Japan’s “Adolescent Sex” appeared on the group’s 1978 debut LP of the same name.
The song was written by lead vocalist-rhythm guitarist David Sylvian, and here, in an early 1979 TV performance, you can see why the band was such a strong influence on Duran Duran and other soon-to-be new romantics.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, ‘THE WILD, THE INNOCENT AND THE E STREET SHUFFLE’ (1973)
Bruce’s second album proves to be a rich anthology of mostly urban American stories and memorable characters.
This second Springsteen album is the first to utilize the full lineup of the yet-unnamed E Street Band. (Only two members were available to play on his debut, forcing Bruce to perform all the missing parts.) The band turns out to be magnificent, seemingly able to adopt any existing musical style while helping Bruce craft his unique blend of all of them. I should cite David Sancious’ open, jazzy piano work here, since he would leave the lineup by next album Born to Run.
Springsteen is usually thought of as the all-American rock star — a rugged man with a worn Fender and too many encores — but less often as one of our great storytellers. His first seven studio releases are not only rock albums but anthologies of fiction, filled with fascinating, mostly working-class characters having encounters both hilarious and heartbreaking.
Unlike most Springsteen LPs, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle didn’t come with a lyric sheet — a shame, as it’s his first fully realized story collection. Four of its seven songs are written in fiction’s detached, third-person point of view rather than rock’s ubiquitous me-me-me. Bruce’s pensive cover shot suggests man at typewriter more than man with guitar. The album’s seven songs can be broken into three categories: comic (cheeky characters with happy endings), nostalgic (wistful memories of youth), and tragic (doomed characters meeting their fates). Though the LP juggles these styles, the 8-track not only groups them together but sequences the songs from happiest to saddest.
The first three songs on the tape, all urban-set, are comic in nature. Over a restless, funky groove, “The E Street Shuffle” describes lusty streetcorner boys lookin’ for love with local sweetheart/call girl Angel, who tells her randy suitors, “Everybody form a line.” Live favorite “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” portrays an innocent Latina girl pursued by an amorous lover who seems to be Bruce himself: “The record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance.” Springsteen was heavily influenced by the early Van Morrison, and on “Kitty’s Back” he borrows the jazzy, finger-poppin’ vibe of Van’s “Moondance.” The song layers the simple story of a street gal’s return over evocative city imagery (“flashin’ lights that cut the night, dude in the white says he’s the man”).
Bruce Springsteen: ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’ (1973)
The two nostalgic songs that follow perfectly portray a cycle of enchantment and disillusionment. As the Tom Waits-ish “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” describes a small town boy’s fascination with a visiting circus troupe, Springsteen lapses into gorgeous prose that’s more literate than lyrical: “The strong man Samson lifts the midget, little Tiny Tim, up on his shoulders, way up, and carries him on down the midway, past the kids, past the sailors, to his dimly lit trailer.” Conversely, “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” describes a seasoned young man grown weary of the beach’s carnival amusements: “for me this boardwalk life is through.” Running off to join the circus, then running away from it. Don’t we all.
Bruce Springsteen: ‘4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’ (1973)
This takes us to the tragic final songs, two of Springsteen’s longest and most chilling works, which describe doomed lovers striving for freedom. (The theme continues on album outtake “Zero and Blind Terry” and on ‘Born to Run’’s epic “Jungleland.”) “Incident on 57th Street” tells of street thug Spanish Johnny’s brief romance with Puerto Rican Jane, another “innocent,” before the promise of easy money lures him away, perhaps to his death.
Bruce Springsteen: ‘Incident on 57th Street’ (1973)
The Gershwin-esque “New York City Serenade” relates Billy and Diamond Jackie’s quest for “loot” and equally mysterious fate. To my mind, the couple went to score heroin and used it, in spite of Jackie’s reluctance (“she won’t take the train”), with one or both of them tragically OD’ing (perhaps inspiring Lou Reed’s 1978 “Street Hassle,” which featured Springsteen). The song’s closing lines about a singing “junk man” suggest Carl Sandburg’s poem of the same name, portraying Death as a kindly scrap collector. Or the term may refer to a drug dealer, or likely both. (On the original album, these two songs are separated by the brisk, lighthearted “Rosalita”; on the 8-track, it’s powerful to hear “Incident”’s piano finale edited hard into “Serenade”’s slashing autoharp strums. No comic relief this time!)
