Monday, September 5, 2016
United Artists UAS 5185
This is the soundtrack to a documentary about the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. The film follows the flower child depicted on the back cover of the album as she wanders through hippie San Francisco taking in the various scenes. The film covers all the usual stuff: communes, free love, psychedelic ballroom concerts, outdoor festivals, drug trips, the Diggers, runaways, panhandlers etc. It is a curious mixture of a true believer manifesto and an exploitation film. It features earnest statements of purpose along with extended simulations of drug trips and lots of female hippie nudity. I find it fascinating as I've been obsessed with the subject matter since I was a teen growing up in the Bay Area in the aftermath of the hippie era. The film also boasts a killer soundtrack although not all of the music from the film makes it onto the record. It omits live performances by Country Joe and the Fish and Dan Hicks of the Charlatans. Most regrettably it also does not include a wonderful and all too brief clip of the pioneering female rock group Ace Of Cups performing their song "Stones" at an outdoor concert. I originally bought the record because I wanted the two cuts by Quicksilver Messenger Service, neither of which appeared on their debut album. Both cuts were part of the early Quicksilver repertoire and can be heard on several of their archival live releases. I'm a big fan of their cover of Buffy St. Marie's classic anti-drug song "Codine." I find it amusing that my favorite version of this song was performed by arguably the druggiest band in San Francisco. The group pounds out the song's riff with great vigor and David Freiberg delivers the words with gut wrenching anguish. Extraordinary. Nearly as good is the band's cover of Anne Bredon's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You." There are lots of covers of this song, but this is easily my favorite. It is hard driving with slashing guitar chords and a passionate joint vocal by Freiberg and Gary Duncan. The band is seen performing the song in a ballroom in the film. The record is worth owning for these two songs alone, but the rest of the album has much to offer as well. The Steve Miller Band has three songs none of which appeared on their albums for Capitol. The best is a frenzied cover of the Isley Brothers' "Your Old Lady" that features smoking hot guitar work from Miller and James Cooke supported ably by Jim Peterman on organ. It is one of the most exciting tracks that Miller has ever recorded. The band is seen performing the song in a ballroom in one of my favorite scenes in the film. The Miller Band also perform a cover of K. C. Douglas' "Mercury Blues" which is another jumping track with blistering blues guitar licks. Their third song is the instrumental "Superbyrd" which is pleasant, but forgettable, by far the weakest track on the record. The remaining three songs are by Mother Earth. "Revolution" was co-written by the film's director Jack O'Connell. It is a didactic song that stresses the themes of the film. It doesn't sound much like a typical Mother Earth song, but the band gamely gives it a jazzy interpretation that I find engaging and Tracy Nelson sings the awkward words very convincingly. The band fares better with Danny Small's "Without Love" which was a hit for Clyde McPhatter in 1957. The song's gospel style plays to Tracy Nelson's strengths and she knocks it out of the park. Percy Mayfield's bluesy "Stranger in My Own Home Town" is well suited for the band but suffers from an inadequate vocal by Powell St. John. With only 8 tracks this album is a bit skimpy even by 1960s standards but with five must-have tracks on it, it is well worth seeking out, particularly for fans of the San Francisco Sound. Recommended to fans of "Monterey Pop."
Saturday, September 3, 2016
Warner Bros. BSK 3366
Prince's second album, which he produced, arranged and performed all by himself. This was the first Prince album that I bought. I picked it up used in the mid-1980s at Aron's Records here in Los Angeles back when they were still on Melrose. I became intrigued with Prince when I read reviews of his early records which basically described him as a sexually obsessed one man band. I loved his singles "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" as well as the songs from "Purple Rain" and decided to check him out even though I was really strapped for cash being an impoverished graduate student at the time. I was a little disappointed by it at the time, but I came to appreciate it more with repeated playing. It opens with "I Wanna Be Your Lover" which is a steamy come-on song. The song has a funky groove and a lascivious vocal from Prince as well as a lengthy synth driven instrumental break perfect for hitting the dance floor. Listening to it now I'm struck by how stripped down the production sounds compared to the denser sound and richer instrumental palette Prince favored later in his career. I still like it a lot though, it is one of my favorite cuts. The dance beat continues with the dynamic "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad" in which Prince complains about being mistreated by his lover. Despite the whiny lyrics, the music is punchy and exuberant with a smoking hot guitar solo. "Sexy Dancer" is a disco song driven by staccato guitar riffs reminiscent of James Brown's work, a technique Prince used throughout his career. It also contains a jumping piano solo. It is a slight song but it gets me moving. The record slows down for "When We're Dancing Close and Slow" which is the most overtly erotic song on an album that features practically nothing but sexy songs. Despite the highly charged lyrics I find the song dull largely because of Prince's subdued vocal and the lethargic music. Side two opens with "With You" which is a sentimental love song. It is another slow jam that I think could use a little more musical heat. That is certainly not a problem for the hard rocking "Bambi" which as you can probably guess is not about the Disney movie. In the song he admonishes his lover for wanting to be with another woman instead of him. The song has a strong riff and lots of vigorous guitar noise which makes it another one of my favorite tracks. The record slows down again for "Still Waiting" which finds Prince lamenting his inability to find love. The song has a classic soul sound to it and a winning vocal from Prince that reminds me of Curtis Mayfield. Next up is "I Feel For You" which was later a giant hit for Chaka Khan. I greatly prefer her far more kinetic and passionate version, but Prince is definitely convincing delivering lines like "I wouldn't lie to you, baby it's mainly a physical thing." The song exemplifies the shortcomings of the DIY stripped down sound of the record, but it is such a great song that it still stands out as the best track on the album. The album concludes with "It's Gonna Be Lonely" in which he worries about his lover leaving him. The song starts slow and builds in strength giving the record a solid finish. It is a remarkably good second album from a guy who was barely 21 years old when it came out. Of course he would get a lot better on subsequent records, but there is plenty of evidence of his genius scattered throughout the record. I think you can make a case for Prince being the most talented pop music artist of his generation. His mixture of soul and rock was genuinely innovative and exciting. He was remarkably consistent, producing compelling and interesting music throughout his career which makes his premature demise all the more lamentable since he undoubtedly had much more wonderful music still in him. One of his rivals liked to call himself the King of Pop, but if you ask me Prince was the real royalty in pop music. Recommended to Marvin Gaye fans who think he was too celibate.