Pointer Sisters, ‘Fire’ (‘Cash Box’ magazine, October 28, 1978). Click to enlarge.
The Pointer Sisters “Fire” released in the fall of 1978 and originally appeared on the Energy LP.
This slow-burning tune, sung by Anita Pointer and written by Bruce Springsteen, made it to #2 on the US Hot 100 in early 1979. Catch the Pointer Sisters performing on The Midnight Special that same year.
‘SON OF DRACULA’ (FILM AND HARRY NILSSON SOUNDTRACK, BOTH 1974)
Nilsson and Ringo’s long-lost attempt at a vampire movie yielded a spooky, hit-filled soundtrack perfect for Halloween parties.
Even before Harry Nilsson played a bloodsucker onscreen, he was already a vampire. As a member of Alice Cooper’s ’70s Hollywood drinking club The Hollywood Vampires, Harry joined famous pals Mickey Dolenz and Keith Moon in drinking not “the blood of the vein [but] the blood of the vine,” as Cooper put it. Another Vampire was Ringo Starr, who took the group name literally and dreamed up a movie about a kindhearted rocker who’s also a reluctant neck-biter. And who better to play this gentle, deathless soul than angel-faced Nilsson?
The film: Nilsson plays Count Downe, Dracula’s century-old heir. Downe is summoned to London by immortal wizard Merlin (Starr) to claim his birthright as the new King of the Netherworld. But the sultry Amber (Suzanna Leigh) stirs human feelings in Downe, who decides to become a love-enabled mortal and relinquish his throne. Meanwhile, Dr. Van Helsing and Baron Frankenstein are each desperate to control Downe’s destiny — for their own nefarious reasons…
‘Son Of Dracula’ TV Trailer (1974)
Because its cast and director are largely Hammer veterans, Son of Dracula looks and feels like a quality Hammer horror film of the period. Though marketed as a comedy, there are no intentional laughs; this isn’t a freewheeling monster spoof but an earnest attempt at a Gothic vampire flick, with grandiose dialogue to match: “now the netherworld can rejoice that a vampire child will be born in the manner of the human world.”
Dramatically, the weak link is Nilsson himself; in his dialogue scenes he’s stiff, soft-spoken, and uncomfortable. Yet in the four songs he plays live — his character Downe was an avid music student — Nilsson displays all the passion and intensity he can’t muster for his spoken parts. Adding to the excitement is Downe’s all-star live band, which includes Keith Moon, John Bonham, and a pre-stardom Peter Frampton.
Harry Nilsson: ‘At My Front Door’ (1974)
Though Son of Dracula is seldom spooky, funny, or thrilling, it’s always watchable and frequently rockin’; manage your expectations and you may even enjoy it. The film was never released on home video or cable but a VHS bootleg has made it to YouTube, so you can finally view this lost rarity.
The album: Like dime-store Halloween records of “scary sound effects and spooky songs,” the bizarre Son of Dracula album is basically “Nilsson’s greatest hits with creepy dialogue and music”; fully a third of the running time is spoken bits from the film. These are overlaid with trippy, jazzy incidental music (sounding like Zappa or Miles) and sound effects both shivery (thunder and rain!) and silly (a ping-pong game?).
Harry Nilsson: ‘Count Downe Meets Merlin and Amber’ (1974)
In between, you get seven great Nilsson songs, all but one from his two previous albums. Three had been hit singles, with Badfinger cover “Without You” reaching #1.
‘Son of Dracula’ iron-on transfer
The songs are resequenced from the film; with the three ballads together halfway through, the album drags a bit midway. But it’s nice to wind things up with the mighty “Jump Into The Fire,” appearing here in its single edit.
Harry Nilsson: ‘Jump Into The Fire’ (1974 Soundtrack Version)
My Nilsson fanatic friend Todd Lawrence finds the film “half fun and half awful,” adding, “I look at it as two best friends living out a dream together. It is the single most extensive collaboration between Harry and Ringo. For them, I think it was about having an excuse to ‘play’ together.” No argument there, and Harry got to play with lots of other Hollywood Vampire buddies as well. He even wrote an anthem for the group in “Daybreak,” the one new song here and a Top 40 hit. The reggae-tinged lament applies equally to booze-drinkers and blood-sippers: “Had a good time last night, best I ever had / Here come the sunshine that’s makin’ me sad.”
Harry Nilsson: ‘Daybreak’ (1974)
The 8-track: The nicest thing I can say about this tape is that I’m glad it exists. The 8-track edition deprives the buyer of the very cool bat-cape foldout gatefold jacket and rare “Bite It” T-shirt transfer issued with the LP. The tape programming is the worst I’ve heard; because everything’s crossfaded and overlapped, resequencing the album was impossible. So RCA gave up, splitting the master tape into equal fourths and chopping off songs at random with no fades.