It’s funny that “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” ends with the invitation “All aboard, Nebraska’s our next stop”; on that 1982 album and many others, Springsteen would tell inspiring tales of man’s brightest hopes amidst dire circumstances. But it all started here on this unusually robust sophomore album. Because The Wild, The Innocent didn’t have a hit single (nor any single at all), it tends to be overlooked. Don’t.
The album’s live recordings were captured during Priest’s Tokyo tour and it was later revealed that Rob Halford’s vocals were over-dubbed afterwards in a studio setting. Have a listen to “The Green Manalishi” below.
Judas Priest: ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ (Live, 1979)
ABBA, ‘World Tour’ (‘Billboard’ magazine, September 08, 1979). Click to enlarge.
In the summer of 1979 ABBA returned to the charts with the LP and single “Voulez-Vous” (US #80, UK #3). The group’s world tour, as seen in the September ’79 ad above, spanned the US, Canada, and Europe, and ran from September to November.
Give the official “Voulez-Vous” video a spin below.
Over the ’70s, the iconic stoner-comedy duo ventures bravely (if not always successfully) out of its weed-soaked comfort zone.
As a casual AM radio listener in the ’70s, you might have been baffled by Cheech & Chong’s oddball hits: a heavy-metal jam complete with argument, a sweet soul number about basketball, another R&B slow jam about overeating. And if you bought one of their albums, you were probably even more confused. Let’s sift through Cheech & Chong’s wild ’70s output via this stack of stoner-friendly 8-tracks.
Cheech and Chong (1971): Other than a “blues” song about exposing yourself and a radio jingle for legalized weed, there’s no music on this debut. Instead, you get studio-produced comedy sketches created by the duo, who had met in Vancouver, BC. Since most bits are about buying, selling, and taking drugs, it’s a kindred spirit to the A Child’s Garden of Grass LP issued the same year.
The album launches the adventures of Pedro and Man, a hyper Latino dude and a laconic druggie (played by Cheech and Chong respectively), a saga continued on all six of these albums. (A few months after the debut, Pedro and Man would narrate the “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” single.) Though frequently juvenile (“whack him in the pee-pee”), the album still feels like your own private comedy stash, something to hide from your parents. (To avoid breaking any sketches, the 8-track annoyingly repeats two of the least funny routines.)
Cheech & Chong: ‘Dave’ (1971)
Big Bambu (1972): Still no music, but here the duo branches out from pure drug humor into comedy proper — and comes up with a hit album. “Sister Mary Elephant” (later a hit single) features Cheech as a female parochial school teacher who screams at her rowdy class to “SHADDUP!” Some great laughs as a pair of frisky dogs chases cars to sniff carbon monoxide: “(You can get) brain damage from car exhaust?” / “No, brain damage from getting your head run over.” Elsewhere, dark, high-concept bits suggest Monty Python or the National Lampoon: a man tortured into signing a statement saying he hasn’t been tortured, a skyscraper that’s a jumping platform for the despondent. A couple sketches — a drug game show and a “Bandstand” spoof — are performed live, giving us our only chance to hear Cheech & Chong working with an audience. (On the 8-track, an entire program —the television medley— is repeated in full, perhaps to confuse stoned listeners.)
Cheech & Chong: ‘Sister Mary Elephant’ (1972)
Los Cochinos (1973): Just as big a hit as Big Bambu and arguably an even better album. It feels like the duo’s working more within a classic comedy milieu, one you don’t have to be stoned to appreciate: welcome to the mainstreaming of Cheech & Chong.
As part of that, we get their first-ever pop song and it’s a doozy. A spoof of the swoony soul record “Love Jones,” “Basketball Jones” tells of the falsetto singer’s intense passion for the sport. Uncredited, George Harrison and Carole King lend their pop magic to this surprise hit single. Only half the sketches on this album are drug-related, we get into some sex material thanks to a drive-in movie bit, and the team tries its hand at Jewish, Russian, black, and Canadian characters. Branching out nicely; now the only problem is to keep it going… (The 8-track of this album is great too; it breaks two sketches but doesn’t repeat any.)
