Saturday, September 9, 2017

Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1977 - 1986)

Declan Patrick MacManus was born in 1954 in London and his father, Ross MacManus was a musician and bandleader. Declan grew up in Twickenham and like his father had strong musical leanings. In 1971, he moved with his mother to Birkenhead, Cheshire, aged 17 to finish his schooling , and there formed a folk duo called Rusty, with Allan Mayes. After he moved back to London he started playing in a pub rock band called Flip City. It was at this time, Declan adopted the stage name D.P. Costello as a tribute to his father who performed under the name Day Costello. The young musician started to write his own music and as he made his way in the early years he took a variety of other jobs to support himself. He and his father featured in a television commercial for R. White's Lemonade ("I'm a Secret Lemonade Drinker") in 1973.

After Flip City broke up in the mid-70s, Costello was keen to pursue a solo career and signed to independent label Stiff Records on the basis of a demo tape. Originally, they wanted him to write songs for Dave Edmonds, but Edmonds was not interested, so they re-recorded the songs with Costello as the vocalist. Once they heard them they decided to stick with the songwriter after a name change to Elvis Costello. Elvis Costello's first single for Stiff was "Less Than Zero", released in 1977. Four months later, his début album, My Aim Is True (1977), was released to critical acclaim but moderate commercial success (No. 14 in the UK and, later, Top 40 in the US), The album was produced by Nick Lowe and the backing on the tracks was provided by uncredited, Clover a US band living in England. The original album credited ‘The Shamrocks.’ After the release of My Aim Is True he formed the Attractions as his backing band.

Stiff Records marked the puckarian, Elvis Costello wearing king sized Buddy Holly glasses and and his knees bent inwards together which made him stand out visually from other New Wave acts. As a publicity stunt Elvis Costello was arrested for busking outside a London convention of CBS Records executives, protesting no US record company had yet seen fit to release his records in the United States. A few months later he was signed to Columbia Records, CBS in the U.S. This Year's Model, was released in 1978.

Elvis Costello released "Watching the Detectives", in 1977 and it reached #15 in the UK singles chart. Costello was supported by Steve Nasom (aka Steve Nieve on keyboards and ukulele), Steve Goulding (drums) and Andrew Bodnar (bass) from The Rumour. The recording was produced by Nick Lowe and recorded in 1977.

In the same year, Elvis Costello and the Attractions completed a UK tour of the UK with other artists from Stiff Records. These included Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, and Larry Wallis.

Elvis Costello soon gained a reputation as an angry young man. Post punk his lyrics often questioned commercialisation and other social issues not always consistent with his patrons. When he appeared on Saturday Night Live (1977) he had been forbidden from playing "Radio Radio" because it criticised commercialization of the airwaves. The band were scheduled to play, "Less Than Zero," however in hmage to Jimi Hendrix on the Lulu Show, they performed 'Radio Radio' and were subsequently banned from the show. The ensuing publicity ensured heavy sales of his debut album in America as his popularity exploded. The ban was lifted in 1989.

In 1978, Elvis Costello released his second album This Year's Model, with the Attractions. The line-up was Steve Nieve (keyboards and ukulele), Bruce Thomas (bass guitar) was a former member of Quiver, and Pete Thomas (drums) previously with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers, and Elvis Costello on vocals. As with the previous album, the cover was designed by Barney Bubbles, and there were several unique pressings of limited editions sold with other novelties to drive sales and promote the New Wave sound. Accompanying music videos were now standard. The single. "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" reached No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart. This was followed by "Pump It Up" (#24) and Radio Radio (#29) in the same year.

The third album, Armed Forces (1979) featured the single "Oliver's Army" which reached Number 2 in the UK Singles Chart. Initial UK pressings included a three-song single, Live at Hollywood High, produced by Nick Lowe, with "Accidents Will Happen," "Alison," and "Watching the Detectives".

Now an established songwriter, the album reached Number 2 in the UK album chart and included some of their best works, including ‘Accidents will happen.’ This single gained wide television exposure due to an innovative animated music video, directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton.

