Archive for October, 2012

#494- Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs- 1969

October 7, 2012

The Artist:

William Royce Scaggs was born in 1944 in Canton, Ohio.  His father was a traveling salesman, and his job meant that the family moved frequently.  Eventually they settled in Dallas, Texas.

Scaggs attended St. Mark’s School in Dallas.  A classmate began calling William “Bosley” for no reason, but the name stuck and everyone was soon calling him Bosley or, more often, Boz for short.

Perhaps the kid was a fan of ol’ Tom.

When Boz was 14, a fellow St. Mark’s student named Steve Miller asked him to join a band he was putting together.  Boz agreed to join as the lead singer and guitarist.  Steve got his brother, Buddy Miller to play bass, and together they called themselves “The Marksmen.”

Steve was a year older than Boz and left Dallas to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison after graduation in 1961. After Boz graduated, he, too, decided to attend UW-Madison. By that time, Steve had already started a new band called The Ardells.  They played Texas Shuffle blues, something that was brand new to audiences in the Midwest in the early 60’s.

Miller invited his old friend to join the band on rhythm guitar and vocals. They were very popular regionally. Their popularity was short-lived, though. The band members started going their separate ways as they started graduating and Miller disbanded the band.

Boz left school 6 credits short of graduating and moved to England to be part of the music scene there in the early 60’s.  He didn’t stay there long and began hitchhiking across Europe.  He was “discovered” by a music executive while playing on the street in Stockholm, Sweden and signed a record deal with a small Swedish record label.

He released his first album in September of 1965.

Entitled Boz, the album failed to get any recognition.  It was made up of covers of folk and R&B tunes.  The album is extremely rare nowadays, as it sold just a very few copies back in 1965, was only sold in Sweden, was deleted by the record label immediately after the first pressing, and has never been reissued on any music format.

Boz’s old friend, Steve Miller, sent him a postcard and told him he had moved to San Francisco and had put together a new band, which it that time was called The Steve Miller Blues Band.  Miller invited Boz to join the band if he ever returned to the US.  Boz immediately left Sweden, flew to San Francisco and joined the band, whose name by that time had been shortened to The Steve Miller Band.

When Scaggs joined, they were getting ready to perform at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1968.

The Steve Miller Band with shirtless Boz on the far right

A couple of months later they traveled to England to record their first album, Children of the Future.

The album cover was designed by Victor Moscoso, the same guy that designed the cover for Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters.

The album contained two songs written by Scaggs, “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home” and “Steppin’ Stone.”  While the album was not commercially successful, (it only reached #134 on the Billboard album chart) it was popular amongst critics, many of whom noted the two songs by Boz as standouts.

The band was already recording another album by the time Children of the Future was released. This time they decided to record in Los Angeles.  The album, Sailor, was released less than a month after their debut album.

This time, they had a commercial success.  It contained two songs that are now Steve Miller Band classics: “Livin’ In The USA” and “Gangster of Love.”  Boz had written or co-written 3 songs on the album: “My Friend,” “Overdrive,” and “Dime-a-Dance Romance.”

By 1969, Boz felt that he and Miller’s music tastes were going in different directions; he wanted to get back to more R&B and soul-based music while Steve wanted to move further towards psychedelic rock. Boz decided it was time to pursue a solo career, and with the help of Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner, he secured a deal with Atlantic Records.

Jann Wenner

Boz and Wenner went down to the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.  Backed with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and a then popular session guitarist named Duane Allman, Scaggs wanted to record a mix of R&B, soul, and country music.  Wenner co-produced the album with Muscle Shoals producer Marlin Greene, and Scaggs himself.  After the recording was completed, they brought in Stax Records’ music engineer Terry Manning to mix the album and give it the same “feeling” as a Stax record.

Coolest. Logo. Ever.

The Album Cover:

The front cover has a photo of Boz taken by San Francisco based photographer Elaine Mayes.

She wanted to take a photo of Boz in front of a “typical San Franciscan building.”  They walked around the neighborhood behind her studio and found a wooden building with a small old door and took his picture there.  If you look closely at the picture, you can tell that it is San Francisco by the deeply sloped sidewalk.

The back cover has a black and white picture of Boz laughing along with the track listing and band credits.

The original release contained a gatefold cover, and guess what it contains…

the ol’ “candid photos of the artists in the studio” collage.  That’s two!

…and a naked Duane Allman.

