A Million Things To Be (January 22nd 1972)

My first post from the lower reaches of the US Album chart of 50 years ago put me on to some interesting music that probably wouldn’t have found a way on to my playlist & that’s a good thing. A first look at those records in positions 101-150 for January 22nd 1972 is similarly encouraging & if there is any problem making three selections there are always groups I’ve never heard of (the Siegel-Schwall Band #149) & I’m sure that the “Muppet Alphabet Album”, #110, is a good one.

Fabulous 208 Magazine 18 February 1967 Cat Stevens Small Faces Paul  McCartney Monkees

Cat Stevens was in a good place in 1972. As a teenage Pop star in the UK there had been three Top 20 45s in 1967 however a hectic work schedule (two LPs in that year) resulted in tuberculosis, a collapsed lung & a year’s bedrest. His re-emergence as a singer-writer of gentle, reflective acoustic tunes was received with goodwill then major commercial success for “Tea For The Tillerman” (1970). “Teaser & the Firecat”, more romantic, relatable introspection, Cat’s melodious Pop sensibility still apparent, was even more popular, sitting at #7 on the album chart for January 22nd. “…Tillerman” was still around at #66, its longevity assisted by songs featured in “Harold & Maude”, a comedy of innocence & experience still on everybody’s favourite films list. How the heck his record label didn’t release “If You Want To Sing Out”, a non-album track, as a single is a mystery because this simple uplifting song is one to be heard & sure sounds like a hit record to me. Cat Stevens was an international star shifting a lot of vinyl. In 1972 his old record label tried to cut in on some of that action.

Yusuf / Cat Stevens on Twitter | Cat stevens, Rolling stones magazine,  Rolling stones

“Very Young & Early Songs” was Cat’s third album on the listing, a new entry at #114. The 10 tracks were recorded at the time of, or just after, the “New Masters” LP, attempts to recapture the fresh, finely observed vignette “Matthew & Son”, his big hit early in 1967. The three singles, “Lovely City”, “Here Comes My Wife” & “Where Are You” all failed to chart, the songs lacking the writer’s earlier acuity, complicated by over-elaborate productions by Mike Hurst, hindsight confirming that simplicity would enhance Cat’s strengths. At loggerheads with his producer & his label Deram, he was able to extricate himself from them after recovery from his illness. I am a fan of Cat Stevens the Pop singer but this inconsistent assembly for the US market while interesting smacks a touch too much of cash-in cynicism when Cat had moved on. In the UK Deram got a double album from these leftovers so at least there’s that.

Papa John Creach with Hot Tuna, c. 1970. | Hot tuna, Papa johns, Rock and  roll

It was not too long after drummer Joey Covington replaced Spencer Dryden in Jefferson Airplane that singer Marty Balin gave notice that he too was eyeing the exit. Joey had introduced his friend Papa John Creach, a very experienced fifty-something violin player, to a rather fragmented, factional group, showing greater interest in their splinter projects. Papa John contributed to three tracks on “Bark” (1971) & was a group member for “Long John Silver” (1972) while, concurrently, joining the Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady for two records with Hot Tuna, his gypsy-blues fiddle prominent & adding texture to a duo who were seasoning their acoustic Blues with some Acid Rock muscle. (Jorma Kaukonen was my teenage guitar hero & “Burgers” (1972) is a fine album). Meanwhile over on the Starship side, Grace Slick & Paul Kantner, John was to be heard on two “Sunfighter” (1971) cuts & one on “Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun” (1973). It must have been quite an experience for a musician, who for over 30 years had gotten by taking jobs in clubs, ocean liners even orchestras, playing whatever it took to get the audiences on to the dance floor & to pay the bills, to be mixing with these Rock aristocrats but he fitted right in, a significant addition to the Airplane family’s sound at this time.

Papa John Creach - Wikipedia

All of the records checked above were released on the group’s own Grunt label & Papa John took the opportunity to to make his own eponymous album, a new entry a #140 on the chart. San Francisco’s finest showed out to support him. On the opening “The Janitor Drives His Cadillac” he shares vocals with Grace while John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service adds guitar, his Hot Tuna mates provide the big beat for two tracks, Carlos Santana called around, “Danny Boy” & “Over the Rainbow” are kept from the cabaret times. Across it all Papa John’s playing is adroit & energetic without being flashy, it’s “Soul Fever”, with the Dead’s Jerry Garcia & Santana’s Greg Rolie, that’s my pick. There were two further LPs on Grunt, “Red Octopus” with Starship & other records with his own group. Papa John Creach found a new, bigger & younger audience for his music & this dapper gentleman did what he always had done, put on a great show.

Grin 1 + 1 by Nils Lofgren on Apple Music

The first I was aware of Nils Lofgren was when his name appeared on the label of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” (1970), a record so good that you paid notice to everybody involved. Nils stuck around for the first album by Crazy Horse, another one you need on your shelf. It’s an enduring attachment to Shakey & the Horse that continues today with “Barn” (2021) but he had the connections to get a deal for his own band & Grin’s debut came around in 1971. The follow-up “1+1” (1972) is a new entry at #148 on this week’s list, a “rockin'” side followed by a “dreamy” one. Nils was just 20 on its release, a kid raised on the Beatles, the Stones & the Who & there’s a fresh, romantic, sincere innocence about both records assisted by “…Gold Rush” producer David Briggs who found the strength in the songs & let the tape roll. “White Lies”, the rockin’ opener, is the radio-friendly 45 that sure sounds like a hit, should have been a hit & what the heck happened there?

