Thanksgiving night

This is Thanksgiving night. You may have eaten more than you should. You may have drank more than you should.

On Thanksgiving night 1969, similarly overstuffed, all you can manage is to plop down into an overstuffed chair, turn on the TV and hope to be entertained.

You turn on ABC. Starting at 8 p.m./7 Central, you watch “That Girl” and “Bewitched.” Mindless enough. Then, at 9/8 Central, you watch “This Is Tom Jones.” Tom does a 6-minute medley with Little Richard. Mind blown.

On Thanksgiving night 1974, if you can manage it, you are among the 20,000 staggeringly fortunate people for whom their nightcap is seeing and hearing Elton John at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kiki Dee opens. It is percussionist Ray Cooper’s first New York show with Elton’s band.

Then Elton introduces a special guest.

“Seeing it’s Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion, we thought we’d make tonight a little bit of a joyous occasion, ah, by inviting someone up with us onto stage. 
And, ah, I’m sure he will be no stranger to anybody in the audience when I say it’s our great privilege and your great privilege to see and hear Mr. John Lennon!”

They spend 13 minutes together on stage, performing “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” It is Lennon’s last live performance before an audience.

Elton John Band Featuring John Lennon and the Muscle Shoals Horns LP

“Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” Elton John and John Lennon, from “Elton John Band Featuring John Lennon And The Muscle Shoals Horns,” 1976. (My copy is a German import from 1981.)

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Filed under November 2020, Sounds

Now playing: Rarest Earth

Last month, I pulled out “Dreams/Answers,” Rare Earth’s debut LP from 1968, and announced on Facebook and Twitter that it was “Now playing.”

“New to me!” Casey said from Kansas.

“Never heard it, but I love Rare Earth,” Mark said from right here in Green Bay.

“NEED!” Vincent said from Maryland.

“I have never seen this or heard it, or heard of it!” Bill said from Missouri.

When I bought “Dreams/Answers” in Madison a couple of years ago, I’d never seen it before, either. One of my record-digging rules is that if I see a record I’ve never seen before, I oughta think about getting it. Glad I did. I’ve never seen “Dreams/Answers” since.

Rare Earth in 1968 consisted of John Parrish (vocals, bass, trombone), Rod Richards (vocal, guitars), Kenny James (organ, piano), Gil Bridges (vocals, sax) and Peter Rivera (vocals, drums). Percussionist Eddie Guzman — a key element of the classic Rare Earth sound — doesn’t join until 1969, after this record.

Bridges and Rivera had been together since 1960, when they formed the Sunliners, an R&B group that played the Detroit club circuit. Parrish joined in 1962 and the others in 1966. The new name came in 1968.

“Dreams/Answers” was produced, arranged and conducted by Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, young guys who also had been working on the Detroit music scene for most of the ’60s, Theodore as a producer and arranger and Coffey as a great session guitarist. They’ve since worked together for decades, including all of Coffey’s great work as a solo artist.

“Dreams/Answers” appears to be the first LP they ever produced, though by 1968 they’d already produced a handful of singles for local labels. As the Theo-Coff Invasion, they released the soundtrackish instrumentals “Lucky Day” and “Nocturnal Flower” on the Dearborn label in 1966.

“Dreams/Answers” isn’t the powerful Rare Earth sound we all know. It wasn’t a hit, either. Those were still to come. No, this is a hodgepodge of styles — pop and prog and psychedelia and R&B and soul — from a group of young guys trying to find their groove.

This record wraps covers of the Supremes, Wilson Pickett, the Temptations and the Coasters around original songs from Theodore and Coffey, and from singer-songwriter Paul Parrish and Detroit guitarist Ron Koss, for whom their writing credits are their first. (Parrish’s 1968 pop-folk-psych LP “The Forest Of My Mind,” also was arranged by Theodore and Coffey.)

"Dreams/Answers" LP by Rare Earth from 1968

So let’s listen to it as Rare Earth intended for it to be heard.

First, though, here’s their original cover of “Get Ready,” from Side 2.

“Dreams/Answers,” Side 1, Rare Earth, 1968.

“Dreams/Answers,” Side 2, Rare Earth, 1968.

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Filed under October 2020, Sounds

Fully involved

“War” started with the Temptations, but it was seemingly too hot to handle.

The story goes that Motown didn’t want to sully the Temps’ reputation by releasing a protest song as a single. (If that’s so, please explain “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball Of Confusion [That’s What The World Is Today],” all culturally aware Temptations singles produced by Norman Whitfield and released before “War.”)

So Whitfield handed “War” to Edwin Starr, who performed the blistering version everyone has known for 50 years, a No. 1 single in the summer of 1970. In so doing, perhaps Whitfield got a version closer to what he’d originally imagined for it.

Perhaps you could say the same for “Ball Of Confusion.” It was a smash for the Temptations, also in the summer of 1970, and then Whitfield handed it to Starr for “Involved,” his 1971 LP.

Because “Ball Of Confusion” was such a big hit for the Temptations is perhaps why Whitfield fully unfurls his freak flag on Starr’s cover of it. This version is built on Bob Babbitt’s familiar bass line but Whitfield’s production takes it far out, man. Waves of psychedelic echoes surround Starr’s scorching vocals. Random dialogue floats past.

With 4 minutes left, that bass line cuts out and Starr starts preaching. “Roaches! Rats! Black folks living in hate. Ain’t no justice. … You make your own heaven and hell right here on Earth.”