The Album:

I am reviewing the original 1969 vinyl release of Boz Scaggs on Atlantic Records.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the tracks, but they are the remixed versions. In 1977, after Boz’s big chart hits for Columbia, Atlantic remixed the album to capitalize on Scaggs’ new success.  The new mix was done in a way that many fans disapproved of.  Since Duane Allman had become a legend by then, they upped the sound on all his guitar parts and put the background voices and other instruments further down in the mix.  The problem is the newer remixed version is the only one Atlantic has ever made available on cassette and CD, refusing to release the original Terry Manning mix. So the only way to hear the album as it was intended is to get the original vinyl release which is Atlantic catalog #SD 8239. The remixes aren’t really all that different, but some songs are shorter and some have a bit of a different sound to them.)

This is who I’m betting remixed the album.

The string of great opening tracks continues!

If you only know Boz Scaggs from his late 70’s hits, then this first track may blow your mind. “I’m Easy” starts the album off on an amazing note. The Muscle Shoals sound is evident right away. The best blue-eyed soul is the kind where you can’t tell if this is a white or black artist, and that is true here.  It is just a fantastic song.  It really surprises me that this did not make any kind of dent on the Billboard Hot 100.

I’ll Be Long Gone” sounds like something out of Stax.  It sounds like a lost Isaac Hayes B-side, even down to the sax solo.  The music sits in the back to accentuate the vocals, only coming into the foreground at the right times, no doubt a signature of Terry Manning. Too cool.

Another Day (Another Letter)” is what I would imagine a song would sound like if you took an Otis Redding record and replaced Otis with some skinny white dude from Texas.

No not him.

It’s a good track, but nothing too spectacular.

Now You’re Gone” is a pure country & western song.  It sounds like it would be a cover song of some old Bob Wills tune or something, but it’s not, it’s an original track.  It is a bit jarring to place this song right after 3 soulful tracks.  I also don’t care that much for Boz’s singing on it. I still dig the song. I would even say the song by itself is great, but it definitely disrupts the flow of the album to put a country song here.

Finding Her” starts off with a haunting piano and wailing guitar.  It somehow reminds me of both “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Stairway to Heaven.” He really is attempting to do everything on this album.  It’s a great song.

Look What I Got” at first sounds a little like a lost Byrds song.  It becomes much more soulful as it goes on.  It was co-written by Charles Chalmers, who wrote tons of soul hits for people like Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, and Etta James. It’s a good closer to side one.

Side two opens with a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting On a Train.”  No one would ever imagine this is Boz Scaggs if they hadn’t been told.  One thing I will say is that when he attempts to do a song in a particular genre, he does it the right way.  Good yodeling, too. It is done very well, but the country stuff just feels so out of place on this album.

Loan Me a Dime” might just be Boz Scaggs’ magnum opus.  A near 13 minute,  soulful, bluesy masterpiece,  It is what would have happened if The Allman Brothers would have formed a band with the Bar Kays and recorded a blues song.  While I say that, this song even pre-dates the formation of The Allman Brothers Band. Duane Allman’s guitar comes in just at the right times to complement the horn section and organ. It doesn’t really matter that the lyrics are kinda pointless, because Boz’s wailing of the blues makes it seem important.  While I loved everything on The Stone Roses, this here is the best track I’ve reviewed so far.

Really, “Loan Me a Dime” should have been the album’s closing track, you really can’t follow that.

The final track, “Sweet Release” sounds like it should be a Van Morrison song. I kinda feel like you can tell what Boz was listening to during his writing of this album by what his songs sound like. By the way, when I think of someone doing a pseudo-Van Morrison song, it reminds of “Peacepollutionrevolution” by christian rocker Larry Norman.

The album pictured is supposedly the “Sgt. Pepper’s” of christian rock.

Duane has another great part on “Sweet Release.”  While I like the song, I do feel it goes on a bit too long with a running time of 6:17, especially after the last track went nearly 13 minutes.

This was truly a surprise how many musical genres Boz tried to touch on at one time on one album.  The high points of the album are truly amazing, but the country songs just don’t fit with the rest of the album.

Aftermath:

As I seem to keep repeating with these reviews, Boz Scaggs received tons of critical praise, especially from Rolling Stone (whether that had anything to do with their founder producing the album, I can’t say,) but no one bought the album.  In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, Boz estimated that it had only sold about 20,000 copies at that point.  The only song that got any radio play was “Loan Me a Dime” which got some play on the newly burgeoning FM radio, since they didn’t mind playing near 13 minute songs.

