Overlooked: 4 Bands

For those who still cling to artists such as the Beatles as the greatest that’s ever been and reject most else, I’ve compiled a ‘hall of not-enough-acclaim’ to remedy that particularly debilitating musical affliction. There are simply some artists who have had such lasting influence on other bands, yet sufficient recognition has not yet been bestowed upon them. I do this not to trample underfoot (ha! Zeppelin reference!) the work of certain acts that have been acclaimed. Not that anyone really gives a damn.

4: The Flying Burrito Brothers

It’s a shame the Burrito Burrito Bros never received the popularity of the many other artists that they inspired. Their landmark 1967 country rock album The Gilded Palace of Sin received praise from the man: ”Their record instantly knocked me out.”, said Bob Dylan, leading one to come to the conclusion that The Flying Burrito Brothers were a band’s band, but their genius still resonates.

3: The Faces

BeforThe Faces Album Blind Horse, Nod Winke Rod Stewart pranced around in spandex, squealing about hot legs and, well, spandex, he was churning out rootsy, rock and roll genius, whether it be part of his solo career (Never a Dull Moment, Every Picture Tells a Story) or with the Faces (formed out of remaining members of the previous Small Faces), without a doubt one of the most overlooked and joyous groups of performers in rock music there’s ever been. With their rough and ready classics ”A Nod is as Good as a Wink”, and ”Ooh La La” they cermented their place as a gem that most will find when digging deeper after finding the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

2: Manassas

After his success with the predominantly acoustic trio Crosby Stills and Nash, guitar wizard Stephen Stills needed another band to carry his ‘musical vision’. Manassas, formed with former airborne burrito sibling, Chris Hillman, along with an array of session pros, only lasted about 2 years, but in that short two-album discography, there is one of the most brilliant country rock albums ever crafted. Their self-titled debut album is a double album, a sprawling and flowing masterwork. As Stills says, ”Manassas could play anything,”.

 

1: Little Feat

Little Feat saillin shoes

Arguably one of the most unique (and yet versatile) bands of the 70’s, Little Feat, fronted by the force of nature Lowell George, almost never put a foot wrong. After George was fired from the Mothers of Invention for writing a song that referenced weed, whites and wine, he decided to form a group with Bill Payne, recognised to be one of the finest rock and roll keyboardists and pianists alive, Roy Estrada, the ex-Zappa bassist, and Richie Hayward, downright one of the funkiest and most solid drummers of them all. Out of this initial line-up, two absolute classics were born. ”Little Feat”, the self titled debut from 1971, and Sailin Shoes (1972). George added other members to the band, and suddenly everything got a bit more funky. Almost every album is incredible. Jimmy Page called them his ”favourite American band”.

…And a Neil in the Ditch

Tonight’s the Night

With 1975’s Tonight’s the Night (recorded before On the Beach, released after), Neil Young achieved a satisfyingly laid-back roughness, a who-gives-a-damn vibe, never more effective than on this album. While the previous year’s On the Beach is arguably the most consistently interesting of his mid 70’s ‘Ditch Trilogy’, comprising the now out of print Time Fades Away (1973), On the Beach (1974), and this LP, it’s Tonight’s the Night that exemplifies the deceptively rough and ready feel he was exploring at the time. The songs are full of grief and sorrow, masked with wry humour and unpolished groans. Heck, Young even includes a song from Crazy Horse’s 1970 tour. After his previous image of the wholesome and sometimes moralistic folk singer, the Ditch Trilogy is Young painting a detached picture of post counter-cultural 1970’s America, while accepting that he was stupid to think that he could cease the Vietnam War by writing songs.

Time Fades Away (1973)

It’s not, ”I’ve seen the needle and the damage done” anymore, it’s ”I heard that he died.”, which is the key to its lasting brilliance

Best Track: Lookout Joe

Goof: Shameless product placement for the Econoline van.