A&M Records, Ltd. History | On A&M Records

Maybe things would have been different if “1+1” had found a wider audience. Grin’s next two records were a little rushed & looking for a hit before they quit. Nils went solo, with a set of great songs, fine support for his guitar & keyboards & Briggs keeping it simple, he released one of the best US Rock albums of 1975 which failed to trouble the chart compilers. More good music followed but he never wrote a “Heart of Gold”, “Born To Run” or “Refugee” that would elevate him to headlining stadiums. He will be best remembered as a trusty, long-standing sideman for Neil & Bruce which is fine but if you need some crisp, straight ahead American Rock there are two Grin albums & at least three, maybe five, of his solo records that will do the trick.

OK, we have a little time left for something from the “dreamy” side of “1+1”. There’s a whole lotta things that I never done but I ain’t never had too much “Soft Fun”.

And They’ve Been Working All Day, All Day, All Day! (Cat Stevens)

In 1966 17 year old Steven Georgiou had got it going on. He had a new name, Cat Stevens & he had a new wardrobe too. The Carnaby Street boutiques were just a short stroll up Regent Street from his family’s Soho restaurant. The current thing was the Edwardian Dandy look, velvet suits, ruffed shirts. Young “Cat” had a few of those. He was also recording his first LP, all his own songs with a little help from heavyweight friends Leon Russell & Kim Fowley.

“Matthew & Son” was in a UK chart Top 3 along with “I’m A Believer” & “Let’s Spend The Night Together”. England was swinging like a pendulum do & Cat Stevens was smack dab in the middle of this whole new thing. The Beatles & the Stones had grown up with Rock & Roll  & the Blues respectively. Those musicians who were part of the great creative rush of the British Beat Explosion had been born in the Second World War, Cat was the first of the post-war Baby Boomers, the Beatles fans, to make the scene. For him it was no big deal that he was a singer who wrote his own songs or that those songs drew from Dylan, the musicals in the theatres  next door or anything else that took his fancy. Pop Art had been around as a theory & a movement for 10 years. By 1966 these young Brits were making Pop Art up as they went along.

Cat’s music sounded new, fresh & bright on the new. fresh…you get me… pirate radio stations. His mentor & producer was Mike Hurst, one third of the hit folk trio the Springfields (alongside the wondrous Dusty). Hurst had a hook up with Decca to launch a new “progressive” label Deram. His flamboyant, biff-bang-pow productions were of the moment. There could be a touch of novelty rather than innovation about them but hey, it was Pure Pop, the young me was impressed & liked to hear them.

The first Cat Stevens LP, also called “Matthew & Son”, is full of folk-rock melodies boosted by imaginative instrumentation & arrangement. It is, more than many of its contemporaries, in the orbit of “Rubber Soul”. I know, I’m not claiming that it is of the same quality but it is from a time when British pop music was let loose in the toyshop, when it was Mod, flash & fun. It is a gem & announces a new talent.

Cat had a lot of songs & Hurst kept him busy in the studio. A second LP was released just 9 months later in December 1967, a post-Sergeant Pepper music world now. The cover of “New Masters” registers that things have become a little more serious, the teenage singer going for gravitas but looking solemn. He’s a pop singer for flip’s sake. “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, a pop-soul classic, is still around today. This live clip, Cat with a band & happy doing what he’s doing, obviously rocking his new furry coat, captures him at his best in this early stage of his career.

Things were happening too quickly. The quirky singles were not on the LP. There was a split between Cat & Hurst as the singer wanted more control & less whistles & bells. The label & the lawyers had too much say in what went where on the record & it was not a success.

Blimey ! Where is the fresh-faced young man from earlier in the year ? As a solo singer, a rare thing at a time when it was all about the groups, Cat often seemed awkward & adventitious selling his big, busy, beaty balladry on a conveyor belt of unsympathetic European TV programmes. Stood standing by himself, lip-synching, what can a poor boy do ? A young man’s first attempt at facial hair is never a good look & Cat just seems tired. He was not living healthily, he needed to keep those hits coming & he was getting ill.

I used the money from my paper round to buy my copy of “A Bad Night”. I played it as much as you do when you only have a small stack of vinyl. The grooves are packed, the tune a little lost but I really did like a bit of polished baroque pop back then. I knew that these everything & the kitchen sink productions could be, in the wrong hands, a hard way to go. From the sappy children’s chorus of “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” to the crappy melodrama of “Bat Out Of Hell” culminating in the counterfeit classicism of “Bohemian Rhapsody” bombast & superfluity produced some strictly ersatz music. But OK, I reckon that Mike Hurst & Cat Stevens fall on the right side of imaginative here & I still like “A Bad Night”

There was no more music from Cat Stevens for 3 years. He contracted tuberculosis & needed a long period of convalescence. When he did return everything was new. There were a bunch of new songs for a new label. He was a man now, a serious singer-songwriter riding  the acoustic swell which was becoming an international thing. His facial hair was convincing this time around too. That young Mod singer had been replaced. It was the first of Cat’s musical lives & there were to be more in the future. I liked some of his new music, certainly admired the principles he has adhered to in later years. I liked the cocky young teenager & his new pop songs too. We were so much older then…you get me ?

