Ohio Players, ‘Contradiction’ (‘Record World’ magazine, June 12, 1976). Click to enlarge.
Ohio Players’ Contradiction LP released in the spring of 1976 and began its climb to #12 on Billboard‘s album chart.
Tracks “Who’d She Coo?” and “Far East Mississippi” were released as singles. Let’s relive a little bit of the summer of ’76 and grab a listen to “Who’d She Coo?” which hit #1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and #18 on the US Hot 100.
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE, ‘THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON’ (8-TRACK); VARIOUS ARTISTS, ‘I’M JUST LIKE YOU: SLY STONE’S FLOWER 1969-70’ (DOUBLE LP); MILES MARSHALL LEWIS, ‘THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON’ (BOOK)
Visionary funk-rock genius strips down his sound for a claustrophobic, paranoid masterpiece; 8-track, book, and LP tell the whole story.
If There’s A Riot Goin’ On here, it’s a quiet riot! Check out a few random seconds of “Africa Talks To You ‘The Asphalt Jungle’” below. The previous Sly and the Family Stone sound — a massive rock/funk combo playing to a big crowd — has been compressed into something dense and unrecognizable. It sounds as though Sly, a drum machine, and a couple other players have squeezed into a closet, partying quietly so as not to disturb their parents. Everything — Sly’s woozy vocals, the guitar and bass — is extremely soft & incredibly close.
Sly & The Family Stone: ‘Africa Talks to You ‘The Asphalt Jungle” (1971)
Somehow this is still pretty funky. But what happened to big-ass party anthems like “Dance to the Music” and “I Want To Take You Higher”? To track the transition, let’s yank out the 8-track and put on some vinyl — Light in the Attic’s superb 2014 comp I’m Just Like You: Sly Stone’s Flower 1969-70. This is a collection of singles produced and released by Sly on his Stone Flower label just before the Riot album; as with Prince’s ’80s side projects, these other artists’ records sound like the producer’s own work. A few of these have the classic, big-band Family Stone sound, but most preview the minimalist beat box grooves soon to be found on Riot.
About that beat box: Sly used the newly produced Maestro Rhythm King drum machine (seen on the compilation gatefold) on both the Stone Flower singles and the Riot album. Nicknamed the “Funk Box” by Sly, the Rhythm King provides a click track for later drum overdubs and sometimes the entire percussion track. This was the first synthetic drum sound ever heard on the Top 40, in Little Sister’s Stone Flower single “Somebody’s Watching You” and Sly’s “Family Affair,” from the Riot album. (Timmy Thomas’ 1972 “Why Can’t We Live Together,” using a Lowrey organ’s built-in drum machine, was probably the third of these early synth-beat hits.)
Little Sister: ‘Somebody’s Watching You’ (1970)
The making of the album is quite a tale, as revealed by Miles Marshall Lewis in his witty, insightful 33 1/3 series book. After playing Woodstock and releasing the final “classic” Family Stone album Stand, Sly withdrew from public life. Using stimulants and hanging out with the Black Panthers radicalized his worldview, which he sought to pour into a concept album called Africa Talks To You (soon renamed There’s A Riot Goin’ On in response to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On). He recorded sessions at a Sausalito studio and in his Bel Air mansion, playing most instrumental parts himself (along with the Funk Box) and inviting band members and outsiders (Bobby Womack, Billy Preston) to contribute occasional overdubs.
According to Lewis, the decadent scene at the LA house matched the Stones’ debauchery cutting Exile on Main Street in France, also in 1971. “Drugs, guns, pit-bull terriers, orgies, violent threats, and awake-for-days recording marathons all play parts in the mayhem behind the scenes of creating the record,” he writes. Cocaine flowed freely at the sessions, but only Sly’s; to maintain absolute control, he wouldn’t allow players or guests to bring their own stash. A painful recording process, perhaps, but you can’t argue with the results.
The album’s audio mix is simultaneously complex and minimalist, with instruments and vocals rising and vanishing like fish in a pond. In the “I’m Just Like You” booklet, engineer Richard Tilles reveals Sly’s mixing technique on the Stone Flower singles: “Since Sly was ‘playing’ the faders, his mixing was a performance… (he) would abruptly push up or pull down one or a group of faders, for as little as a beat or two.” Sly’s use of the mixing board as its own instrument parallels the work of reggae “dub” remixers like King Tubby and Lee Perry.