8 New Mamas out of 10


On the Beach

Created with the aid of ‘Honey Slides’, On the Beach forsakes the raw anger and blatantly despondent attitude of the previous ‘Ditch’ albums (Tonight’s the Night was recorded before but released after On the Beach) for a more subtle cynicism and mordancy. In that way, this is what the previous albums, while brilliant in their own way, were building up to. Once the almost impenetrable layer of crypticism is removed from certain songs, the lyrics are sensitive and reflective, in a far mellower way than the preceding albums. Neil even admits ”it’s hard to know the meaning of this song” in the beautiful acoustic ramble, Ambulance Blues, 8 minutes of Young calmly drivelling about stuff, for lack of a more specific word. The rough electric sound of Walk On harks back to tracks such as Lookout Joe and Tonight’s the Night, except with a newfound wry humour, whereas Vampire Blues and Revolution Blues are more political, which is good(?). A greater sense of depth and variety is clear, both musically and in his mixed up pothead emotions.

Best Track: Motion Pictures

Goof: Charles Manson?

9 Sea-sick Mamas out of 10

”I have a barn.”
–  Neil Young

The Led Zeppelin Oddities

You’d be surprised at how many great songs there are on Coda, and even more surprised at the amount of great buried studio songs that exist. To honour that, here’s a list of Led Zeppelin oddities and concealed hotcakes to dig up, some released recently on the Deluxe reissues of the Zep Catalogue. These definitely deserve a compilation of their own. ”Coda 2”, anyone?

5: Wearing and Tearing: Coda (In Through the Out Door Sessions)

Wearing and Tearing, an extremely hard and energetic riffy rock song, was one of three omitted from In Through the Out Door, and understandably so, as the heavy nature of the song would seem out of place in Zeppelin’s softest album. No punk band could match this aggression. OK, maybe Black Flag.

4: La La: Led Zeppelin II Instrumental

La La is a fun instrumental led by John Paul Jones’ organ, a sound rarely heard so prominently on a Led Zeppelin track. Featuring some great acoustic from the biological researcher himself, La La will be fascinating to fans. Released on the deluxe reissue of Led Zeppelin II

3: Darlene: Coda (In Through the Out Door sessions)

Why wasn’t this included on In Through the Out Door, instead of Hot Dog? A much more exciting rocker than that god-awful Elvis tribute, Darlene not only contains an amazing rock and roll riff, but a fantastic drum line from Bonzo.

2: 10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod): Presence sessions

This beautiful John Paul Jones piano ballad is built around an Elton John-esque chord progression, with John Bonham and Jimmy Page coming in around the 3 minute mark. 10 Ribs is a real surprise, and would have been a nice addition to the original Presence LP, possibly replacing the annoying Candy Store Rock, acting as an antidote to the onslaught of heavy rock that comprises their seventh album. Released on the deluxe edition of Presence.

1: Swan Song: Physical Graffiti Sessions (unreleased)

The amazing acoustic chord sequence of Swan Song (what would become the name of their own label), would later be the basis of Midnight Moonlight by The Firm, Page’s 80s, dinosaur ‘super-group’. This track would be welcome on Led Zeppelin III or IV, despite the fact it was written for Physical Graffiti, and subsequently shelved due to the strength of the other material. John Bonham’s thunderous drums blend perfectly with Page’s guitar and John P. Jones’ bass.

Songs in the Key of Life, 1976

Stevie Wonder’s eighteenth (count ’em) studio album finds him returning to the thicker, more complex arrangements of Innervisions and Talking Book, after Fulfillingness’ First Finale, an album that explored a more stripped back instrumentation and production. As well as having a collection of some of the best synthesizers money could buy (Stevie had been given the largest deal ever made with a recording artist up to that point, $37 million over seven years and seven LPs), which he used extensively on this double album, along with a vast array of session geezers.

The first disc kicks off with Love’s in Need of Love Today, a slow, meditative song trying to explain the true meaning of love that wouldn’t be out of place on Fulfillingness’ First Finale. One of this memorable album’s most forgettable songs, it’s an example of Stevie in preachy mode, a theme that tends to permeate this album, and is more apparent on the following track, Have a Talk With God, whose lyrics need little or no analysis (God solves everything, and on and on). I find Stevie Wonder’s music can be at its most enjoyable when he gives his unique (i.e. visually impaired, sensory) interpretation of the state of society, its leaders and their failings, mixed with a little funkiness. Tracks like He’s Misstra Know-It-All and You Haven’t Done Nothing exemplify this winning formula. With Village Ghetto Land, he eschews this, ironicaly adding a spotless synthesized string section to a bleak description of the ghetto.