However, buyers of the sealed 8-track have their own treat: the evaporated label glue has crystallized into a lovely filigree pattern, a perfect adornment for this esoteric, Gothic-flavored curio.
Black Sabbath’s “Snowblind,’ an ode to white powder, appeared on the band’s Vol 4 LP in 1972.
In fact, the album was originally intended to be called Snowblind but the record company demurred, preferring to avoid controversy. Here’s Sabbath performing the tune in London in June of 1978. Ozzy’s vocals aren’t as splendid as the record’s but he’s certainly…energetic. Play loud.
Late in its brief career, LA’s mystical acid-blues band drops a memorable album free of hits but full of treats.
Before Jim ascended to that great snakepit in the sky, the Doors put out six studio albums. Conventional wisdom holds that the first (The Doors) and the last (L.A. Woman) were strongest, with quality dipping a bit mid-career. There’s certainly some truth to this, with treacly pop #4 The Soft Parade easily the nadir. However, album five, Morrison Hotel, is actually pretty fantastic, with nary a bad song nor sour note. Since it didn’t have an actual hit single (radio favorite “Roadhouse Blues” was a B-side that only went to #50), it tends to be overlooked. If you haven’t visited the Hotel in a while (or ever), let’s “check in” and check it out.
No epics. Jim always had that mystical poet side, and some of the Doors’ best moments onstage were the long, experimental, partly spoken numbers such as “The End” and “When The Music’s Over.” Though these translated well into long album cuts, they could be a bit much if you weren’t in the mood for the “weird Jim.” Like Waiting for the Sun (album three), Morrison Hotel limits itself to relatively short pop songs, and is thus easier to enjoy any time of day, in any state of mind.
Mostly happy. Eh, is that a plus? Well, remember we’re talking about the Doors here, whose brightest moments were still pretty dark and glum. So they achieve a really nice tension giving a lyric like “The human race was dyin’ out / No one left to scream and shout” (“Ship of Fools”) a carefree, bubblegum feel — you’re forced to smile while singing along.
The Doors: ‘Ship Of Fools’ (1970)
Best dance song. During my mercifully short bar-DJ career, I searched for a cool and funky Doors song to rock the crowd and could find none better than “Peace Frog.” Guitarist Robbie Krieger strikes a tuff wah-wah guitar rhythm, John Densmore lays out a sick backbeat drum groove, and Ray Manzerek drops in some pulsing organ stabs. The song would be da bomb even without Morrison’s vocal, but his apocalyptic lyrics (“blood stains the roofs and the palm trees of Venice”) just send this one over the top. (Sadly the 8-track breaks the exquisite transition into the mellow “Blue Sunday.”)
The Doors: ‘Peace Frog’ (1970)
Best drinking song (tie). The beloved boogie shuffle “Roadhouse Blues” features the immortal party-hound lyric “I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer.” In the Doors pantheon this is rivaled as a frat-boy singalong only by “Alabama Song” from the debut (“show me the way to the next whiskey bar”). Still I’ll give the nod to “Roadhouse Blues,” since beer is the great equalizer of truckers, hipsters, and judges. (Fun fact: this lively, spontaneous number was actually the product of countless studio takes, only coming to life with the arrival of Lonnie Mack on bass, John Sebastian on harmonica, and Manzarek on a tack piano used on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.”)
The Doors: ‘Roadhouse Blues’ (1970)
Looking back. As well as showing where the band was at in late 1969 – early 1970, Morrison Hotel flashes back to sounds and styles from years past. Two tracks are earlier outtakes, both of such high quality it’s surprising they were passed over originally. The lovely “Indian Summer” was recorded during The Doors sessions in 1966; Krieger’s modal Eastern-sounding guitar work recalls “The End.” Like Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” “Waiting for the Sun” was maddeningly omitted from the album (1968) that bears its name. “Queen of the Highway” and “You Make Me Real” are new recordings of earlier compositions.
The Doors: ‘Indian Summer’ (1970)
Ska by chance. Though the off-beat rhythm of “Maggie M’Gill” resembles Jamaican ska and rocksteady music, this was probably accidental: it doesn’t sound much like Desmond Dekker’s 1969 hit “Israelites,” the only ska song the Doors might have heard. However, Krieger’s slashing chords (starting at 0:33) may well have been an influence on The Clash’s similar “The Guns of Brixton” almost a decade later.
