Spirit‘s “1984” was first released as a US single in 1969 and soon after in the UK and a few other territories in 1970. The song, written by Randy California, did not appear on an LP until The Best Of Spirit in 1973.
Here’s the psychedelic jazz rockers, featuring a nineteen year old California on guitar and vocals, performing on Germany’s Beat-Club in 1970. The blond haired, mustachioed fellow on backing vocals is Jay Ferguson of Jo Jo Gunne and “Thunder Island” fame.
Lou Reed, ‘Lou Reed’ (Solo Debut, ‘Cash Box’ magazine, May 06, 1972). Click to enlarge.
As most readers will know, Lou Reed first gained notice fronting the Velvet Underground in the 1960s. His debut solo album released in April of 1972.
Lou Reed, the album, was recorded in London with producer Richard Robinson and features a number of re-worked Velvets tunes such as “I Can’t Stand It” and “Lisa Says.” The LP’s anemic US chart placing of #189 does the record a disservice as it’s well worth repeated spins. Check out “I Can’t Stand It” and bounce along.
THE B-52’S (ALBUM, 1979) & ‘SO WRONG THEY’RE RIGHT’ (FILM, 1995)
A kitschy new-wave band and latter-day 8-track collectors find joyous rebellion through thrift-store junk culture.
The Album: In 1979, kitschy, kooky Athens, Georgia new-wave band The B-52’s issued its self-titled debut album, with nine songs including “Planet Claire,” “Dance This Mess Around,” and “Rock Lobster.” The year before, they had released a different version of “Rock Lobster” as an indie single. My 8-track copy of the album is an RCA club tape, with extremely long pauses at points to even out the programs (and ponder wtf you just heard).
The Film: After promoting the ’90s 8-track revival in his fanzine 8-Track Mind, Russ Forster decided to visit some of the country’s most crazed tape collectors. In 1994 he and a videographer drove across America to interview fans of the unhip, outdated 8-track format. His lively and hilarious 90-minute documentary, So Wrong They’re Right (1995), is still available on video streaming and (of course) VHS tape.
Format freaks: Phil X. Milstein shows off all the cool 8-tracks he can’t play (no player); Dave “Big Bucks” Burnette talks tape preservation in his Dallas record store.
Dare to be Dumb: Amidst the serious, heavy vibe of the postpunk era, the B-52’s were willfully goofy, with wacky lyrics like “Chased by a catfish… mee-yow!” In Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds says the band would hold a laugh box to the microphone at early gigs to lighten the mood. 8-tracks are kinda laughable, too; in the film, Phil X. Milstein says these tapes are “so wrong they’re right” and compares them to black Labrador dogs: “they’re big, they’re dumb, but they’re sweet and basically they get the job done.”
Forward To The Past: Both B-52’s and 8-track buffs turned to retro trends from fifteen years prior. Reynolds notes that the band drew inspiration from “sixties dance crazes, comics and animated cartoons, and pulp sci-fi”; on the album, Henry Mancini and Petula Clark riffs collide with scenes of tiki-bar paganism and beach-party horror. Of course, 8-tracks have become an iconic ’70s collectible; in the film they’re joined by Banana Splits T-shirts, Beetlejuice dolls, smiley-face knick-knacks, and a beloved Erik Estrada poster. New York street artist Brendan DeVallance suggests that “happiness waits for you behind the times.”
Goodwill Hunters: Both band and collectors took inspiration from second-hand shops. Reynolds says the B-52’s’ “retro-kitsch image was hatched in [Athens’] numerous thrift stores and yard sales,” certainly the source of the band’s funky album-cover wardrobe. In the film, author Pagan Kennedy explains her thrift-shop obsession: “so much amazing stuff, so cheap… sort of being recycled…. this endless cycle of things changing hands.” Marci James shares her daring adventures raiding a Goodwill back room for secret stashes of 8-tracks; though she pays for the tapes, this nefarious habit gets her banned from the store for life. Bad will at Goodwill!
Thrift shoppers: Pagan Kennedy displays her Music To Watch Girls By tape; Marci James flaunts her ever-popular Panasonic “TNT” portable.
Swimming Upstream: The B-52’s weren’t exactly punks, but they did share that movement’s rebellious spirit. Their lyrics gently protest America’s limited societal choices (“they do all sixteen dances”) and restricted roles for females (“52 Girls” lists the “girls of the USA” in their entirety). In the film, Russ Forster says tape collectors are “driven to reject the prevailing mood of conformity by an irresistible force deep within us.” Doug Von Hoppe’s performance piece “My Vision for America” shows him setting fire to a pile of compact discs, defying what Forster calls the “masters of marketing who constantly tell us what to hear and how to hear it.”