Boz left Atlantic in 1970 and signed with Columbia Records.  He spent the next 6 years releasing albums for Columbia with only modest success.

In 1976 Boz Scaggs would record the album that would bring him iconic status.

Silk Degrees contained 2 hugely popular songs that would make the Billboard Top 15, “Lowdown,” which reached #3 and “Lido Shuffle,” which made it to #11.  The album itself reached #2 on the Billboard album chart, eventually going 5 times platinum.

His next two albums went platinum and in 1980, he had 4 more Top 20 Billboard hits including “Look What You’ve Done to Me” from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack.

After releasing a greatest hits package called Hits! in 1980, Scaggs retired from recording. For 8 years he made a few live appearances here and there, before coming out of retirement to release a new album titled Other Roads to modest success in 1988.  Around that same time, he opened a San Francisco nightclub called Slim’s, which is still open to this day.

Boz has continued to tour and record for the last 24 years.  In 2003, his album But Beautiful, went to #1 on Billboard’s Jazz chart.

Currently he is touring the country with fellow 70’s hit masters Donald Fagen of Steely Dan and Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS:”The stone-solid grooves on this underrated gem come courtesy of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section; the soulful guitar comes courtesy of Scaggs and guest Duane Allman. Together, they made “Loan Me a Dime” an FM-radio classic – more than 10 minutes of knockout blues pleading and wailing.”

I’m fine with this.  Although, doesn’t seem a little suspicious that the album produced by the magazine’s founder makes the Rolling Stone 500, when really no other publication rates it so high?

Conclusion:

There is nothing bad on this album at all.  Every song individually is great, but part of what makes a great album is its flow, and the two country tracks just don’t fit.  It would have been better if Boz had either recorded another album of country music or perhaps made one side of the album soulful and the other side country.  Although, I’m not sure if that would have worked, either.

“Loan Me a Dime” is pure goodness and any album that includes a track that good is going to be recommended by me.

4 Stars out of 5, recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

3. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

4. Outkast- Aquemini

5. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

6. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

7. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

#495- Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!- 1977

October 5, 2012

The Artist:

Ian Dury was born in 1942 in Northwest London, England.  He contracted polio at the age of seven.  This led to him being sent to a school / hospital for disabled children for a while. During his time recovering, he began drawing and painting and fell in love with early rock n’ roll, most notably Gene Vincent and his hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula.”

Gene Vincent

After he had sufficiently recovered, Ian was sent to The Royal Grammar School where he often got in trouble. As punishment he was forced to memorize lines of poetry by people like Keats, and if he missed one word, he was forced to start over. Ian felt terrorized by this at the time, but later in life, his lyrics as a songwriter would be highly influenced by this poetry.  As a teen, Ian fell in love with American Jazz music and became popular with his peers with his humor.

He went on to study at The Royal College of Art. After college, Ian taught art at several colleges and did commercial illustrations for The Sunday Times.

It was the 1971 death of his music hero, Gene Vincent, that influenced him to put together his first band, which he named Kilburn & The High Roads.

Kilburn & The High Roads

Ian sang lead vocals and wrote the lyrics and a friend of his, Russell Hardy was the pianist and wrote the music.  Ian then recruited several of his art students to fill out the rest of the band.  They became popular in the local pubs and got a record deal in 1974.  They released 2 studio albums and briefly toured with The Who, but a lack of commercial success lead to the band disbanding in 1975.

Ian spent his time throughout 1976 writing lyrics. After a chance meeting in a music shop, Dury handed his lyrics over to multi-instrumentalist Chaz Jankel.

Chaz Jankel

Chaz’s music sounded exactly like what Ian had imagined for his songs. They went to Manfred Mann’s recording studio, “The Workhouse” to record the songs.  They brought in session musicians in drummer Charley Charles, bassist Norman Watt-Roy, and former Kilburn band member saxophonist Davey Payne to join them in recording the songs.  They also hired Geoff Castle to come in and play the Moog sythesizer on some of the tracks.  Despite not having a record deal, Dury and the band members recorded an album’s worth of songs over the next few weeks.

Every major UK label passed on the album due to their belief it was nothing more than “pub rock” and didn’t think it was commercial. It happened that Dury had hired ex-Pink Floyd managers Andrew King and Peter Jenner to manage his career, and their office happened to be located next door to a brand new, small, music label, Stiff Records.

