Credit Where Credit is Due Dept.: This week’s selection of Downloadablesâ¢ is inspired, once again, by those beautiful, crazy bastards over at audiography, where the theme for the week is The ’70s. Being that this is the decade of my birth we’re talking about here, and it’s stuffed so very full of wonderful, wonderful music…well, how could I resist? It wasn’t all shitty disco and crappy New Wave, people. Here, then, is a stoned baker’s dozen of my favorite pop/rock/folk/jazz/comedy/soundtrack/blues/whatever songs from 1970-1979.
If you buy any of these albums, please consider doing so through the links…as always, get ‘em before next Tuesday morning…and enjoy!
10cc – I’m Not In Love For quirky, impeccably produced pop music during the 1970s, you could hardly do better than 10cc — they fused wry British humor (or is that humour?) with unimpeachable arrangements and came up with classic American pop, refracted through a cracked mirror. They managed to have hits with some pretty weird stuff, like “Donna” and “I’m Mandy, Fly Me,” but it isn’t hard to see why “I’m Not In Love” was their biggest chart success. Often covered, never duplicated. From The Original Soundtrack, but start off with The Best Of 10cc.
Al Anderson & The Wildweeds – And When She Smiles Big Al Anderson was a member of NRBQ for many years. If you’ve never heard (or heard of) the Q, fear not, because they’ll be the subject of an upcoming Complete Idiot’s Guide in this very space — and here’s a taste of what Big Al was up to before he joined the band. It’s a lovely, folkish little ditty, all flowers and happy sunbeams. Wildweeds is sadly out of print, so I can’t send you anywhere to buy it.
Al Jarreau – Take Five (live) A number of artists fused jazz, pop, and R&B in the ’70s, but I can’t think of any who did it better — or with more confidence and sheer joy — than Al Jarreau. Some people (like my wife) can’t get past the dated production of his material, or his unsettling willingness to scat-sing on nearly everything. Of course, some people are just plain wrong. Al Jarreau was, is, and forevermore shall be absolute cool. Here’s his demented take on the Brubeck classic, as found on the live album Look to the Rainbow.
Beach Boys – You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone The Beach Boys’ 1970s output has undergone something of a renaissance lately; the remasters issued by Capitol a few years back were greeted with critical hosannas bearing no resemblance to the savage poundings those albums took when originally released. I tend to think that a lot of this re-evaluation is the product of nostalgia (or payola) — quite a bit of what the band released during the decade was crap when it came out and is still crap today. Carl and Dennis Wilson, try as they may have, couldn’t equal Brian’s genius, and Mike Love has never been anything more than a man-sized testicular tumor. The Beach Boys were not without their high points during the ’70s, though, and this rough-hewn track is definitely one of them. From the stupidly titled Carl & The Passions – “So Tough”.
Bill Withers – Friend Of Mine (live) Anyone who can listen to the music of Bill Withers without finding something to love deserves to be slapped, hard, in the face. End of story. From Live At Carnegie Hall.
Billy Joel – Everybody Has A Dream Part of the problem with Billy Joel — and what robs much of his catalog of true lasting value — is his deep affection for the Brill Building/Tin Pan Alley school of songwriting, wherein craft reigns supreme, and genre exercises are just another day at the office. Billy wanted to be The Beatles, but he had no Lennon for his McCartney; subsequently, a lot of what he did came off as dilettantish — he toyed with country, New Wave, straight-ahead rock & roll, doo-wop, and anything else he could get his hands on, and though none of it was embarrassing, it often failed to communicate a true love for the genre. When he stopped trying to prove his breadth, however, he displayed real depth — like on this song, the closing track from The Stranger.
Bob Dylan – Shelter From The Storm You could pretty much just throw a dart at a piece of paper listing every song Dylan released during the ’70s and wind up hitting something good. Yes, I’m aware of Self-Portrait and Dylan, but even figuring those train wrecks into the equation, one could make a pretty strong argument for Dylan’s material from the decade. “Shelter from the Storm” has been released in a number of versions; this is the short one.
Bob James – Angela (live) Bob James has been critically slagged for squandering his talent on dishwater instrumental music, for helping to keep jazz trapped in the elevators of America since 1979, and for his part in the abominably awful recordings of Fourplay. As the author and performer of “Angela,” however, he will always have a special place in my heart. The theme from Taxi is to me, in many ways, the quintessential ’70s song — so what could be more quintessential than this seven-minute-plus live version? From All Around the Place.
Boz Scaggs – Lowdown Silk Degrees couldn’t have been a more perfect ’70s album if it had been assembled in a laboratory. You’ve got a blue-eyed soul crooner — that’s Boz Scaggs — fronting a group of the finest session musicians Los Angeles had to offer, including most of the members of Toto. Scaggs never had anything remotely resembling the success he experienced with this album, but it was such a juggernaut, he didn’t have to. Even if you don’t think you’ve heard this song, you have.