Deadbeat Club: All three men in the original B-52’s lineup were gay, and “in Georgia back then, it was not at all cool to be gay,” says Maureen McGinley, the band’s early manager as quoted by Reynolds. “It was a tightly knit group, and that came from not being accepted by the larger community.” The film’s 8-track outsider clan “horde[s] together [via] networking to literally preserve every working 8-track cartridge on the planet,” says James “Big Bucks” Burnette. This far-flung network has fostered surprising friendships like the one between quiet student Christine Williams and “swingin’ 8-track chick” Abigail Lavine.
Infinite Loop: Both the B-52’s and 8-tracks have endured; the band continues performing to this day, and the tapes remain a cult favorite with future hipster potential (Brooklyn’s Academy Record Annex added an 8-track section just last week). Still, there have been losses; guitarist Ricky Wilson passed away in 1985, and Abigail Lavine died just two years after the film was released. (Her witty musings from the 8-Track Heaven website are preserved on archive.org.) Yet even as we come and go, the 8-track’s endless loop plays unceasingly for those who will listen; as DeVallance notes, “Eternity comes but once in a while.”
Pen pals: Christine Williams shows off her prized tape of David Bowie’s “Heroes”; Abigail Lavine cues up 8-tracks for a radio show.
So Wrong They’re Right (trailer, 2 minutes): Includes outtakes from the film, including appearances by Tiny Tim and David Byrne and some groovy Abigail Lavine dance numbers.
So Wrong They’re Right (film, 92 minutes): Watch the entire documentary at the link and below.
Longtime Ramones manager Danny Fields has spoken with Mother Jones about his recent book My Ramones (now re-printed). Best of all, that means more rarely-seen photos of the band are on display. Hop on over for a look-see. 1-2-3-4!
Mother Jones Quote: “I was at the recording studio but I had nothing to do here…So I took out my camera. I thought it was a moment anyone would want for a scrapbook or autobiographical memoir, from their point of view. Of course they would want this memorialized. You can’t say it, but you think, ‘Something historical is happening. It should be recorded. I am part of it. They’re my guys, they’re making their first album. My god! It’s legitimate.'”
Elton John, ‘Rocket Man’ (‘Cash Box’ magazine, May 06, 1972). Click to enlarge.
“What a trip!”
We’re now living through the 46th anniversary of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” burning up the charts. This perennial radio staple originally released as the lead-off single for the Honky Château LP in April 1972.
“Rocket Man,” written by Elton and Bernie Taupin, landed at #6 on the US Hot 100 and #2 in the UK.
Back in the ’60s, we had Jefferson Airplane, the band of Haight Street rebels who sang about free spirits, free love, and James Joyce. Ahead in the ’80s, we would have Starship with only Grace Slick remaining from the ’60s lineup, protest songs replaced by synth-laden nonsense like “We Built This City.” Smack dab in the middle we have Jefferson Starship, a high point from which it’s possible to glimpse the former trippy-hippie band and the future pop-rockers.
1975’s Red Octopus was the second album by Jefferson Starship, comprised of three members of the early Airplane — Slick, Paul Kantner, and Marty Balin — and players who’d been in the final JA lineups. It’s an engaging record, with a more lush, produced sound than the band(s) had enjoyed to that point. The centerpiece is absolutely the stunning “Miracles,” a smoldering late-night FM tune sung by Balin that runs almost seven minutes. I was so used to the brief 3:25 single edit that I was amazed at how expansive the full album version is, with vocals, lyrics, and sections I’d forgotten about. (Article continues after song…)
Jefferson Starship: ‘Miracles’ (1975)
Nothing else on Red Octopus quite matches the smash hit “Miracles,” though Balin’s song “Tumblin’” comes pretty close in style and mood. The album’s other two singles are voiced by Slick: though highlighted by Papa John Creach’s fine fiddle work, “Fast Buck Freddie” comes across as shrill and silly. But “Play On Love” features one of the best Grace Slick vocals I’ve ever heard; she sings energetically and passionately in a higher register, making this tune a forgotten pop classic imho.
With one exception, the rest of the album strikes me as filler, some pleasant and some less so. The exception is the understated, psychedelic-inspired “I Want To See Another World,” a haunting demand for futuristic thrills. Its genuinely freaky lyrics (“How the solar wind she blows / Snowy silver dragon sings the songs”) resolve into a Jefferson Airplane-ish plea for unity (“Let’s try to get along with each other”).
On the 8-track, “I Want To See Another World” is the only song split between two programs. But that kinda works; the program shift gives you a moment to consider what the heck you’re actually listening to. The RCA cartridge is equipped with felt-lined, copper-spring pressure pads that have held up perfectly over the decades.
After Balin’s departure, sweet-voiced Mickey Thomas would join Jefferson Starship, turning the band into a bona fide hit machine in the later ’70s with hits such as “Runaway,” “Count on Me,” and “Jane.” But Red Octopus is still a great way to sample Jefferson Starship; it’s rich with the promise of great things still to come. If only you believe like I believe…