15 June 2013

Jazz Cigarettes

1. Burnt out

It was a rock & roll moment in a country & western temple. At the country music awards in 1975, what possessed Charlie Rich to burn the envelope after announcing the winner of the big award was … John Denver? Antipathy towards Denver, or the country music industry? Sam Phillips regarded Rich as the greatest talent on Sun Records. He had spent nearly 20 years playing rock’n’roll, country, jazz and gospel piano – often in the same song – and in 1973-74 he was finally riding high, after the huge crossover success of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’.

Now a video of that notorious TV moment has been unearthed, and it suggests that, rather than antipathy towards Denver, Rich was riding high on gin and tonic, as well as bitterness towards the country industry. The debate that follows this posting is worth reading, as is the take of his son, Charlie Rich Jr. The incident scandalised Nashville, and did Rich’s career no favours. It’s certainly hard to imagine this happening at an country awards ceremony now, though there have been those awkward Taylor Swift/Kanye West moments. And let’s not forget the notorious Goftas

2. Those young Dudes

Writing about Th’ Dudes recently for the AudioCulture New Zealand music website, I came across “Th’ Dudes: Modern Music”. It was the first article In Rip It Up about the band, published in February 1978, before Th’ Dudes had even entered a recording studio:

“We don’t want to end up as ‘old farts’,” says Dave Dobbyn. “Right now, we know that what we are doing is good, but by the time we’ve been around for a bit we’ll have lost that edge. When you’re 30 you’re finished. Even if we split now and joined other bands, those bands would not be the same or as good as Th’ Dudes.”

The writer, Glenn Barclay, responds: “A bit arrogant but not totally unjustified. 

3. Pop for Potheads

A friend of mine was once at function with Paul McCartney, and got very close. “He was the coolest man in the room, and he knew he was.” Defending McCartney takes too long when talking to the narrow-minded who prefer a simple, heroes’n’villains take on music history. The Lennonists are usually unaware of the experimental side of McCartney, which often appeared on the B-sides of Wings 45s; nor have they ever suffered through the rebellious Beatle’s Some Time in New York City. Bill Brewster has compiled an eclectic mix tape called McCartney’s Left: a tribute to the funkier and left-field side of Paul McCartney. Why he opened with soporific ‘Waterfalls’ is beyond me, but the reggae version of Mickey & Sylvia’s ‘Love is Strange’ (from 1971) is curiously captivating, the epitome of his pot-for-potheads B-side style. And the slow-groove big band excursion ‘Bridge on the River Suite’ (recorded in Nashville in 1974) could be by Quincy Jones. Leaving out 1989’s dreamlike doodle ‘Distractions’ is only a slight disappointment. The person who has written most about this side of solo McCartney is Graham Reid, in his epic three-part series. The first part is called “Success in the Seventies”. I don’t agree with him about ‘Another Day’ – okay, Roy Carr was right when he compared the lyrics to a deodorant commercial, but the chord changes could come from Bach’s Even-Tempered Clavier. The chorus is glorious, Linda included, but the pause in the verse between “bedroom” and “… chair” used to annoy the hell out of Ian Morris.

4. Tea for Texas

When I was writing the Crowded House biography Something So Strong in 1996 it was this genre – melodic, lo-fi pop – that dominated the stereo. Simple influences, rather than elaborate competitors such as XTC or the High Llamas. McCartney’s self-titled solo album from 1970; Donovan’s greatest hits, especially ‘Riki Tiki Tavi’. Top of the playlist was the Everly Brothers’ Roots album. This 1968 late-career classic stands alongside Sweetheart of the Rodeo as a seminal influence on country-rock, with the difference – as archival audio from their childhood radio show confirms – that these were genuine roots, not affectations. Compared to the Byrds they may have looked square but musically they share the same head-space, with songs by Merle Haggard, the Beau Brummels, and Randy Newman sharing space comfortably with ‘I Wonder If I Care as Much’, ‘Living Too Close to the Ground"’ and ‘Kentucky’. The session musicians are LA’s finest, a Hollywood honky-tonk band filtered through a wah-wah. I just came across this amazing footage of the Everlys performing in Australia in 1971. The guitarist is a stunner, and the song selection shows how the brothers were trying to loosen up their clean-cut image, or reveal what was really going on backstage and after hours.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the Lennon/McCartney dichotomy, found this observation recently by the late Linda McC: "Well, they weren’t opposites. They were so alike. They loved each other. You read about history and you know it’s not really what went on. They were friends way before I met Paul and carried on being friends, and it’s deeper than any of us will ever know."

Anonymous said...

Great video, even with some maniac on tambourine (or is it cymbals?)