Chicago – Gently I’ll Wake You From Chicago X (”the one with the chocolate bar cover”), the album that many regard as the first shark-jumping point for Chicago’s original lineup. Certainly, by this point, the band was exhausted; they had released something like 15 albums worth of material since 1967, they were touring incessantly, and then there was the flaky white mountain of “studio snow” that accompanied every studio recording. However, I think X might be my favorite release by Chicago 1.0 — sure, some of the songs are pretty stupid, but as a performing unit, the band was as tight as it would ever get, and producer James Guercio had truly come into his own. Dig it.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Carry On Heh. Hippies.
Daryl Hall & John Oates – I’m Sorry Those who know H&O only for the ultra-slick rock & soul hybrid they rode to chart platinum in the ’80s might be surprised to discover the amount of experimentation the duo did previously. Their first album, Whole Oats, was an interesting mix of folk and blue-eyed soul. Unfortunately, that album appears to be out of print, so–this song excepted–you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Dennis Wilson – River Song For years, Dennis Wilson was unfairly maligned as the least talented Beach Boy. He was a crappy drummer, a lousy songwriter, and more interested in drugs, alcohol, and sex than making music, or so the legend went. Though there may be a grain of truth to this — especially the part about drugs, alcohol, and sex — Dennis Wilson was at least fourteen times as talented as, say, the cancerous growth that is Mike Love. Dennis surprised a lot of people when he started writing songs for the Beach Boys in the ’70s, and the release of his first solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, was something of a revelation. His death was untimely and tragic. This album should not be out of print.
Dixie Dregs – Take It Off The Top For a lot of music lovers, “fusion” is a four-letter word. The genre, a blend of rock and jazz, showed unlimited promise for a brief time in the ’70s, before being co-opted and driven into the dirt by a series of flashy players who were too untalented to make real jazz or convincing rock. They weren’t together long, but some of the best fusion was released by the Dixie Dregs, led by the monstrously talented Steve Morse. From their album What If.
Elton John – Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters From Honky Chateau, released in 1972, at the height of Elton’s songwriting power. You’d never know it today, but once upon a time, he showed blindingly bright promise, and for most of the ’70s, he could do no wrong. This song has been covered by a lot of artists, and all of those covers are bullshit. Elton did it perfectly the first time.
Elvis Costello – Alison One of the greatest songs ever? Maybe.
Fleetwood Mac – I Don’t Wanna Know It would be impossible to compile a list of great ’70s songs without including at least one track from Rumours, and all of them are pretty fucking great, so I just eeny-meeny-miney-moe’d it.
George Harrison – Crackerbox Palace The Quiet Beatle was more interested in feeding poor people, racing cars, and making movies than writing songs for most of his post-Beatles career, but for a little while in the ’70s, he was churning out albums at a fairly rapid pace. Most of them are fairly spotty; in fact, the one this song is taken from (33 1/3) appears to be out of print.
Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind The name “Gordon Lightfoot” is synonymous today with sandal-footed high school art teachers and the terminally unhip, which is a shame, because he’s written some wonderful songs. Check out Gord’s Gold.
Jackson Browne – For A Dancer This might be my favorite Jackson Browne song, from what is very definitely my favorite Jackson Browne album. A beautiful eulogy for his ex-wife, who had recently committed suicide, filled with lyrics that are positively chill-inducing in their empathy. I dare you not to love this song.
James Taylor – Blossom A simple folk ballad that perfectly encapsulates the fragile, fading optimism of the early ’70s, written and performed by the artist who personifies the best and worst of the singer/songwriter genre. By the end of the decade, Taylor had let drugs make a mockery of his talent and his marriage; each of his releases since 1980 have represented a small step forward in quality from that embarrassing period. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever find his way back to the beautiful, terrible honesty of his earliest releases. Check out Sweet Baby James and you’ll see what I mean.
Jim Croce – Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels) Nobody knows what heights Jim Croce might have scaled if he had lived past 1973 — but, given the tall stack of great songs he recorded during his short life, it seems a safe bet to say they’d have been fairly significant. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of the Croce collection.
J.J. Cale – Travelin’ Light For some reason, the name “J.J. Cale” produces blank, quizzical stares from a lot of otherwise intelligent people. He’s made a lot of great blues music. He continues to make a lot of great blues music. Start here.
Joe Cocker – Feelin’ Alright (live) Since the mid-’80s, Joe Cocker has been the tragic punchline to an unfunny joke, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, early in his career, Cocker’s prodigous vocal talent was matched by some real fire — not to mention a gift for picking material. His Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour introduced the world to Leon Russell — which in and of itself absolves Cocker from many of the artistic crimes he has committed during the last twenty years — and the album from the tour shows you what might have been.