Stiff was looking for non-mainstream acts and had signed a couple of artists already, Elvis Costello and Nick Cave.  Stiff signed Ian Dury and took the tracks recorded at The Workhouse and in September 1977 they released the songs as the album New Boots and Panties!!

The Album Cover:

First off, let’s talk about the title.  Ian came up with it during some idle conversation about his clothes. He always bought all of his clothing from thrift shops, except his shoes and underwear which he bought new.  He wanted people to buy his new album, so he named it after the two things that he (and presumably most people) always bought new.

The front cover shows Ian standing in front of a lingerie shop and standing next to him is his 6-year old son, Baxter (who would later go on to a music career of his own.) I like the fact that you can see the reflection of the Woolworth sign from across the street. Personally, I love seeing old storefronts and old pictures inside stores, it captures a moment in time that will never be repeated.  But my favorite thing of all is seeing old  shopping malls, that is 80% of the reason I love Dawn of the Dead.

The back cover has a large picture of Ian wearing a gymnastics club t-shirt, which reaffirms that he bought his clothes from the second-hand stores.

I also think Ian has a passing resemblance to Steve-O from Jackass here.

The track listing and band credits look handwritten in marker and a couple of odd things.

“This record was not produced and recorded at the Workhouse in the old Kent road.”

…except that it was

and

There’s nothing wrong with it!!! – Ian Dury

Not sure what that’s about.

I haven’t gotten to any albums with inserts, yet.   While it isn’t necessarily an insert, the album’s inner sleeve had a collage of pictures of Ian Dury since his time with Kilburn & the High Roads. This doesn’t count towards my count of albums with “candid photos of the artists in the studio” collages.

The Album:

I am reviewing the US vinyl release of New Boots and Panties!! from 1978 on Stiff Records.  The track listing on my copy is slightly different from the original UK pressing, which I will discuss later.

(Note: Most song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the album tracks, with the exception of “I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra” for which I could only find a live version.)

Wake Up and Make Love With Me” is an awesome opening track.  Once again, the string of great opening tracks on these albums I’m reviewing continues.  After what I guess would be termed a stereotypical “Asian” sounding piano opening, the Funk-styled bass kicks in, then the Moog synthesizer joins in to give a haunting sound to the track.  Ian has some pretty good vocals here.

The song is pretty funny ode to morning sex.  Though, when you listen closely to the lyrics, they are kind of creepy.  I mean he is asking his girl to wake up before he jumps her bones, but it also sounds like he bangs her sometimes when she is asleep, too.

Sweet Gene Vincent” is a sweet ode to his musical hero, really almost too sweet.  Just when you start wondering where the attitude from Ian has gone, the song changes tempo mid way through and becomes a rocking early rock n’ roll styled song.  I like how it opens in the old-time rock n’ roll ballad style and turns into a real rocker.  Great song.

I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra” is a great song title.  The track shows off Ian’s classically untrained voice. The music is almost country rock, but Ian’s vocals are very English, an interesting mix.  The abracadabra in question appears to be a replacement word for pussy.  Paul McCartney did a cover of this song on an Ian Dury tribute album, Paul makes it sound a lot less dirty.

…despite how he may look here.

My Old Man” is a pretty simple sounding sound.  Almost children’s rhyming styled.  Interesting in that it seems to be a legit biography of his father, who was a bus and limo driver.  I’ve listened to this song about 10 times and I am honestly not sure if I like this track or not.

A spoken word intro begins “Billericay Dickie” with “good evening, I’m from Essex” which I think is supposed to tell me something. Since I’m not from England. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get out of that information. I’m guessing he is using an Essex accent in the song or something. This song just about as Britishy as a song can get.  The funny thing is it was co-written by an American, Steve Nugent.  It is rhyming words set to music that sounds like a Casio keyboard demo button.

I think they pushed the aqua colored button right there.

Again, I can’t tell if I like it or not.  I mean it’s kinda fun, but it is also kind of repetitive as it goes on.

On to side two.

Here I come to a conundrum, as I have the second vinyl pressing of New Boots and Panties!! which has a slightly different track list than the original pressing.  On my copy, side 2 opens with “Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll” and “What a Waste” which were Dury’s singles.  Ian did not want any singles on his albums, and these tracks were not originally included on the album, in fact they aren’t even included on the track listing on the back cover.  Part of me wants to leave them off my review since they weren’t originally there on the album. But since they are on my copy, I will include them in my review.