Cheech & Chong: ‘Basketball Jones’ (1973)
Cheech & Chong’s Wedding Album (1974): This time around C&C manage two very funny pop songs, though only one was a hit. “Earache My Eye” (#9 US) fakes us out with a Deep Purple-meets-Jethro Tull rock tune that lapses into an argument between an angry dad and his lazy son, who’d been playing the heavy-metal record. “Black Lassie” is a Blaxploitation funk number paying tribute to a streetwise “All-American dog,” though the vocal impression of Johnny Cash messes it up. Maybe funniest are the two sex sketches: in one, a frisky couple’s noisy groping syncs up with a TV wrestling announcer’s play-by play (“now they’re giving it to each other!”). Funny stuff, but we’ve turned a corner; there’s almost no drug humor now, and in one awful sketch our stoner heroes Pedro and Man are reduced to babysitting duty. (Note: my 8-track pictured here is a bootleg, though the generic “hard rock” label art works nicely with “Earache My Eye.”)
Cheech & Chong: ‘Earache My Eye’ (1974)
Sleeping Beauty (1976): Not sleeping exactly, but Cheech & Chong were starting to lose their way. The ambitious but unfunny title track is a 16-minute retelling of the classic fairy tale; with its cockney British narrator, the piece was perhaps inspired by Monty Python’s Holy Grail film. One bizarre sketch has senior citizens as cattle in a sadistic rodeo competing in a “bed pan relay.” Frisky dogs Ralph and Herbie return for a dog-pound visit full of old prison-movie clichés. In Charlie’s Angels spoof “T.W.A.T.,” two female agents try to defend a woman’s privates from invasion by a male member. It’s funny, if only as a nonstop marathon of filthy double entendres (“They’re looking for an opening,” “We’re not licked yet”).
Pedro & Man only appear as a brief setup for the album’s weak single attempt, a remake of the Coasters’ oldie “Framed” rewritten as a drug bust. Let’s skip that and listen instead to the duo’s fine 1977 45 “Bloat On,” another soul spoof. It didn’t turn up on album or 8-track until 1980, but that shouldn’t spoil our appetites…
Cheech & Chong: ‘Bloat On’ (1977)
Up in Smoke (soundtrack) (1979): This is the album tie-in to the team’s unexpectedly successful 1978 film, which offered 86 straight minutes with stoned heroes Pedro & Man. Though not terribly satisfying as a comedy album (many bits don’t make sense out of context), it’s a really fun listen all the same, mostly from hearing Cheech & Chong doing simple weed jokes once again. You also get to hear the duo playing opposite female performers, which is a blast. The funk-music score cues by Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar are superb, nice car jams for riding out. But the real hidden treat is “Searchin’,” a Latino/reggae-tinged remake of the Coasters (again!), with lyrics about scoring weed. With Up In Smoke (album and film), it feels like our boys have reclaimed their mantle as the kings of stoner comedy. So pay tribute to Cheech & Chong’s decade of fine underground humor by sparking your lighter (and anything else on hand).
A TRACKIN’ TRIBUTE: ARETHA FRANKLIN, ‘YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK’ (1972)
Aretha’s gone, but she left a vast recorded legacy to comfort us. Since this superb, eclectic album exhibits so many of her strengths, it’s a great way to remember this once-in-a-lifetime singer.
She could sing anything. It’s often said of Aretha that she could sing the phone book and bring you to tears. Not true; she had to be passionate about her material. But when she connected with a song, as she does throughout Young, Gifted and Black, look out. (Decades later, she even took a shine to classical numbers; look up her assured last-minute performance of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammys.)
She played piano like crazy. Many people don’t think of Aretha as a pianist but man, was she. Aretha was self-trained and played by ear from an early age, performing note-for-note copies of famous jazz solos to amuse her dad’s friends. She credits Errol Garner as a particular influence; family friend Art Tatum was likely another. Aretha noodled a bit on her Columbia and earlier Atlantic albums, sharing duty with Spooner Oldham and others, but she plays wall-to-wall on the Young, Gifted and Black LP. Her ability on piano certainly helped her to build arrangements and illustrate them to her band.
She may have invented disco (but don’t hold that against her). Aretha’s brilliant “Rock Steady” bears most of the trademarks of the disco sound that emerged over the next few years: signature hi-hat pattern, syncopated bass, 4/4 rhythm, and lyrics about dancing (“I might be doin’ this funky dance all night”). Long before Manu Dibango or the O’Jays, Aretha launched this bold new sound alongside Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft,” released a couple weeks earlier. However Aretha seems to have got there first with her sizzling take on “Spanish Harlem” months before. (Both “Rock Steady” and “Spanish Harlem” feature the killer rhythm section of Bernard Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass alongside genius guitarist Cornell Dupree. This trio, which plays on about half the album’s songs, is joined on “Rock Steady” by Donny Hathaway on organ and Dr. John on percussion.)
