Friday, November 17, 2017

Double Live Album!: Loggins & Messina, On Stage

This seems like a good album to listen to on a rainy Friday night (at least it’s raining here).

      It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these – right after I wrote this first one, I suffered a leg infection that kept me in the hospital for a week and threw me off my game for months. And after that… well, no excuses. So, let’s try it again. Just a reminder, here are the rules for what I review:

  • The album will need to be at least two vinyl LPs (which means Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty isn’t eligible). For compact disks, I’ve set the minimum running time at 68 minutes – so I may have a single CD here from time to time.
  • Reissues that add to the running time are okay. Cheap Trick has reissued At Budokan in a two-disk version, so that would be okay.
  • I’m also okay with reviewing albums that are a combination of studio and live, as long as the live content is more than 2/3 of the total running time. (David Bowie’s Station to Station has been reissued with a full concert from Nassau Coliseum, which bumped the running time up to 135 minutes or so.)
  • I’m not going to review comedy albums (most comedy albums are live, anyway) or classical albums (no background in the subject).

Loggins & Messina, On Stage

Year Issued: 1974

Running Time: 82:53

Dates of Live Performances: April 28 and 29, 1972 at Winterland, San Francisco, CA; March 4, 1973 at The Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA; March 12, 1973 at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY.

Track Listing:
House at Pooh Corner
Danny’s Song
You Could Break My Heart
Lady of My Heart
Long Tail Cat

Listen to a Country Song
Holiday Hotel
Just Before the News
Angry Eyes
Golden Ribbons

Another Road
Back to Georgia
Trilogy: Lovin’ Me/To Make a Woman Feel Wanted/Peace of Mind
Your Mama Don’t Dance
Nobody But You

Background: Loggins & Messina became a duo/band in kind of a strange way – Messina was a staff producer at Columbia Records after quitting Poco (the band he helped form with Richie Furay after Buffalo Springfield broke up), and was hired to produce Loggins’ first album. But Messina wound up contributing so much (guitar, vocals) to the album it wound up being called Kenny Loggins With Jim Messina Sittin’ In, and they stayed together after that. Their second album yielded a major hit in “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” and the third album, Full Sail did pretty well too, so a live album was a natural next step.

Obviously, they weren’t rockers (Buffalo Springfield was a seminal folk-rock act, but Poco leaned more toward country stylings, so Messina wasn’t going to bring hard rock to the table, and Loggins was a folkie at this point in his career), but the live album let them show lots of different styles.

Does It Have the Hits?: Not as many as you’d think, primarily because the live shows used for the album were recorded well before Full Sail came out (the April 1972 dates were six months before their eponymous second LP hit the stores). Of their six chart hits to that point, “Vahevala,” “Nobody But You,” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” are here, but “Thinking of You,” “My Music,” and “Watching the River Run” are not.

Any Rarities?: “You Could Break My Heart” and “Another Road,” both written by Loggins, appear here and nowhere else. Of the remaining songs, seven of them come from Sittin’ In and seven from their second album, Loggins & Messina, so Full Sail isn’t represented at all (not really a surprise given the recording dates).

Studio Tracks?: None at all. Their fourth studio album, Mother Lode, would be released just six months later, and the running time didn’t allow for any additional material.

Musicians: Loggins on rhythm guitar and harmonica, Messina on lead guitar and mandolin; both sing and play acoustic as well. Merel Bregante on drums and backing vocals; Jon Clark on flute, tenor and baritone saxophone, and percussion; Al Garth on violin, tenor and alto saxophone, recorder, and percussion; Larry Sims on bass guitar and backing vocals. No special guests.

Performance: Decent. Loggins gets most of the first side of the vinyl edition (about 40 percent of the first CD) to himself in a solo acoustic performance. Messina’s a pretty good guitar player given he got his start with Buffalo Springfield as a producer/engineer (and wound up playing bass on their final album after Bruce Palmer’s drug and deportation issues made it impossible for him to continue), and songs like “Angry Eyes” make that clear.

Sound Quality: Okay. It’s possible the harmonies may have been sweetened a little in postproduction, but I can’t really tell.

Any Songs Over 10 Minutes?: “Angry Eyes” clocks in at 10:06, which is a bit longer than the studio version, which is 7:40. “Trilogy” is 12:12, but the studio version there was 11:13. “Vahevala,” on the other hand, is twenty-one freaking minutes long. That’s over four times the length of the studio version, and as Wilson and Alroy’s Record Reviews notes, it’s the main culprit of songs “rambling past the point where you can remember what tune you’re listening to.” I mean, the song has both a percussion (conga?) and flute solo.

Stage Patter: Very little other than introductions.

Still Available: Sure. Too bad about the running time; it’s just long enough so that it had to be a two-CD set rather than one.