Despite what some people claim, the song “Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll” was not where the phrase was coined. It was already part of the lexicon before the song.  It has a really cool guitar and bass part.  I’m really glad it was added to this pressing of the album, because it is a good track.

What a Waste” is an unusual song but quite cool. It eventually made the top 10 on the pop charts in the UK. The Moog synthesizer is the best part of the song, coming in and out with many different sounds, but I like Ian’s vocals here, too, He gets a lot of words out very quickly.  The best way to describe this track is that it has an almost theatrical sound to it.

Well, it’s not that theatrical.

Clevor Trever” is a cool syth-based track, and also it has smooth backing music.  Ian again sings in the rhyming music hall style, but I really like his vocals on this song, and I dig the guitar solo towards the end.  Good track.

If I Was With a Woman” has an almost disco beat.  It has a similar sound to “Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll.” I’m not sure what to think about this track, it becomes annoying with the word “laughing” repeated about 50 times at the end.

Blockheads” the song that would eventually give his band its name. Now this is a rocking song.  In a way I like Ian doing these screaming styled vocals more than the slower tempo songs.  Could you call this Synth-Punk? Also the Moog comes in farting at one point.  More of this, please.

Plaistow Patricia” opens with Ian yelling a bunch of obscenities, including…aerosol.

Perhaps I should have censored this picture.

The way the song starts I thought it would be Ian talking over dissonant sounds, but a Ramones-esque two chord guitar drives the rest of the song.

It is a really dirty song lyrically, and actually also kind of racist, but it is the story of a heroin addict so I think this supposed to be an unreliable narrator. Again, Ian is using more “down and dirty” vocals, which I like tons better than the British sing-songy style of the earlier songs.

Blackmail Man” definitely the most Punk song on the album, but with a great guitar mini-solo.  The second to last guitar last chord always makes me think Yes’ “Roundabout” is about to start.

Yeah, this album is definitely not for every one, but I can’t deny I enjoyed it.

Aftermath:

Dury invited the session musicians that played on the album to join him and Chaz Jankel as a permanent band.  They agreed, and added another guitarist named John Turnbull and pianist Mickey Gallagher, to form The Blockheads, named after the track on New Boots and Panties!!. 

Ian Dury and The Blockheads

In 1978, Ian Dury and The Blockheads released another single “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” It sold nearly a million copies, and went all the way to #1 on the UK pop charts, unseating “YMCA” by The Village People at the top spot.

Ian’s first album with The Blockheads, Do It Yourself, rose to #2 on the UK album charts and eventually went platinum.  While they maintained their popularity as a live band over the next two years, they never attained that much commercial success again.

Chaz Jankel left the band in 1980 for a solo career, and by 1981 Ian disbanded the band to go on his own solo career and left Stiff to join Polydor Records.  Dury remained a popular touring artist throughout the 80’s and 90’s and started drifting into acting roles.  He appeared in some movies such as Roman Polanski’s Pirates and with Sly Stallone in Judge Dredd.

I won’t hold it against Ian for appearing in this.

Dury was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1996.  Despite being told it was terminal, Dury continued to perform sporadically over the next few years. He finally succumbed to the cancer and passed away at the age of 57 in 2000.

My take on Rolling Stone’s take:

RS: “Dury cut his teeth on the British pub rock circuit before his debut made him a cult star,  He never managed to duplicate the brilliance of this punk-funk classic, but the album’s impact is felt to this day – even introducing the phrase “sex, drugs and rock & roll” to the lexicon.”

Oh Rolling Stone, you guys just can’t get your facts straight.  First off, the book credits the album to Ian Dury and The Blockheads, which is not accurate, it’s a solo album that predates the formation of The Blockheads.  Second, as I said earlier, the album did not invent the phrase “sex, drugs and rock & roll” as it was already a common phrase at the time, not to mention that that song wasn’t even originally part of this album. My original idea for this section was just to make mention of whether I agreed with Rolling Stone’s opinion of the album, I didn’t realize I was going to be a fact-checker for them.

Also, I should mention that this album is no longer included on the updated 2012 Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums list.

Conclusion:

Well, this album is a difficult one to come to a conclusion about.  It definitely is not for everyone.  Personally, I like the album a lot. I think the best tracks are really great.  There are a few quirks to the album that I didn’t much care for, but nothing that completely ruins any of the tracks.  I definitely recommend everyone should give it a try, but with the caveat that it requires an open mind. It’s one of those albums where a lot of people won’t care for it at all, but those that do will like it a whole lot.