”As” is without doubt the highlight of this entire LP, a simple love song that, with increasing intensity, evolves into a spine-tingling apocalyptic gospel hoedown, an embodiment of soul at its very purest, featuring the groovy keys of Herbie Hancock. Another Star, a samba-influenced tune, much like ”As” and Isn’t She Lovely, finds a certain hook that causes your hairs to stand on end, and uses it continually for 6 or 7 minutes to euphoric effect.

Many were surprised that after two years of Hit Factory hibernation, Wonder may have produced something more sprawling and, by 85 minute length double album standards, more arrogantly ambitious or noticeably conceptual. Instead, he constructed an LP simply based on the ups and downs of life, and in some songs, using (accidentally or not) society as a kind of metaphor, a perfect example of this being Pastime Paradise. Songs in the Key of Life’s incredible variety of styles seems like a way of dodging critical over-evaluation, as well as an expression of his joy about music itself. And to those who moan about the supposed ‘racism’ of Stevie Wonder’s categorization of ethnicities as ‘yellow’ and ‘red’, consider this: He’s blind.

Best Track: ”As”

Goof: Where was ‘god’ when my copy of Led Zeppelin IV snapped, Stevie!?

9 Contusions out of 10

Dazed and Confused, 1993

Ric Linklater’s second feature-length movie finds him with a brilliant young cast, a perfect period soundtrack, and practically no plot. Dazed and Confused simply revolves around various groups of teenagers, students, seniors, freshmen, wise-asses, potheads and creeps, all watched by Linklater’s keen eye for comedy and teen spirit. It’s as if this is simply being observed and filmed, rather than ‘set up’, due to it’s completely believable yet perfectly caricatured cast (featuring many minor actors who would later become major) and stunning period accuracy of 1976 (check out the poster for Hitchcock’s Family Plot), the year rock ‘n’ roll broke to some, not to these kids.

It’s the last day of school in Austin Texas, seniors are ‘hazing’ (humiliating, abusing, harrassing) the freshmen, a party is organized and consequently busted, guys and girls hang out at the Emporium, drinking beer, smoking doobies, playing pool, getting burgers, and most of all, loitering. A game of mailbox baseball is played, then an impromptu party is held on the hill, all this performed in a nonchalant manner. For a movie with no narrative structure, it’s incredibly watchable and surprisingly fast-paced and snappy, littered with classic quotes and natural dialogue. Very few films have captured a time as well as this, so much so that the fact that it was made in 1993 seems almost impossible, and this is mainly because of the nuances and accuracies of it’s revolving list of characters. To add to this, for a teenage movie, Dazed and Confused is surprisingly unsentimental, or at least vaguely affectionate in a detached pothead kind of way.

Best Line: ”That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age…”

Goof: A boom mic is visible as a reflection in a classroom window. Tut tut…

8 Paddlin’s out of 10

Almost Famous, 2000 (Bootleg Edition)

Cameron Crowe, known for his nostalgic and insightful portrayals of teen culture throughout the ages, hit a home run with Almost Famous, undoubtedly one of the best movies about rock and roll and ‘coming-of-age’ in recent years. The fact that the film is based on Crowe’s own experiences as the youngest writer for the infamous Rolling Stone magazine, and his various adventures with some of the greatest rock bands of the seventies, ensures that it won’t just be another Dazed and Confused, but an ernest and realistic portrayal of the rock and roll lifestyle in all its wonders and grimy philosophical meanderings. The various details and comments that run throughout Almost Famous will delight keen fans of rock music, but even the great Roger Ebert stated that he was very nearly hugging himself with joy while watching. Make of that what you will.