Chart History: This was actually Loggins & Messina’s highest-charting album, peaking at #5. It looks like it went gold (500,000 copies sold), but remember double albums counted as two sales as far as RIAA was concerned.

Any More Live Albums?: Lots. Loggins & Messina broke up after their sixth and final studio album, Native Sons, in January 1976. They hadn’t had any top 40 hits since 1973’s “My Music,” and Native Sons didn’t yield any chart hits at all. Columbia Records decided the world needed another double live album from the duo, and so dropped Finale on stores in January 1977, after their breakup had been announced and two months after a greatest-hits set, The Best of Friends, had been released by Columbia. Deservedly, that second live album died quickly, and although it’s available for download, it’s been out of print for awhile (rare on CD, but not on vinyl). I will say only three songs from On Stage are duplicated on Finale, and they are incorporated into a medley.

Loggins released two live albums during his solo career, Alive! (1980), which contains all solo material to that point (a subsequent video release did include some solo versions of Loggins & Messina songs, however), and Outside From the Redwoods (1998), which was mostly acoustic and did include solo versions of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and “Angry Eyes.” Both of these are in print and available for download.

Finally, the duo did a reunion tour in 2005 and released Live: Sittin’ In Again at the Santa Barbara Bowl later that year. No new songs, but that probably meant all of the nostalgia buttons were pushed. It’s out of print and unavailable for download, so check the used record stores.

Is It an Absolute Necessity?: If you’re a big Loggins & Messina fan (or even a fan of Kenny Loggins solo, although be warned there’s nothing like “Footloose” or “Danger Zone” here), absolutely. If you’re just getting into Loggins & Messina, this would probably be my second stop after the 2005 hits set The Best: Sittin’ In Again (the 1976 hits set The Best of Friends is short and not especially well chosen, and I think it’s out of print anyway). Another alternative, if you’re a Kenny Loggins fan first, is getting The Essential Kenny Loggins (which contains seven songs from the duo), and then getting this one.

My Favorite Song: “Nobody But You,” which was a minor hit off the first album, and ends this set. It’s not a flat-out rocker, but it’s as much of one as Loggins & Messina would ever release, and it’s much more straightforward than the pseudo-nostalgia of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and “My Music.”

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Superhits 1977, Part 2

Sorry – leg injury put me out of writing commission for a bit, and then work. I’ll try to catch up.

Robin Trower, “Caledonia,” #82, 1/8/77
When I create my Superhits CDs (from which I write these reviews), I’m pretty familiar with about 70 percent of the songs, maybe more. Of the songs I’m not familiar with, there’s usually a reason – they’re generally generic or typical of the era. This one was a happy surprise. I’d heard of Robin Trower before – he started out in the folk/blues band Procol Harum before going out on his own in the early 1970s, at which point he turned to more of a pure blues sound – but most American stations weren’t playing his music in the late 1970s, not even AOR. This is an outstanding piece of blues, somewhat derivative of Jimi Hendrix, but less heavy and more British. (I’m not sure why I think it’s more British – maybe they took a break for tea and crumpets while recording – but just go with me on this.) Trower doesn’t sing (bass player James Dewan has the honors), but it’s a unique sound for a power trio. This was Trower’s only American chart hit, although he did rack up four gold albums, including the parent record for this song, Long Misty Days. Trower is still recording (his latest album, Where Are You Going To, came out last year), and he toured the United States earlier this year. (Unfortunately, I found out the day I wrote this his Chicago appearance had been the night before.)

David LaFlamme, “White Bird,” #89, 1/8/77
On the other hand. David LaFlamme was one of the founders of the 1960s-era hippie band It’s a Beautiful Day, whom I only knew because their final bassist, Bud Cockrell, became the first of several bass players for Pablo Cruise (a band very much unlike It’s a Beautiful Day). Anyway, they broke up around 1974, and LaFlamme went on his own, remaking the band’s “White Bird,” which was one of their signature songs. He’s performed under this name, the It’s a Beautiful Day band name for reunions, and his given name, Gary Posie (he’s also been a symphony orchestra violinist) since then.

Bumble Bee Unlimited, “Love Bug,” #92, 1/8/77
Gimmicky disco was typical of this era (after Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” hit #1, the genre slowly ambled downhill until Saturday Night Fever revived it), and this was no exception. The band appears to have been five men and one woman, and this was their one and only American chart hit – although I found an article claiming “Lady Bug” (yes, it was one of those bands with little but cutesy plays on their name) was a classic release from the following year. There’s a picture of a similar five-piece band on Google with the name Ricky Williams & Night Flight that may have been a predecessor or successor group, but when I Googled the band name, I only got former NFL running back Ricky Williams, whose night flights were mostly weed-based.