Off stage Elvis could be feisty and during a drunken argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett, he was critical of James Brown and Ray Charles, dismissing them as ‘niggers’. The reported conversation forced the English singer to apologise for his obnoxious remarks and out of character aberration at a New York City press conference a few days later. Costello was well aware of racism within the industry and had worked with Britain's Rock Against Racism campaign both before and after the incident. Later he recanted his remarks in "Riot Act," on the Get Happy!! album in 1980.

1979 was a busy year for Elvis Costello, away from the Attractions not only did he produce the debut album for the Specials , he also sang backing vocals for Twist on their album 'This Is Your Life'. Elvis and the Attractions also popped up in the movie, Americathon, playing "Crawling to the USA". .

Get Happy!! was released in 1980 and saw the band in a more upbeat mood. Gone was the angry, mean and moody to be replaced with a lighter happier sound. The album had 20 songs and is now considered to be the best recording of the new wave band in their prime years. It charted at Number 11 in the US and Number 2 in the UK. The album cover was designed by Barney Bubbles (F-Beat) The major single from the album was a dance track version of "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" which peaked at number 4 in the UK Singles Chart.

An ‘odd and sods’ album was released in 1980 and included mainly previously recorded material but there were some originals too. There were US and UK versions with more or less the same playlist but neither attracted much commercial attention. The band had peaked. Trust was released in 1981 and once again was produced by Nick Lowe and Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze and Martin Belmont from the Rumour guested on the song "From a Whisper to a Scream." None of the singles from the album entered the British Top 40.

Elvis was back in the studio as producer in 1981 and co-produced Squeeze's album. East Side Story (with Roger Bechirian). He also performed backing vocals on "Tempted". In the same year, Almost Blue, was recorded in Nashville and released, as a collection of favourite country songs but met with a mixed reception. The first pressings in the UK bore a sticker with the message: "WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause a radical reaction in narrow minded listeners." The band’s version of George Jones' "Good Year for the Roses" (written by Jerry Chesnut), reached number 6 in the UK charts.

Imperial Bedroom (1982) was produced by Geoff Emerick and became one of the most critically acclaimed albums from the band. Despite being ranked among the top ten "Albums of the Year" for 1982, it once again failed to produce any hit singles. The stand out track was ‘Almost Blue,’ and was inspired by American jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker, who later released his own version in 1987

In 1983, he released Punch the Clock, which featured a female backing vocal duo (Afrodiziak); a four-piece horn section (the TKO Horns); as well as the Attractions. Chet Baker played a trumpet solo on the protest song, ‘Shipbuilding,’ but the hit from the album was, "Everyday I Write the Book", which broke into the Top 40 in the U.S.

Elvis kept busy and sang backup vocals on a version of the Madness song "Tomorrow's Just Another Day" which was released as a B-side on the single of the same name. He also released "Pills and Soap" under the pseudonym The Imposter’

Close accord was not a feature of the band and for a couple of years bass player Bruce Thomas, and the group’s drummer, Pete Thomas had harboured bad feelings for each other. Once Bruce and Elvis were having issues, Elvis Costello announced his retirement and the break-up of the group. The band did record Goodbye Cruel World (1984) and it was poorly received, which was no surprise since the liner notes , penned by Costello, begin with the words "Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album".

Nat King Cole (1919 -1965)

Nathaniel was the son of a minister and learned to play the piano when he was very young. Nat regularly played in his father's church from the age of 11 and was an accomplished pianist by the age of 12. He became equally conversant with jazz, gospel and the classics. He would often sneak out of the house to listen to jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Earl "Fatha" Hines, and Jimmie Noone when they played in the local clubs. Still at school Nat Cole formed a band with his older brother, Eddie Coles, (bass) and they became a popular local attraction as 'Eddie Coles Solid Swingers'. They made their recording debut in 1936.