3.5 Stars out of 5, recommended with some reservations.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

3. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

4. Outkast- Aquemini

5. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

6. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

500 Greatest Albums of All Time Reviews- An Introduction

October 5, 2012

In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine published a special issue that listed the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  It was voted on by musicians, critics, and others in the music business.  In 2005, Rolling Stone published a book version of the list.  The book made a few changes to the list, mostly combining the votes for a few albums that had separate entries even though their track listings were similar (e.g. With the Beatles and Meet the Beatles.)  The book list added eight new albums at the bottom of the list.  In early 2012, Rolling Stone’s website updated the 500 list again as they added in the votes for albums that showed up on their 100 Greatest Albums of the ’00s list and removed a few from the book list.  However, it is the book version of the list that I am using as my source.

I received the 500 Greatest book for my birthday in 2006.  Immediately I wanted to collect all of the albums on the list.  I already owned many of the albums on CD, but still a majority were albums I did not have and some albums I’d never even heard of.  I then had the idea of collecting the albums on vinyl records.  After buying one album, I abandoned the idea.  I eventually downloaded the bottom (500-250) half of the list onto my mp3 player.  My idea was to listen to each album and eventually write reviews of each one.

While I did listen to probably the bottom 75-100 albums, I listened to many of them while I was at work, so I didn’t really get a chance to “take in” the album, and I just didn’t have the motivation or time at that period in my life to complete a big project like that.

Early in 2012 I decided to start back my abandoned idea of collecting the albums on vinyl (when available.)  I have collected nearly all of the bottom 100 and now that I have them I will do my own reviews of the albums.

I have no real qualifications for reviewing music other than the fact that I have been a fan of music and have collected CDs and records for 20 years now.  I did record two albums GOAT (2002) and Expect the Unexpected (2003) although I play no real instruments. I consider my albums to be comedy as I parodied things such as hidden tracks, backwards masking, and avant garde music.  My reviews will be from the perspective of someone who just loves listening to music.  I also love everything that goes with pop culture, and I will definitely pepper my reviews with whatever pop culture reference pops into my head.

The way that I will structure my review will be as follows:

The Artist: I will give a brief biography if it is the first time I have reviewed one of their albums.  The most important part of this section is trying to explain the context within which the album was recorded.  To do this, I will try to listen and give a brief overview of which albums led up to the album I am reviewing.  In my opinion the where, when, and why the album was recorded is just as important as what the album sounds like.

The Album Cover: Especially when reviewing vinyl record versions of albums, the artwork chosen for an album is very important in fully understanding that album.  To me the entire package (the music, the cover, whatever inserts are included) is one complete piece of art.

The Album:  I will try to do a track by track review of every album.  While listening to the album, I will try to put into words how it makes me feel, plus I will try to add little pieces of information that I came across while researching the album.  Most of all I want to make my reviews fun and I will reference whatever weird pop culture or real life thing that the song reminds me of.

Aftermath: I give information of what happened after the release of the album and whether it was a hit or not.  If the artist has a subsequent album on the list, I will only talk about what happened up to the recording of that album, if not, I will tell what has happen to them up to the present time.

My take on Rolling Stone’s take: I will quote what Rolling Stone says about the album in the book and then give my thoughts on what they say about it. I’m just doing this for comparison’s sake.  Sometimes I think whoever wrote the blurbs really doesn’t know that much about the album and just gives a blanket statement.

Conclusion: I will give my final thoughts and give each album a star rating on the 1 to 5 star scale.

5 stars-Perfect rating

4.5 to 4.75 stars-highly recommended

4 to 4.25 stars-recommended

3.5 to 3.75 stars-recommended with some reservations

3 to 3.25 stars-mild recommendation

2.5 to 2.75-not recommended, but don’t avoid

2 to 2.25-avoid with some reservations

1.5 to 1.75-avoid

1 to 1.25-toss the album into the blazing fires of hell

The last part of the review will be my thoughts on where the album should rank in relation to the other albums that I have already reviewed.  My idea is to ultimately re-rank every album on the 500 list.  Some albums I probably will feel are not “worthy” of top 500 status, so once I have completely re-ranked the entire 500 I will remove those that I don’t like as much and add ones that weren’t on the list so that I’ll have my own definitive 500 Greatest Albums list.

Ultimately I assume that this project will probably take, conservatively, about 5 years to complete.