Walter Jackson, “Feelings,” #93, 1/8/77
You know, I’ve always thought Morris Albert’s hit song from this era wasn’t lugubrious enough, and should be slowed down further to really have an impact. That aside, Jackson’s story is far more interesting than this soul ballad version of the song. He had polio as a child, and used crutches his entire life (a YouTube video of him performing his 1965 single “Welcome Home” on Dick Clark’s program Where the Action Is shows him sitting down in the upper deck of an auditorium). It looks like he charted at least six songs on Billboard’s Hot 100, mostly in the 1960s for OKeh Records, but none of them made it past #83 (it looks like he did better on the R&B charts). He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1983, but many of his records are still available for download.

Starz, “She’s Just a Fallen Angel,” #95, 1/8/77
The Looking Glass, after hitting with two perfect pop singles in “Brandy” and “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” failed to chart with several other singles (some of which did not include Elliot Lurie’s distinctive vocals, which may be a reason for their failure), and by 1974 Lurie had left the band. Over the next three years, the band underwent two name changes and traded several members, with only bassist Pieter Sweval and drummer Jeff Grob (now billing himself as Joe X. Dube) remaining. The music had changed from pure pop to heavy metal/power pop, and they signed with Capitol Records. Their first self-titled album, under the helm of Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas, didn’t chart, but it did yield this chart single, the first of six for the band. Side note for my hometown friends: Jeff Grob is now an architect in New Providence, NJ.

Leo Sayer, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” #1, 1/15/77
This would be the first of two #1 hits for Sayer in 1977, both off the album Endless Flight. It’s been described as disco-tinged, but it’s really more of an upbeat pop song that you could dance to (although I haven’t seen a lot of people do that). Sayer’s first five albums hit the top 10 in the United Kingdom (he was born in Sussex), but aside from the fluky “Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance)” in 1974, he really hadn’t connected with American audience to this point. It also meant he would no longer have to perform in clown makeup, as he had for a time early in his recording career.

Foghat, “Drivin’ Wheel,” #34, 1/15/77
Fifth chart hit and second one to make the top 40 for this British foursome – and considering they were with a relatively small label in Bearsville, that’s not bad at all. This rocker came from their sixth album, Night Shift, and featured the debut of their third bass player, Craig MacGregor – who’s now in his fifth tour of duty with the band. (Foghat defies the Spinal Tap joke about drummers; Roger Earl has been their only drummer ever since they started in 1970.) They’re still touring on a regular basis, with MacGregor and Earl in tow (their lead songwriters, guitarists, and singers Dave Peverett and Rod Price died in 2000 and 2005, respectively).

Stevie Wonder, “I Wish,” #1, 1/22/77
36th chart hit and fourth #1 for Wonder, who after 15 years in the record business was enjoying his biggest hit with the long-awaited double album Songs in the Key of Life. This one was a look back to his youth (despite being blind from birth, Nelson George’s book Where Did Our Love Go? described Wonder as a mischievous and fun-loving kid, who had been playing in bands from a very young age). The song still gets lots of airplay on radio stations across many formats, and is my favorite of the three big hits from Songs.

Engelbert Humperdinck, “After the Lovin’,” #8, 1/22/77
I can’t really explain this one. Humperdinck had been on the pop scene for a decade (heck, he’s still on the scene; he’s got a show the day I’m writing this at the MGM Grand in Detroit), but his albums and singles had stopped hitting the pop charts in both the United States and United Kingdom (his last top 20 pop hit, “Winter World of Love,” had come out in 1969). But a label switch, a new producer, and a song about (obviously, if not explicitly stated) post-coital bliss led to a gigantic hit – the song made #1 on the easy listening chart as well. This was the first big hit for producer Joel Diamond, who would work with such artists as Gloria Gaynor, Helen Reddy, Howard Hewitt, and his own wife, actress and model Rebecca Holden (best known for her time as a regular on the original Knight Rider series).

Queen, “Somebody to Love,” #13, 1/22/77
This was the first hit from Queen’s album A Day at the Races. Unlike their biggest hit to that point, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (and similar to that song’s follow-up, “You’re My Best Friend”), this is a radio-friendly about love, in this case questioning God about the ability to find it. Queen overdubbed Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and Roger Taylor to create the choir effects. Although it only peaked at #13 in the States, the song hit the top 10 in six countries, including #1 in the Netherlands.

Linda Ronstadt, “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” #42, 1/22/77
Strange release schedule for Ronstadt – Asylum released her Simple Dreams album in August 1976 (which yielded a #11 hit in her “That’ll Be the Day” remake), then issued a greatest hits set four months later (which also included “That’ll Be the Day”). But the single released around that time was the second single from Simple Dreams, this plaintive request for someone with whom she could spend the night. (I have no doubts there were plenty of volunteers.) Written by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff (who recorded four albums of her own), the song just missed making the top 40, but was included in Ronstadt’s second greatest hits set, issued in late 1980.