He earned his nickname “King” from his fans who rated him as the business as a jazz pianist. Nat joined a touring theatre group performing ‘Shuffle Along’ a revival of ragtime. The show folded in Long Beach, California, and Nat King Cole decided to stay there. Initially Nat Cole formed the "King Cole Swingers,” with Oscar Moore (guitar), Wesley Prince (double bass) and Lee Young (drums). When the drummer failed to appear they played as a trio. Later when Nat moved to LA he called the group’s title to 'King Cole and his Swing Trio, then in 1939, the 'King Cole Trio'. Nat would frequently sing in-between the instrumental segments until his singing became more popular. Lionel Hampton was keen the trio should join his band and they recorded a series of recordings. Cole was considered a leading jazz pianist and frequently was asked to perform as a session musician on sessions with Lester Young, Red Callender, and Lionel Hampton. Nat however decided his career lay elsewhere and his big break came in 1943 when Johnny Mercer signed him to Capital Records. Nat stayed with the recording company for the rest of his career. Much of the success of Capitol Records including their round building came from the revenue generated by Nat’s record sales. The circular office was completed in 1956 and became known as "the house that Nat built." His trio format provided a welcome alternative to the big bands for small clubs, especially during the war years and many other musicians started their own trios, these included: including Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Tommy Flanagan and blues pianists Charles Brown and Ray Charles. Nat's first vocal hit for Capital was “Straighten up and fly right” (1943) and sold over 500,000 copies.

A series of hits followed including 'I love you for sentimental reasons' which became a number one hit.

By 1946 Nat changed to become a ballads singer and recorded "The Christmas Song" (1946). He made several versions of this in his career.

By the late 40s the trio had become a backing for Nat smooth vocals and Oscar Moore decided to leave and was replaced by Irving Ashby. In 1948, Johnny Miller left the Trio to be replaced by Joe Comfort, and Jack Costanzo joined on bongo. To accommodate these changes the group's name was adapted from 'King Cole Trio' to 'Nat King Cole and his Trio'. Capital recorded a massive body of work from 1948 to 1949 which included many songs which would become great hits including "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Too Young" (the #1 song in 1951), and his signature tune "Unforgettable" (1951). Nat teamed up with Nelson Riddle and from their first session came Unforgettable which became and international success.

Over the next nine years Nat and Nelson produced many classics including: My first love and last love, Night lights. Somewhere along the way, A blossom fell, and Ballerina among many others.

He also worked with Billy May and came up with Walking my baby back home.

Now backed by heavy orchestration the Trio was officially disbanded in 1953. By this time many jazz fans felt Nat had become too commercialised and he was heavily criticised for selling out. However Nat King Cole never totally abandoned his jazz roots and recorded an all-jazz album, After Midnight in 1956.

Nat continued to produce a steady stream of classic singles and albums such as 'Love is the Thing', 'The Very Thought of You', 'Where did everyone go' and 'Let's face the music and dance'.

In 1956 Nat landed his own TV Show, The Nat King Cole Show on NBC-TV and featured many other popular singers including: Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, and Eartha Kitt. Despite its historic interest the program had a look warm appeal and only lasted one year.

At a time when America was particularly sensitive to racism the end of the Nat King Cole Show was due in no short part to the lack of sponsors willing to invest in a program showcasing an African American artist. Nat King Cole fought racism all his life and refused to perform in segregated venues. Despite the short lived TV success his hits kept coming with "Smile", "Pretend", and "If I May."

All becoming best sellers. Nat’s appeal extended beyond English speaking fans and he recorded in Spanish, travelling to Cuba in 1958 to record an album (the first of three).

In 1962 Nat hit the top of the charts with a Country & Western song 'Ramblin' Rose,' and now at the height of his career he recorded many successful albums and singles including LOVE.

He was working a punishing schedule when his health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Nat King Cole died quietly on 15th February 1965 leaving behind an extraordinary body of work but also (not a lot of people know this) a treasure trove of as yet unreleased recordings held in the archives of Capital Records. During his long career he appeared in many short films, and played W. C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues (1958).

He also appeared in The Nat King Cole Story, China Gate, The Blue Gardenia (1953) and Cat Ballou (1965), which was his final film.