#496- Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up- 1972

October 3, 2012

The Artist:

Bonnie Raitt was born in Burbank, California in 1949.  The only daughter of Broadway star John Raitt and pianist Marjorie Haydock.  Her music talents were not just inherited from Marjorie, but John had a famous baritone singing voice which helped him get the lead roles in Broadway classics such as Carousel, South Pacific, and his most famous leading role as Sid in The Pajama Game. That part he later carried over to the movie version, playing opposite Doris Day.

John Raitt with Doris Day

Bonnie grew up loving the blues, and at a young age she learned to play the guitar.  She studied at Harvard and while there she began playing in the blues clubs around Boston. During this time she became friends with blues promoter Dick Waterman, and she moved to Philadelphia to work with him. He helped her get gigs opening for many legendary blues musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Even before she had a record deal, she accepted an offer to open for The Rolling Stones during part of their 1970 US tour.  One of the reporters from Newsweek (the name of the reporter I cannot seem to locate) began spreading the word of her musical ability to record company executives.  In 1971, Bonnie was signed by Warner Brothers Records.

Her first album, titled Bonnie Raitt, was released in November of 1971.

Many critics were blown away.  She was something new, a 21-year-old white, female, blues guitarist with a great singing voice.  The album itself was mostly filled with cover songs, although it did contain one original song called “Thank You.” The album got almost universally positive reviews, but it was not commercially successful at all.

A few months later, Raitt went back into the studio to record her follow-up album.  While she would maintain her blues edge, she wanted to add in a mix of other genres, too.  Recording commenced in June of 1972 in Woodstock, New York with her backing musicians comprised of some of the best players around at the time. They were the musicians that had backed artists like The Band, Van Morrison, and Taj Mahal during their recent recording sessions in Woodstock.

The Album Cover:

This is definitely the most basic cover I’ve reviewed yet.  A picture of a young, pre-Bride of Frankenstein-esque hair streak, Bonnie Raitt standing in a garden or something.  It kind of looks like a member of the class of ’72’s senior yearbook picture.  It is framed in a purple border with the album title and her name in cursive.  I’m trying to think of something interesting to say about it, but there isn’t anything.

Well, the back cover isn’t any more interesting.  Now, Bonnie is lounging on a bench outside a house or train station or Cracker Barrel or somewhere.  It has the usual stuff, the track listing, the credits, and a long paragraph telling which other albums the musicians have played on in the past, which actually sounds more interesting than it actually is.

Nothing much of note here…wait what’s this?

Oy.

This is the first album that I’ve reviewed that has a gatefold cover.

It’s also the first time we get to see the ol’ “candid photos of the artists in the studio” collage.  I’m willing to bet that we’ll see many more of these collages as I trek through the Rolling Stone 500.

The Album:

I am reviewing the 1972 vinyl release of Give It Up on Warner Brothers Records.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  One minor word of warning, most of the songs that are linked here sound pretty lo-fi.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens with “Give It Up Or Let Me Go” a fantastic, bluesy, New Orleansy sound.  One of the things that I am noticing while doing these reviews is the trend that the “500 Greatest Albums” all seem to have great opening tracks.  This song reminds me a lot of something by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with the tinny piano and the tuba. The tuba is played by someone wonderfully named Freebo, no first or last name given. The song also has a touch of the Delta blues with Bonnie’s steel guitar playing.  A really great song.

I was afraid that I’d be disappointed by seeing a picture of someone named Freebo. That’s him on the left.
I’m not disappointed.

Nothing Seems To Matter” is the first time we hear how beautiful Bonnie Raitt’s voice can be. I find the guitar playing quite beautiful, too. It is a very sweet song.

I recognize the album’s third track “I Know,” but the version I have heard is by someone else.  A quick Wiki search tells me the one I’m thinking of was a #3 hit for Barbara George in 1961.  Raitt’s version is not quite as good as the original, but it is solid in its own right.  There are times when the music reminds me of something off of The Band’s Moondog Matinee.  Also, there is a bit of a nod to The Big Bopper at the end.

Hellllllllooo Baaaaby!

If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” is another cover of an early 60’s R&B song.  It’s a good song and Bonnie’s vocals are nice, but it isn’t quite up to the quality of the rest of the album.  To be honest, it sounds a little generic.

On “Love Me Like a Man” we get the first, real, hard-driving blues song on the album. It is pure blues both musically and lyrically. This became one of Bonnie’s long time staples of her live performances.  It is a cool ending to side one of the album.