Donna Summer, “Spring Affair,” #58, 1/22/77
Casablanca Records was doing whatever it took to make Donna Summer a star after her success with “Love to Love You Baby” in early 1976 – this was her third single since that time, off two different albums (and “Love to Love You Baby” was on a third album). It wouldn’t happen here, but you can see how things were starting to change – Summer was given a bit more of an opportunity to sing rather than coo and whisper, and the arrangements were moving toward those we’d hear on such hits as “MacArthur Park” and “Last Dance” a year later. This came from the album Four Seasons of Love, a concept album centered on a single love affair taking place over a full year.

Paul Anka, “Happier,” #60, 1/22/77
During his 1970s comeback on the pop charts, Paul Anka seemed to alternate songs that raised eyebrows (“(You’re) Having My Baby,” “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone”) with more modest, mawkish sentiments (“The Times of Your Life”). This song was more on the latter end of the scale, and as a result was his first lead-billed single not to make the top 40 in nearly three years. (A previous single-only release, 1976’s “Make It Up to Me in Love,” was on occasional duet partner Odia Coates’ Epic label, and she was billed as the lead vocalist.) From the United Artists album The Painter, which (like most of Anka’s studio albums) appears to be out of print.

L.A. Jets, “Prisoner (Captured by Your Eyes),” #86, 1/22/77
Six-member rock band fronted by Karen Lawrence, which made them a bit of a rarity in the world of 1970s hard rock. They made one self-titled album for RCA in 1976, from which this single was issued. It’s now out of print and unavailable for download, so this “video” (and any others like it) are about all that’s around. Lawrence would work with a few other bands full time (1994, Karen Lawrence and The Pinz, Blues by Nature) and as a guest artist (she’s on Aerosmith’s song “Get It Up,” and worked with Jeff Beck as well). Lawrence also wrote this song, which was repurposed as the theme for the 1978 film The Eyes of Laura Mars, sung by Barbra Streisand. Note: not to be confused with 1980s teen-pop band The Jets, despite Amazon’s attempts to the contrary. The one and only video (with an unreleased version) cannot be embedded, but you can find it here.

Cher, “Pirate,” #93, 1/22/77
1977 wasn’t the greatest year for Cher, after a great run earlier in the decade. After a fast start, The Sonny & Cher Show started to falter, and would be cancelled later in the year. She had switched record labels from MCA to Warner Brothers in 1975 after a solid run of chart hits (including three #1 singles: “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Half-Breed,” and “Dark Lady”) – and this song was the only chart hit from the three albums that followed. It leans more toward the three aforementioned singles – the singer pines for a seafaring guy – but the man she’s talking to is her son (presumably fathered by that pirate), who’s also yearning to travel the ocean. All three of Cher’s Warner Brothers releases from the 1970s are out of print and the rights have reverted to her – but she would have better luck with the label two decades later, as Warner Brothers made “Believe” a #1 hit.

Rose Royce, “Car Wash,” #1, 1/29/77
Man, this is a great song. Norman Whitfield (who had produced The Temptations through most of its hit-making years, plus Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Undisputed Truth, and other Motown acts) had created his own label, Whitfield Records, but he was given the opportunity to come up with a score for the 1976 movie Car Wash, which was notable for its multiracial cast (after blaxploitation movies had been run into the ground). The film’s producers had a great idea: record the soundtrack first, so the actors in the movie could hear the actual music being used, rather than fill-in music. (Example: when Bill Murray is dancing to the song “Makin’ It” in the 1979 summer classic Meatballs, keep in mind the movie had been filmed the summer before during Murray’s break from Saturday Night Live, and the song “Makin’ It” had been commissioned specifically for a TV series starring singer David Naughton that came and went just a few months before Meatballs released.) It worked, and Rose Royce, who had been unknowns backing up The Undisputed Truth until that point, became stars. I bet you’re clapping the opening rhythm now.

Brick, “Dazz,” #3, 1/29/77
Welcome to the second-biggest hit in the history of Bang Records. (And despite having Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, and Paul Davis on the label at one time or another, the label’s biggest hit was “Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys.) A five-man band from Atlanta, Brick combined two previous bands that specialized in disco and jazz, respectively – thus “Dazz,” their first single and signature tune. This was all over the radio in 1977, and deservedly so – it’s a propulsive piece of soul and funk, and is still on the playlists at oldies stations. And Brick is still hitting the boards – they’re playing the OMG Funk and R&B Festival Extravaganza Tour Saturday, November 25, in San Antonio.