Music And Movies

I love a classy film soundtrack.If I made a Top 10 list there would be 10 more spring to mind that I had overlooked. The greatest of the composers are linked with great directors, Bernard Herrmann with Hitchcock, Nino Rota with Fellini and Ennio Morricone with Leone. Then there are the modern rock age scores, Ry Cooder’s “Paris Texas”, Vangelis “Blade Runner” and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”. The bespoke works of Jack Nitzsche for “Cuckoo’s Nest”, Popol Vuh’s “Aguirre” and Philip Glass’ “Koyaanisqatsi”. Missed out some great ones ? Of course I have, I told you I would.

“Easy Rider” was a breakthrough film in many ways. For the first time Hollywood let young people make a movie for the young. While that market was there waiting for such a film the use of rock tracks found a new one. The “Easy Rider” soundtrack LP was the first to be bought by many people, followed by the “Woodstock” and “A Clockwork Orange” albums. Now there is a pick and mix approach to the soundtracks of almost all movies. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s just crass. If I hear one more Nick Drake song in one more crappy US rom-com it will still be wrong. Here are three random but favourite uses of rock music in movies.

Martin Scorsese has always used rock and roll in his films. He edited the “Woodstock” movie, in “Mean Streets” there is a fantastic selection of doo-wop and R&B along with a couple of Rolling Stones songs. Over 30 years later he shows the touch of a master in his introduction of Jack Nicholson’s character, Frank Costello. The scene is edited to “Gimme Shelter” the ominous Stones’ classic. The monologue ends with Charlie’s drum beats, he leaves the deli to Merry Clayton’s cries of “Rape! Murder!”. I know that “The Departed” owes a big debt to “Infernal Affairs”. I know that the original is probably the better movie. I had paid my money to see the great Jack Nicholson doing his job properly again in a Scorsese flick where wise guys got violent and swore imaginatively with some good music along the way. After this opening scene I settled into my comfy seat knowing that I was going to enjoy this film and be entertained by a great director. The world outside the cinema could wait for a couple of hours.

A battered set of wheels, a beer, a joint and a Creedence tape playing. What’s not to love ? For 40 whole seconds Jeff “Dude” Lebowski is a happy man. “The Big Lebowski” is the Coen Brothers’ rock and roll movie. The Dude, “I bowl, drive around, the occasional acid flashback” is hero for our times. In a film which is more quoted and more quotable than any in recent times “what day is…is this a weekday ?” is the funniest because, in my case, it is the truest. My inner Dude ? Whaddya mean inner ? In 1998 when this film was released I went to the cinema on consecutive weekends to see it.

Joel and Ethan had a top script and got themselves a top soundtrack for the film. Captain Beefheart, Dylan, Elvis Costello, Kenny Rogers, you know, the greats. The Eagles are in there a couple of times. Once to have a delicious dig at them and to get the Dude thrown out of a cab, another the brilliant raucous noise of the Gypsy Kings’ version of “Hotel California”. It is the Dude’s attachment to Creedence Clearwater Revival, music which makes you happy, which makes us smile. This scene is only edited to the music for the final drumbeats. There are those younger than me who were introduced to CCR by this film. “Looking Out My Back Door” is their gateway to their discovery of some fine music. The Dude, indeed, abides.

In the 1970s director Hal Ashby made 7 memorable films. The second of these, 1971’s “Harold And Maude” is a comedy about suicide and love, death and living. It is a brilliant life-affirming experience. If you know the film then this clip, from near the end, will be as poignant as on the first viewing. If you don’t know the film then enjoy the music of Cat Stevens.

Cat Stevens was a teenage pop star, writing his own songs, who suffered a bout of tuberculosis and re-emerged as a sensitive singer-songwriter. His songs of innocence and experience, with a couple written for the film could not have suited the film any better. Ashby was an editor before he was a director. He only needs the music and the images to tell the story and he does it with a brilliance that few have matched. “Harold and Maude” is one of the great screen love stories but was a commercial flop on it’s release. We would see the film as often as we could in the art-house repertory cinemas and loved to introduce it to people who did not know it.

I am writing this on my 60th birthday. I guess that now I am officially old…how did that happen? Thinking about “Harold and Maude” makes me think of Maude, played by the amazing Ruth Gordon. This 80 year old lived a life of extremes but retains an anarchistic (if sometimes illegal) appetite and energy for new experience. It is not just the youth who could use a role model and Maude will suit me just fine for the next 20 years. In her spirit I will add this clip, she would not end with a sad one…because there’s a million things to be you know that there are.