Aretha Franklin: ‘Rock Steady’ (1972)
She was a gifted songwriter. Though most of Aretha’s hits were by outside songwriters, she wrote some of her most famous numbers, including “Dr. Feelgood,” “Call Me,” and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” A third of the tracks on Young, Gifted and Black are Aretha-penned, including the amazing singles “Rock Steady” and “Day Dreaming.” But I’m really drawn to her quiet torch number “First Snow in Kokomo,” a jazz memoir that’s a template for Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones. In her affectionate, playful lyrics, Aretha describes early years touring with a brass combo, then recounts (or ponders) their later lives. Truly touching.
Aretha Franklin: ‘First Snow In Kokomo’ (1972)
She didn’t stick to soul material. Rock, soft rock, pop, country, singer-songwriter — Aretha didn’t care about labels; she was just hungry for great songs. On her Live at Fillmore West album released just before this, she covers Stephen Stills (“Love The One You’re With”) and Bread (“Make It With You”). Here she draws a third of her material from outside the soul/R&B tradition, with tunes made famous by The Beatles, Lulu, Elton John, and Dusty Springfield.
She’s underappreciated as a jazz vocalist. We take for granted how many great notes sung by Aretha were not the ones on the sheet music. Try this: hum the melody of “The Long And Winding Road” (the Beatles version). Now go to the video below and hear what Aretha does with the tune. She doesn’t just add grace notes here and there, she rewrites the melody —ON THE FLY— to suit her style. She also changes the cadence and makes up new words. Just for fun. Because she can. Because she’s Aretha.
Aretha Franklin: ‘The Long And Winding Road’ (1972)
She loved to reinvent a song. It’s one thing to cover a pop tune. It’s another to completely rework it from top to bottom. But again and again, Aretha did just that. The Delfonics’ original “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” is slow, sweet, and gentle. But Aretha saw fit to juice up her version with Dupree’s double-time guitar rhythms on the verses, making it much more invigorating and, well, mind-blowing.
Aretha Franklin: ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’ (1972)
She never strayed far from gospel. It’s often said that Aretha never “returned” to gospel because she never left the church. A prodigy vocalist with her minister father’s Detroit choir, she had gospel in her bones from a very early age. Gospel songs and a gospel feel pervade her entire career. Just before this album, she had a hit with the church-tinged “Spirit in the Dark”; just after, she recorded the breakthrough live gospel album Amazing Grace. Here the spirit feel is most notable on the Elton John cover “Border Song (Holy Moses)” and especially her take on Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted and Black.”
Aretha Franklin: ‘Young, Gifted And Black’ (1972)
Her “happy” voice is one of the sweetest things on earth. On her classic Atlantic hits, Aretha’s versatile voice spanned a wide range of emotions: anger, lust, heartbreak. On the Young, Gifted and Black album, she relaxes into a peaceful, assured joy that’s truly uplifting. On “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” and “A Brand New Me,” she’s happy and it shows. But for me, “Day Dreaming” is the standout. She wrote the song about a long limo trip with beau Dennis Edwards of the Temptations, and clearly it was quite a ride. Her voice is so open and exuberant, you really can feel her “mind floating away.” (And listen to those tinkling piano chords on the song’s intro—classic Aretha.)
Aretha Franklin: ‘Day Dreaming’ (1972)
(The 8-track changes the song sequence greatly, shifting “Day Dreaming” and “Rock Steady” to later in the album, where they turn up as nice surprises. The new program is just fine imho, and I like that it now ends on the gentle and poignant “First Snow in Kokomo,” a perfect closer. This Ampex tape sounds great and doesn’t break any songs. Recommended!)
What does it sound like? New wave meets disco: ABBA meets Devo en route to Duran Duran. The heavily synth-based sound jumps from pop to dance to a kind of quirky ska rhythm, with vocals that bounce between Scott’s nasal utterances and his wife/partner Brigit Novik’s icy singing. The witty, cynical lyrics touch on global commerce, gender, and the music industry while shamelessly stealing from Dylan, Bowie, and Roxy Music.
Why did you choose it? It’s a ’70s album that hints at the ’80s synth-pop sound just around the corner. Another choice would have been Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, also 1979. But I don’t have that tape — it’s super expensive and hard to find — and with its silly, disposable spirit, this M album is more typical ’80s anyway.