The Doors: ‘Maggie M’Gill’ (1970)
Grittiest album photo. Morrison Hotel was an actual place in downtown Los Angeles (I remember seeing it circa 1983). The band couldn’t get permission for a photo shoot at the hotel, so while the desk clerk was distracted they dashed inside and posed for Henry Diltz’s memorable cover shot.
LA via Illinois. Like many labels at the time, Elektra didn’t have the capacity to produce its own 8-track tapes, so production was farmed out to the Ampex plant in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. (If you want to geek out on cartridge tech, here’s a detailed description of the factory’s tape-duplication process.) Though usually great-sounding, Ampex tapes of this vintage suffered from a manufacturing flaw: the roller component was made of uncured rubber that would slowly soften or even melt. Happily this part had been replaced by a previous owner, allowing this memorable cart to roll, baby, roll… all night long.
OKTOBERFEST: THE KNICKERBOCKERS (1975), BUSCH GARDENS CAST (1979), JAMES LAST (1974)
An 8-track survey of the 200-year-old German beer fest somehow includes John Lennon, Uriah Heep, and Charlie the Unicorn. Burp!
Ach du lieber – October’s only started and Oktoberfest is almost over! Munich’s traditional German celebration of food, beer, music, beer, and beer actually starts in mid-September and ends the first weekend of its namesake month. So if you’re gonna get your oompah on, now’s the time. Happily we have a few oddball 8-tracks this week to set the mood perfectly if you’re short on Lufthansa cash. Just add sausage, kraut, lederhosen, and a stein or ten of fine märzen brau.
The bacchanalian fest started in 1810 as a quiet post-royal-wedding affair, a garden party with horseracing. Over two centuries Oktoberfest has grown into a massive 2½-week-long outdoor festival, with six million annual guests drinking an average of a liter of beer each (some less and some much, much more). Things got so out of hand ten years ago that the organizers decided to make the afternoon sessions quieter and more friendly to the very young and old, with rowdiness saved for the evenings.
In the afternoons, the open-air festival’s dozens of tents feature the softer sounds of traditional Bavarian brass band music. The scene might sound something like Oktoberfest Ein Prosit, an hour-long 1975 recording by New York ensemble The Knickerbockers (not the ’60s garage band!).
Knickerbockers: ‘In Heaven There Is No Beer’ (Oktoberfest Music, 1975)
The tape is mostly sung in German, but you do get a bilingual version of the 1956 drinking song “In Heaven There Is No Beer” (a 1972 hit for US band Clean Living). And of course, you’re treated to the “Ein Prosit” refrain, which always signals a group toast, steins aloft. Like anyone forgets to drink at these things.
The Knickerbockers are fine, but I much prefer the 1979 Oktoberfest “cast album” recorded live (and sold onsite) at beer-drenched theme park Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The site includes a Bavarian area actually called Oktoberfest in which the holiday is celebrated year-round. (Working there is my new fantasy job, by the way.)
Busch Gardens Cast: ‘O Du Lieber Augustin/Der Fröhliche Wanderer’ (1979)
As forever enshrined on this lovely gift-shop grab, helpful Busch Gardens cast members invite puzzled and/or drunken crowds to participate in the Fest’s arcane arm-linking and table-slapping rituals. Later, the band performs a breakneck reading of the “Clarinet Polka,” which you may recognize from the 2005 Charlie the Unicorn animated short.
Busch Gardens Cast: ‘Clarinet Polka’ (1979)
Back in Munich, with juniors and seniors safely tucked in bed, the wild schlager music begins. Schlager is a kind of generic European pop music (think early ABBA), often with country-western rhythms and always with accordion, designed to offend none and please all (however slightly).
Our schlager act tonight is hardworking German band leader James Last, who released a staggering 187 albums under his name over 40 years (that’s a brand new album every 11 weeks). Last’s discography spans everything from tasteful strings to groovy Hammond organ to sizzling ’70s jazz-funk to dull classical remakes. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, he released an amazing series of albums entitled Non-Stop Dancing that featured relentless medleys of current radio pop hits, most familiar to American ears.
James Last: ‘Ballad of John & Yoko’/’Green River’/’Easy Livin” (1974)
Comprised of “Non-Stop Dancing” cuts, the 1974 Canadian K-Tel LP compilation Super Party Pac offers solid yet silly remakes of hits by The Beatles, Creedence, and Uriah Heep. Listening, you really get the sense of a live bandstand performance with hordes of drunk adults dancing and singing along with the words they know (which aren’t many). It’s astounding to hear the band jump from a song about Jesus to a song about a black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks — without missing a beat. Achtung!
James Last: ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand’/’Theme From Shaft’ (1974)
Thanks for joining us in the 8-Trackin’ Oktoberfest tent. Tip your beer maid, be careful stumbling home, and auf wiedersehen!