Joe Jackson – It’s Different For Girls I’m not sure there is a better opening line in all of pop music than “What the hell is wrong with you tonight?” and Joe Jackson used it here, so this song makes the list. I think he’s always been extremely spotty — even more so than Elvis Costello, to whom he has often been compared — and I can’t say I’d recommend purchasing any of his studio albums, although this best-of contains most of the high points.
Kinky Friedman – Homo Erectus Friedman — self-proclaimed “Texas Jewboy” — is perhaps better-known today as a novelist than a recording artist. Considering the strength of the music he’s made, I’d say that’s too bad, but whatever keeps his bank account full is all right with me. This is a track from his extraordinary first album, which also contains classics such as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Somethin’s Wrong With the Beaver.” It’s apparently also out of print — goddamn, record companies are stupid.
Little Feat – Cold, Cold, Cold Listen, kid, if you don’t know shit about Little Feat, then you don’t know shit, period. They made some of the greatest deep-fried rock music of the ’70s or any other decade. Lowell George was a genius — a GENIUS, you hear me? White blues just don’t get any grimier than this song (from their second album, Sailin’ Shoes). Now go get me a peach, or a pear, or a coconut, please.
Marvin Hamlisch – The Entertainer (Piano) I suppose this song has so little to do with what was going on musically in the ’70s that its inclusion on this list might be construed as cheating. But it was the theme to The Sting — the classic 1970s Paul Newman/Robert Redford film — and it’s great.
Mungo Jerry – In The Summertime On their way to One-Hit Wondersville, Mungo Jerry recorded the greatest Top 40 hit ever made by a modern American jug band. Shaggy covered it a few years ago, giving me one more reason to say “Shaggy sucks.”
National Lampoon – Mr. Roberts #1 Many of Saturday Night Live’s original writers and cast members came from The National Lampoon Radio Hour. They were funnier then, and this takeoff on Mister Rogers — featuring a young Bill Murray as a stoned bass player — is just one small example. The various NL compilations tend to go in and out of print on a regular basis, so get yourself a copy of That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick while you can.
Nick Drake – Which Will Nick Drake’s recent career revival is a great example of musical justice mixed with terrible irony. Thanks to Volkswagen, everybody knows “Pink Moon,” so here’s another song from the album of the same name.
Paul McCartney – With A Little Luck Quite a bit of McCartney’s solo output — this song included — displays a distressing lack of balls. Don’t mean it ain’t catchy, though. This was about as good as Wings ever got.
Paul Simon – American Tune There Goes Rhymin’ Simon is one of my all-time favorite albums. It represents the best of what can happen when you mix two wildly divergent musical ingredients — in this case, a crack team of Muscle Shoals musicians and Paul Simon. You’d be forgiven for thinking that their gritty soul shouldn’t be combined with Simon’s literate, often pompous folk music, but this album contains some of his best songs and performances. “American Tune” is one of the greatest, most poignant political songs ever written, and just as relevant today.
Paul Simon & George Harrison – Here Comes The Sun (live) From Saturday Night Live. I think this version of the song channels the original’s unbridled optimism through the world-weary bitterness and cynicism of the late ’70s.
Poco – Crazy Love Members of Poco were forever leaving the band for successful careers with other groups — perhaps most notably the Eagles — yet Poco itself made relatively few dents in the Top 40 charts. The band is today recognized as being one of the originators of the country-rock sound that made groups like the Eagles such enormous piles of money, and you can hear a bit of that template in “Crazy Love,” a late-period hit.
Randy Newman – Jolly Coppers on Parade Most people either know Randy Newman as a novelty songwriter (”Short People,” “Political Science”) or a movie soundtrack artist (”I Love To See You Smile,” “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”). I’m here to tell you that he’s all that and more. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say he’s one of the greatest American songwriters of the last 35 years. His gift for inhabiting unsympathetic — even distasteful — characters, along with his deep and abiding affection for the work of songwriters like Stephen Foster, has produced a series of indispensable albums. This song is from one of his best, Good Old Boys.
Raspberries – I Saw The Light Kids of my generation know Eric Carmen as the voice behind “Hungry Eyes” and “Turn the Radio Up,” a pair of tunes from the ’80s that — depending on how you feel about the phrase “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” — evoke either feelings of warm nostalgia or a powerful urge to vomit. Either way, you’d have to have all the sense of a garden gnome not to see the power-pop glory of the music Carmen made with The Raspberries before he began his descent into goopy MOR hell.
Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley I think I’ve probably used this space often enough to pimp Robert Palmer’s music, and try to explain that he was a lot more than just the “Addicted to Love” guy, so I’ll refrain here. I’ll just say that this song is from one hell of an album.