“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” Edwin Starr, from “Involved,” 1971.

Fun fact: “War” is the first cut on back-to-back Edwin Starr LPs — “War and Peace” from 1970 and “Involved” from 1971. The former was cobbled together in the wake of the smash single. The latter is a proper release, as evidenced by the quality of the sounds that followed it on Side 1.

So you know “War.” And now you’ve heard Edwin Starr’s freaky cover of “Ball Of Confusion.” Now behold “Funky Music Sho’ ‘Nuff Turns Me On,” the third and final cut — and the third Norman Whitfield-Barrett Strong composition — on Side 1 of “Involved.” It’s a furious shot of funk, with Starr blasting his way to the final grooves.

“Funky Music Sho’ ‘Nuff Turns Me On,” Edwin Starr, from “Involved,” 1971.

Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau thought this LP was “Norman Whitfield’s peak production,” even though he thought Whitfield wasted 12 minutes on “Ball Of Confusion.”

As always, you make the call.

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Getting down … to Earth

Got nothing else to do during the pandemic, so I’ve been playing a bunch of my records. Listen, OK, listen, OK, listen, OK, listen, OK. Not necessarily ripping them, though.

"Down To Earth" LP by Eddie Floyd, 1971

Then I dropped Eddie Floyd’s “Down To Earth” on the turntable the other night, and right out of the gate … WHAT is this? Oh, yeah. Gotta rip this.

Expecting more of Eddie Floyd’s smooth Memphis soul and R&B vocals, it was anything but. It’s Eddie Floyd and guitarist Steve Cropper getting heavy and getting freaky with some help from songwriter Sir Mack Rice. They’re all experimenting. It is 1971, after all, and times are changing.

“Down To Earth” begins with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” I did not expect that heavy rock guitar intro, nor for things to go from there to smooth soul to some Doobie Brothers-style rocking out to taking it back down before steaming through a furious finish.

“People Get Ready,” Eddie Floyd, from “Down To Earth,” 1971.

Then we trippin’. Eddie covers the Detroit Wheels’ “Linda Sue Dixon” — Sir Mack’s LSD shout-out — followed by “My Mind Was Messed Around At The Time,” in which Eddie loses his lady because “I guess I got a little too high.”

“Linda Sue Dixon,” Eddie Floyd, from “Down To Earth,” 1971.
“My Mind Was Messed Around At The Time,” Eddie Floyd, from “Down To Earth,” 1971.

The last cut on the record, “Changing Love,” is equal parts Southern jam and full-on psychedelic soul as imagined by Floyd and Cropper.

“Changing Love,” Eddie Floyd, from “Down To Earth,” 1971.

Can’t say there’s a bad cut on the record.

(Yes, this post looks a bit different. Trying to learn the new-to-me WordPress block editor on the fly after 13 years with the original editor.)

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The good, the bad and the Cubs

Van Halen memory No. 1

Eddie Van Halen’s death takes me straight back to when and where I heard Van Halen for the first time.

Summer 1978, home from college, sitting at the Bar Phoenix in Schofield, Wisconsin, a dive bar I’d never been in. The Bar Phoenix had a reputation as a tough place, sort of a roadhouse. We college kids didn’t go there. An older, vaguely countercultural, working-class crowd went there.

But we were there in daylight, on a sun-splashed summer afternoon. We were 21 and had been going to bars for three or four years, so maybe we were getting to look like we knew our way around the block. But probably not. In any case, there weren’t too many people in the bar. It was cool.

Van Halen LP, 1978

Then “Eruption” came on the radio or the jukebox. (No MTV yet!) Mind blown.

It wasn’t long before I went out and bought “Van Halen.” Loved it. Still love it. Still have it.

Van Halen memory No. 2

By the time “Van Halen II” came out in 1979, I’d talked my bosses at the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram into letting me write record reviews. I’d worked at the paper for a year and change. I still was 21. I wasn’t all that sophisticated. All these years later, the cringe factor remains strong with these reviews.

I was stoked about the release of “Van Halen II.” Then I listened to it.

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram Record Review column sig

From my review of “Van Halen II” on Saturday, April 21, 1979:

“I want off the bandwagon and I want off now.”

“David Lee Roth seems intent on showing just how bad he can sing. His voice, kind of an I-dare-you stance punctured frequently by a howl reminiscent of a chicken with emphysema, gets boring quickly.”

Though I did like “Dance The Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls,” I didn’t like the rest of “Van Halen II.” Nor did I appreciate what Eddie Van Halen was bringing to the table.

Fun fact No. 1: Who remembers that the first cut on “Van Halen II” was a cover of “You’re No Good?” It was no good. Back then, Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “You’re No Good” from five years earlier was the only one I knew. Dee Dee Warwick? Betty Everett? No way.

Fun fact No. 2: For years, all I had were those two Van Halen records. I’ve since sold “Van Halen II,” never having played it again after reviewing it.

Fun fact No. 3: My other review that day was Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp!” I liked that one but inexplicably compared him to George Thorogood in that both were serious about sticking to their musical roots. Yeesh, as the kids say.

Van Halen memory No. 3

The theme song to that wonderful summer of 1984, with many afternoons spent watching the Cubs chase their first playoff berth in forever.

Never saw Van Halen play live. Saw half of the group — Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony — and they were pretty good on the Van Hagar songs.

I can only imagine what the real deal was like.

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