Stillwater, rising stars in an era of hard rock where most had already risen and descended, bring the young William Miller backstage, who’s looking for an interview with Black Sabbath. There he meets Penny Lane, a so-called ”band-aide”, who goes on to be William’s mentor in the lifestyle of rock and roll, while the legendary critic Lester Bangs back home trains him in the art of music criticism, and advises him never to become ‘friends’ with members of a rock band. Young William is caught between two conflicting positions: The smart and intellectual condition of the lonely, sarcastic journalist, buried in a pile of books and LPs, seen as the enemy of the musicians, or the rock ‘n’ roller, living life to its silly fullest but missing the cerebral stimulation that sitting alone at a typewriter can bring. Throughout this journey, you can sense that everyone is coming of age, the groupies, the band members, and of course, William Miller.

Kate Hudson’s performance as Penny Lane is so brilliant and subtle; you can sense that Penny truly revels in the moral dodginess of what she’s doing at age (supposedly) 16, but seems to develop and mature over the course of the 158 minutes of this cut, the 36 extra minutes of the director’s cut (bootleg cut) being mostly devoted to further fleshing out her character. This film is so touching and funny, with neither overwhelming the other, but is also such an acute picture of 1973, the beginning of the end for many ‘true’ rock aficionados who were finding themselves dissatisfied at the thought of sales and merchandise overcoming the idea of a ‘youth cultural revolution through music’ that bands like The Stooges, MC5, and The Who brought about. Also, next time you find yourself gazing up at the ceiling in wonder of the glory of rock ‘n’ roll, think: There were the rock stars and musicians who made the art, and then there were the critics who, with their razor-sharp awareness of pop culture, deemed it as worthy of critical evaluation as Don Quixote or War and Peace. Even if that means over-evaluation.

Best Line: ”Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon, posing as a poet!”

Goof: Non-existent. Oh, wait. Joni Mitchell’s Blue wasn’t released until 1971, and William’s younger character finds it in 1969.

Heck, 10 Tiny Dancers out of 10

”Gimme The Guess Who! They got the courage to be drunken buffoons!”

Zep Reissues: Presence!

Presence is without doubt the heaviest item in the Zeppelin canon. After that absolute monster of a double LP was released, Led Zeppelin found itself in turmoil, with a deadline that seemed impossible to Jimmy Page. This led him to use heroin and stay awake for multiple days in a row, making this the most hard-hitting and urgent album that the band had created up to that point, commendably, rather than giving it an air of sluggishness. Plant was slowly recovering from a car accident and delivered most of his vocals in a wheelchair. Normally, all this combined would create a recipe for a stinky broth of an album, but Presence features some of the band’s best songs, with John Bonham and John Paul Jones being at their most dynamic and tight, despite the former’s alcohol habit, most notably on Achilles Last Stand and if any song could be judged as a definite influence on the later british metal bands of the 1980’s (Crudas Priest, Iron ”House-Maid”-en, etc), it would be this, with its brilliant Highway Star-esque chugging riff and the desperate scream of the guitar solo. I bought the single-disc remaster for reasons stated in the previous review of In Through the Out Door, which does a nice job of reproducing the presentation of the original vinyl album with a small booklet of photos from the time. The sound is uniformly excellent, as per usual.

If the era of ‘Led Zeppelin III to Physical Graffiti’ was the Zep’s time of true eclecticism and diversity, Presence marks a return to the pure hard rock that made Led Zeppelin II so seminal, with the addition of a vaguely sinister shade to the songs, characteristic of later heavy metal music. Often this one-dimensionality can be refreshing and other times boring, but it stands as one of the finest representations of that particular side of Led Zeppelin’s elemental sound, as well as being rather funky at various points. Songs such as Candy Store Rock and Tea for One somewhat smack of a lack of ideas, as the latter clearly just recycles the doom-laden blues of Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You, but simultaneously functions as an atmospheric closing number. As you can tell, it’s quite difficult to make one’s mind up. Presence is like marmite.

Best Song: For Your Life

Goof: ‘Oh, baby baby’ repeated 24 times in one song. Also, (specific to this reissue) an essay or some proper information about the making of the album would have been a nice addition.

8 Hipgnosis inner sleeves out of 10