Side two opens with “Stayed Too Long at the Fair”  Oh wow, what can I say, this is a beautiful song.  The song was written by a guy named Joel Zoss who performed it on stage at a club that Bonnie’s manager happened to be at, and he taped it for Bonnie to hear.  It has incredible lyrics (ex: Jesus cried, wept and died/ I guess he went up to heaven/ I’ve been downtown such a long long time/ I’ll never make it home by seven.)

I’m really starting to realize how truly exceptional Bonnie’s vocals are.  Jon Landau of Rolling Stone said in 1972 about this album “the best thing about Bonnie Raitt is her singing, and the best thing about Give It Up is that she sings great from beginning to end.”  I totally agree.

Under the Falling Sky” is a Jackson Browne tune that is upbeat and fun.  Without looking at the album credits, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that is Paul Butterfield on the mouth harp. (Checks album cover) Ding!  It is interesting that someone can sound so distinctive on what seems like a somewhat simple instrument.  I mean even I can play the harmonica, and I have no musical ability.  Actually, I don’t really know how to play it, I just blow in and out, but it sounds something like music to me.

The Butter Man, a much better harmonica player than me.

You Got to Know How” is a cover of a 1920’s blues song by Sippie Wallace. As I mentioned earlier, she was one of the old-time blues artists that Bonnie opened for early in her career. It has a really cool opening with the jazz piano.  Bonnie does some amazing vocal stretching here.  She has to hit some pretty high and some pretty low notes. I also like the clarinet solo, probably because it reminds of music from a Woody Allen movie.

You Told Me Baby” is a very Bonnie Raitt-esque song (if that makes any sense.)  What I mean is, this is her distinctive sound, and if someone else did a song like this, you would say they are trying to sound like Bonnie Raitt.  The jamming at the end sounds kinda Santana-ish.

No, not this Santana.

This Santana.

Love Has No Pride” is a slower, almost country song.  I see it was co-written by Libby Titus, who I only know because she was the musical guest on the Hugh Hefner hosted episode of Saturday Night Live in 1977.

I can’t find a pic of Libby singing, but I did find one of Hef crooning from the same episode.

This is a good song, and again Bonnie’s voice is so beautiful and clear that the whole song works due to her vocal ability.  My only minor complaint is that the album opened with such a rollicking song in “Give It Up or Let It Go” and yet it ends on a slow country ballad.  I would have preferred for the album to end on a faster paced tune.

Aftermath:

Critics were even more effusive over Give It Up than they had been for Raitt’s debut album.  However, the American public still had no interest buying her records.  The album did not even break into Billboard’s top 100 albums, peaking at #138.  The combination of critical praise and buyer apathy towards her albums would be repeated over and over for the next 17 years.

I will get to the rest of her story when I get to album #225.

My take on Rolling Stone’s take:

RS: “California darling Raitt headed to Woodstock to cut her second LP – only to face near-monsoon weather. “My house had sand and salamanders,” Raitt said. She took refuge in the studio and churned out gorgeous folksy blues, including a cover of Jackson Browne’s “Under the Falling Sky.”

Rolling Stone only has room for a one paragraph blurb for an album that they say is one of the greatest of all time and they insert a weather report?  That’s odd.  Also, if they had to single out one song off the album, picking “Under the Falling Sky” is kinda odd, too.  It is also strange that they call her a “California darling” when she was best known as a Boston and Philadelphia area musician at that time.  They make it sound like moving to Woodstock was her first music experience outside of California.

It seems to me whoever wrote this blurb just did cursory research on the album. They saw she was born in California, read something about rain, saw the name Jackson Browne, and wrote the paragraph without listening to the album.

Oh and…

Salamanders!

Conclusion:

I try to never assume anything before listening to an album or watching a movie, but it is human nature to have some sort of prejudice just based on what you see in the commercial or on the movie poster or on an album cover.  In this case, I will admit that I did not think this album would be up my alley, just because it is a Bonnie Raitt album.

I was never a big fan of her 80’s and 90’s hits, and those songs were all that I had been exposed to from her.  Even then, the only reason I didn’t like those songs very much is due to the fact that they were played so often Top 40 radio stations while I was growing up. I bet I’ve heard “Something to Talk About” and “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” a combined thousand times on the radio between 1991 and now. Even today I can guarantee that almost every local easy listening station still plays “I Can’t Make You Love Me” at least once a day.

But I was wrong, I found this album to be really great.

4.5 stars out of 5, highly recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

3. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

4. Outkast- Aquemini

5. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail