissions (“Big Sky”, only the title track from “Village Green”) but the selection is wide ranging & considerately assembled. My current favourite is “God’s Children”, from a fag-end of the 60s (1971 actually) Brit-com – Hywel Bennett has a penis transplant – that Ray provided the soundtrack for. It’s possibly the most uplifting song he has written & never fails to bring a smile. If I don’t want one of the classic albums then I reach for “The Kink Kronikles”, an excellent, still surprising playlist from a very creative time of a great band. God save ’em.
Superb, I have A wizard…, played it twice and never came back to it, way over my head to be honest, will check out the record you mentioned, that’s a mighty slice of power pop, also own the D&B live record, it is brilliant and as for The Kinks, probably too late now to get into the whole album thing but man did they have some run of singles, great stuff as always Mal.