Is this their best album? Couldn’t tell ya! According to Allmusic, the followup The Official Secrets Act has a “slightly rockier sound as well as a fair amount of experimental noodling,” though it wasn’t a hit. Two further M albums received sparse or delayed releases.
What else had they done? Journeyman popster Scott had long lingered on the fringes of success, opening for David Bowie and working with Malcolm McLaren and Pete Thomas of The Attractions. Gary Barnacle was UK new wave’s go-to sax player, honking on hits by the Clash and others. Two synth-playing members of M would later form the band Level 42.
How and/or why did they record it? M’s 1978 debut single “Moderne Man” went nowhere, but followup “Pop Muzik” caught fire and MCA Records quickly requested a full album. Scott, his wife, and a cadre of session players cut New York • London • Paris • Munich in Montreux, Switzerland.
What songs would I know? Only one, the global smash and US #1 hit “Pop Muzik.” Over a ska-inflected dance beat, Scott recites lyrics about radio dance hits both celebratory (“Dance in the supermarket / Dig it in the fast lane”) and cynical (“Wanna be a gun slinger / Don’t be a rock singer”). Novik warbles clichéd pop refrains (“shoobie-doobie-doo-wop”) that are still catchy as hell. While mocking disposable pop singles, “Pop Muzik” presents itself as exactly the same thing, becoming a template for ’80s pop’s artificiality and self-referencing skepticism (for instance, Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing”).
M: ‘Pop Muzik’ (12″ Mix, 1979)
What other songs are good? The whole album’s frankly a hoot, full of catchy music and funny words. String-heavy disco debut single “Moderne Man” (here transitioning into “Satisfy Your Lust”) sounds like a template for ’80s band ABC (“The Look of Love”). Third single and minor hit “Moonlight and Muzak” is a pleasant tale of Scott’s “cold war baby from behind the iron curtain.” And I love the accented ABBA chorus vocals on “Unite Your Nation.” But my top pick would probably be “Made in Munich,” a full-on Euro-disco number with announcer Scott on a PA system exhorting the dance floor that this is “not a disco — a fiasco!”
M: ‘Made in Munich’ (1979)
Was the album a hit? Mostly on the strength of its unstoppable hit single, New York • London • Paris • Munich was modestly successful in the US, peaking at #79.
What’s a cool song quote from the album? Scott’s lyrics are consistently clever: “you can do the left and right when we go and dance all night to victory”; “are you a man or just a machine? An inflatable doll from a magazine,” “pop go the people.”
What’s awesome musically? This was essentially America’s introduction to synthesizer-based pop music (following Giorgio Moroder’s synth-disco productions and his own pop hit “Son Of My Father”). Europe and the UK had heard plenty at this point (Telex, early Human League, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Ultravox, for instance), but the synth-pop sound wasn’t widely heard in the US until “Pop Muzik.”
Do the title and cover art work? I think so; the floating neon logo in space adds modernism and mystery to the non-band’s allure, and the four-city title (a lyric quote from “Pop Muzik”) represents a global perspective that carries through the album.
How’s the 8-track version? Dammit, they had one job! Alas, the massive global single “Pop Muzik” is BROKEN here, fading for the program shift at the “lions in the street / me me me me” point in the song. At least the longer 5-minute version of the song is used, so there’s plenty of music on either side of the foil splice.
What’s missing on the tape from the LP album art? An inner sleeve showing smoke rising from an easy chair, and the LP back with its four-way Warhol-style portrait of Albert Einstein. You’re not missing much.
Is this an old favorite of yours? I’ve loved “Pop Muzik” for almost four decades but had never heard the album before this week.
Are people still listening to it? Ten years after its first issue, “Pop Muzik” appeared in a remixed form that became a lesser hit. In spite of New York • London • Paris • Munich’s timeless appeal, I don’t think many folks are listening to it these days. But all of us still have that damn single stuck in our head.
What’s some random trivia about this? Uncredited Montreux resident David Bowie contributed handclaps throughout. To confuse everyone, the UK 12” of “Pop Muzik” had parallel grooves that played either the hit or its B-side “M Factor” at random.
When should I play this album? Packing for a trip to any major global city, preferably one listed in the title.
What’s another good album of theirs? You might give a listen to Emotional DNA, released in 2017 under Scott’s own name. On this agreeable set of pop and adult-contemporary numbers, 71-year-old Scott’s reedy vocals sound uncannily like late-period John Lennon (“I’m Steppin’ Out”) or even Julian (“Too Late for Goodbyes”). Talk about pop music!