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story My hatred for Rod Stewart has been well-documented here. This wonderful song is a perfect example of why I can’t listen to Stewart’s recent music without grinding my teeth. On a Talent Waster scale of 1 to 10, he gets at least a 15.
Ry Cooder – Available Space If you grew up in the San Jose area, as I did, you will probably recognize this as the theme song for a show called Bay Area Backroads. Cooder is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and we’ll get around to doing a Complete Idiot’s Guide to his releases one of these days. For now, just know that he was busy long before the Buena Vista Social Club.
Supertramp – Just Another Nervous Wreck Supertramp’s music was so ubiquitous from 1979-80 that I know people who still can’t listen to this album today. These songs were hits for a reason, though — the arrangements are superb, the production is absolutely flawless, and the lyrics perfectly reflect the alienation and disenchantment felt by many at the dawn of the ’80s. For my money, this is just about a perfect album; its overwhelming success ruptured Supertramp, and represents a height they’ve come nowhere near approximating since.
The Allman Brothers Band – Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More When they’re focused, the Allmans represent the best of Southern rock — loose and flowing, yet dark and hard-charging. Unfortunately, more often than not, they’re content to wank their way through stoner jams. This is from what many people regard as their best album, and I’m not inclined to disagree.
The Band – When I Paint My Masterpiece While certainly not unsuccessful, The Band never enjoyed the sort of commercial clout they should have. They were introduced to the world as Bob Dylan’s backing band, for starters, and who could deny the soul-rattling power of Levon Helm and Richard Manuel’s vocals? Their music writhed with the same ghosts of American blues and roots music that were sending groups like CCR and the Rolling Stones up the charts, and it wasn’t an act — listening to “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” you can hear echoes of the death and disharmony that lay ahead for the members of The Band.
The Delfonics – (Didn’t I Blow Your Mind) This Time Michael Bolton’s cover of “When A Man Loves A Woman” is one of the worst recordings of all time, due in large part to the fact that it left many stupid young people with the impression that Michael Fucking Bolton wrote one of the greatest songs ever. That’s sort of how I feel about New Kids on the Block’s cover of this Delfonics classic — sure, it’s no “When A Man Loves A Woman,” but letting NKOTB cover it was like giving a gun to a monkey: he won’t know what to do with it, and someone is sure to get hurt.
The Doobie Brothers – It Keeps You Runnin’ “I know what it means to hide your heart,” sings Michael McDonald, “from a long time ago.” And discerning music fans the whole world ’round nod their heads and say, “Amen.” It is because of this song — and many others — that I have found myself in innumerable arguments with brain-damaged “classic rock”-loving old farts over whether the Doobie Brothers were better with or without Michael McDonald. For people who enjoy sleeping on empty pizza boxes in the backseat of their Camaro, I guess “Long Train Runnin’” is better than the music the Doobies made with McDonald at the helm. But those people are not to be trusted.
Tom Waits – Ol’ 55 I have slowly gotten to the point where I can tolerate much of Waits’ most recent, incredibly weird stuff, but for me, I doubt anything he does will ever come close to his first album. Closing Time is the sound of late nights, empty streets, broken hearts, and one last drink before heading home alone. Waits distilled the blues, folk, and classic pop music so perfectly on this album that it’s easy to see why he grew disenchanted with this mode of musical expression so quickly.
Van Halen – Eruption If Rod Goddamn Stewart pegs a 15 on the Waste of Talent Scale, then Edward Van Halen isn’t far behind. “Eruption” signalled a sea change in rock music, its opening notes heralding a terrifying new instrumental talent. For guitar nerds, time was soon divided into B.V.H. and A.V.H. In retrospect, it seems a matter of course that all that pressure and adulation would drive shy, introverted Eddie to the bottle, then into a goofy caricature of his former self. As much as I loathe the clowning of David Lee Roth, “Eruption” makes the band’s first album worth owning.
Warren Zevon – Werewolves Of London Like a lot of Warren Zevon fans, I have mixed feelings about “Werewolves of London” — it’s a good song, yeah, but it became something of an albatross for Zevon, and I’d be hipper if I put something less well-known on this list. But hey, fuck it, McCartney’s already on the list, so “hip” is out the window…and besides, this song made much of Warren’s later career possible. I strongly suggest going out and buying the two-disc compilation I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead — hell, I suggest buying every one of his albums — but if you’re in a budget pinch, the single-disc Genius will do.
Yes – The Clap Goddammit, I hate Yes, and everything they stand for. Jon Anderson and his little girl’s voice, and his lyrics about fairies and wizards; Rick Wakeman’s bloated keyboard solos; Chris Squire and his stupid muumuus…but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and occasionally — even in the ’70s, at the height of their music’s seemingly limitless pomposity — they quit sucking long enough to record something that showcased both their instrumental prowess and a modicum of songwriting skill. This, naturally, is an instrumental.