Sly & The Family Stone: ‘Family Affair’ (1971)
Ever mindful of success, Sly carefully delivered a couple sparkling hit singles, “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away” (the latter covered by female UK postpunk minimalists The Raincoats); third 45 “You Caught Me Smilin’” is also a slice of pure joy. Sly remade his recent funk smash “Thank You (Falettinme Be Myself)” into a stoned, expansive groove called “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” that’s more for chillin’ than dancin’.
“Africa” is the only song broken on the 8-track; at seven minutes, it splits nicely into two halves. Overall this tape release is fantastic; I can’t stop listening to it as I write. This heavily overdubbed recording has a very “tape” sound, which sounds wonderful on my original orange-shell Epic cartridge. I recommend it as a way to immerse yourself in this remarkable album, one of my all-time favorites. And grab Lewis’ book and the Stone Flower double LP to get the full story of this unique funk masterpiece.
What does it sound like? “Crazy on You” by Heart. Bold if pop-accented soft-metal jams with strong, soulful female vocals; Jenny Haan’s singing style may well have inspired Ann Wilson’s. In the more glam moments Haan sounds more like Suzi Quatro, and Grace Slick figures in here somewhere too. There’s a consistent thread of flamenco-inspired electric lead guitar, though I wouldn’t call this Latin rock.
Why did you choose it? I knew the band only from its 1973 cult rock-disco hit “The Mexican” (I even wrote about the song on this site’s Disco Lab series. A member of a Facebook 8-track group had this 8-track for sale and I grabbed it on impulse.
Is this their best album? I haven’t heard any others so I can’t say. Debut First Base is better known, at least, thanks to “The Mexican.”
What else had they done? Only First Base and sophomore album Amar Caballero.
How and/or why did they record it? Record contract obligation, really, more than any unique vision, though the material here is quite inspired.
What songs would I know? The only single from the album was “Private Number,” a surprisingly effective power-pop cover of the sweet soul hit by William Bell (think Heart’s version of “Tell It Like It Is”). Most listeners will also recognize the Morricone spaghetti-western theme “A Fistful of Dollars,” presented here as a brisk guitar instrumental. (Article continues after song…)
Babe Ruth: ‘Private Number’ (1975)
What other songs are good? “Jack O’Lantern” is a punk-paced Halloween story about a Peeping Tom who gets his dad sent to prison for his own perverted crimes. The band also offers a second soul cover, a version of Curtis Mayfield’s “We [The] People Who Are Darker Than Blue” that meanders into a stoney rock freakout.
What’s a cool song quote from the album? “Heaven knows I could be wrong to love a guy like you / Your rags and my riches won’t do.” (“The Duchess of Orleans”)
What’s awesome musically? Apart from Haan’s dynamite vocals, you’ll enjoy Alan Shacklock’s Spanish-styled guitar work throughout, highlighted stunningly on the acoustic gypsy-jazz number “Turquoise.”
Do the title and cover art work? The title’s OK; as far as I know, the album accurately summarizes the band’s style and intent. The cover’s awful, showing separate small pics of the band posing formally in Elizabethan garb. It makes this album seem like stuffy chamber prog-rock, which it’s definitely not.
Was the album a hit? Reaching #75, it seems to have been their biggest US hit, but that ranking is by no means a smash. To its credit but perhaps financial detriment, the band refused to promote Haan as a cover girl for its albums, instead choosing faceless, generic album cover images (often baseball-themed, per the band name).
How’s the 8-track version? It’s perfect; nine songs and none broken, kinda hard to do. Both soul covers are on the same program, facilitating comparison between them.
What’s missing on the tape from the LP album art? Not much, just another period-costume pic on the back. The inner sleeve offers some rando trippy illustrations and a full set of lyrics.
Is this an old favorite of yours? As of this morning! It arrived in the mail today; I played it and really liked it.
Are people still listening to it? I don’t think so, though another Facebook 8-track fan commented that he liked the album too. After a 30-year hiatus, the original lineup reformed the band in 2005, so they’re keeping the dream alive at least.
What’s some random trivia about this? Liner notes feature a quote from dystopian futurist and acid enthusiast Aldous Huxley.
When should I play this album? Getting ready to go out, applying glitter to wear to a keg party.
What’s another good album of theirs? You and I should both check out debut First Base from 1973 to hear “The Mexican” and more. Fourth album Stealing Home, from later in 1975, features the song “Elusive,” a hit in US discos and UK northern-soul clubs.
Wizzard, ‘See My Baby Jive’ (‘Cash Box’ magazine, June 30, 1973). Click to enlarge.
Eccentric glam rockers Wizzard were formed in 1972 by Roy Wood, front man of The Move and co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra. The group’s second single, “See My Baby Jive,” was extremely successful, rocketing to #1 on the UK and Irish charts. In fact, the tune perched atop the British hit parade for a solid month.
“See My Baby Jive” was written and produced by Wood and appeared on the Wizzard Brew LP in ’73.
Wizzard: ‘See My Baby Jive’ (‘Top Of The Pops,’ 1973)
Folk-prog legend marks the end of an era with a spooky hard-rock album — and a buddy and I are there!
In a way, my first Jethro Tull show was the band’s last. I was dragged to their late-1979 concert at Oakland Coliseum by Tull-fanatic friend Ward Ruth. Hearing “Acres Wild” from Heavy Horses on the radio the year before, Ward had been drawn in by Ian Anderson’s “throaty” singing technique. (In that style, it was either Tull or Cat Stevens; I think Ward chose wisely.)
That fall, the iconic UK prog-rock band was touring its twelfth studio album Stormwatch, which wrapped up the informal “folk rock” trilogy that included Heavy Horses and Songs from the Wood. It would also be the last album to feature the “classic” ’70s Tull lineup; the album’s two keyboardists, drummer, and bass player would all be gone by the next year. Though the Jethro Tull band name carried on for decades, this ’79 show was the very last by the epic dream team. So the two nerdy teens from Monterey were seeing a slice of rock history without even knowing it.
Quite a show it was, too. The band opened with “Dark Ages,” a mini-prog suite that’s probably the album’s highlight. Anderson’s lyrics are a kaleidoscope of troubling Boschian images that prove to be of our own world, maybe moreso 2018 than 1979: “The politicians weep, and mealy-mouthed through corridors of power on tip-toe creep.” (On this fine-sounding 8-track tape, “Dark Ages” is the only song broken, its trippy intro ending one program and its hard guitar riff opening the next with no fade-up.) (Article continues after song…)
Jethro Tull: ‘Dark Ages’ (1979)
As suggested by the frost-bearded sentry on the album cover, the nautically-themed Stormwatch portrays a ship on turbulent seas troubled by greater threats approaching. Though the album has its peaceful moments (“Home,” “Elegy”) and happy times (the Scottish march “Warm Sporran”), doom and the afterlife are everywhere. “Flying Dutchman” conjures the Grim Reaper (“Death grinning like a scarecrow”), “Old Ghosts” evokes a ghoulish atmosphere, and “Something’s On The Move” describes a spectral ice queen moving into cities to claim her flash-frozen victims. The music throughout features Ian Anderson’s stellar flute work underscored by high-energy Celtic rock, the Tull band sounding tighter and more polished than ever.
That night “Something’s On The Move,” the last of seven Stormwatch songs that opened the show, led perfectly into “Aqualung” and all the other crowd-pleasers the faithful had come to see. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder: why so gloomy, Ian? Why the sense of impending doom? Many years later we would find out: bassist John Glascock had left the band months earlier due to serious health issues made worse by his hard-partying lifestyle. Perhaps Glascock’s looming fate inspired the ominous tone of Stormwatch. (Article continues after song…)
Jethro Tull: ‘Something’s On The Move’ (1979)
Glascock did not play on the North American tour that fall. Though Ward and I didn’t know it at the time, the bassist had passed away at home the day before we saw the band in Oakland. In my mind Jethro Tull played with extra passion that night as they bid farewell to the “folk trilogy,” world tour, classic Tull lineup, and friend John Glascock, age 29. Something’s on the move, indeed.
Sparks sounded like no one else in the Seventies while still remaining compelling, humorous, and catchy. The kind of band your parents would say “What the hell is that?!” while you caught their performance of “Something For The Girl With Everything” on TV in February of 1975.
“Something For The Girl With Everything” appeared on the 1974 LP Propaganda and charted at #17 in the UK and #30 in The Netherlands.
Sparks: ‘Something For The Girl With Everything’ (‘TopPop,’ 1975)