Something which Nat loved to do was appear on other artists recording, sometimes uncredited and others under various aliases. Some of the names like 'Nature Boy' and 'The King' were so transparent but others such as 'Sam Schmaltz', 'Shorty Nadine', 'Lord Calvert', 'Eddie Laguna', 'Aye Guy' etc. were clearly a private joke.

Worth a listen:

Nat King Cole
Nature boy (1948)
Mona Lisa (1950)
Too Young (1951)
Unforgettable (1951)
Sweet Lorraine (1955)
Routge 66 (1955)
When I fall in love (1957)
Stay as sweet as you are (1957)
Stardust (1957)
Love letters (1957)
The very thought of you (1958)
Unforgetable (1961)
Ramblin Rose (1962)
Lazy crazy days of summer (1962)
That Sunday, that Summer (1962)
L-O-V-E (1964)

Louis Armstrong
Muggles (1928)
St Louis Blues (1929)
Ain’t misbehaving (1929)
Lazy River (1931)
All of me (1932)
Stardust (1938)
Mack the knife (1955)

Ella Fitzgerald
A tisket, A tasket ( 1938)
Oh lady be good (1947)

Earl Hines
57 varieties (1928)
I ain’t got no body (1929)

Ertha Kitt
I want ot be evil (1953)
C'est Si Bon (1953)
Just an old fashioned girl (1956)

Frankie Laine
Sixteen tone (1955)
Wheel of fortune (1961)
Riders in the sky (1962)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Don Williams (1939 -2017)

Donald Ray Williams was born in Floydada, Texas in 1939. He grew up in Portland near Corpus Christi, Texas and learned to play the guitar. His tutor was his mother and Don played in a variety of country, rockabilly, folk, and rock & roll bands as a teenager. In 1964 he formed a band with a friend called Lofton Kline, and Don Williams and Susan Taylor made up the line up of the Pozo-Seco Singers. The folk pop group was signed for Columbia Records and had their first hit in 1966 with "Time."

The group stayed together for the next five years and had other minor hits, including: "I Can Make It With You" and "Look What You've Done.”

Not interested in a solo career Don became a songwriter in Nashville but soon his warm hickory baritone was in demand and he began performing his own work. He signed with JMI and released "Don't You Believe" to critical acclaim in 1972.

The next single "The Shelter of Your Eyes" entered the charts and a string of minor hits followed.

It was "We Should Be Together," and "I Wouldn't Want to Live If You Didn't Love Me," in 1974 which established the ‘Gentle Giant’s a distinguished recording artist.

As a song writer he has concentrated on meaningful lyrics usually recounting a story and needless to say his masterly compositions were recorded by other artists including Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Lefty Frizzell, Sonny James, Lobo, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers and Pete Townsend and many became hits. In the '70s, Don was considered to be the most successful country artist in the world. In 1978, "Tulsa Time" gave him an international hit.

Keen to explore his other artistic talent, Don began acting, and appeared in several films with his best friend Burt Reynolds. Don appeared in W.W. and the Dixie Dance kings (where the singer got his hat supplied by the Stetson Hat Company of St. Joseph,); and Smokey and the Bandit II.

Throughout his career he was plagued with continuing back problems which forced him to slow down in the 80s. Don kept on working in the studio and had several more hit singles despite changing record labels form MCA Records to Capitol. Back surgery in 1987 cured his problems but his long run of hits came to an end in 1989 with "Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy."

Don Williams retired to his country farm but sometimes performed and kept his hand in too at the recording studio.

Sadly,Don Williams died aged 78 after a short illness in September 2017.

Worth a listen:
We Should Be Together (1974)
You're My Best Friend (1975)
I Wouldn't Want to Live (If You Didn't Love Me) (1974)
Good Ole Boys Like Me,
Love Is On A Roll
In the Family
I Recall a Gypsy Woman
Tulsa Time (1978)
I Believe in You (1981)
Heartbeat in the Darkness (1985)
Lord have mercy on a country boy (1989)

Buddy Holly and the Crickets (1936 - 1959)

Charles Hardin Holley was born in 1936 in Lubbock, Texas. The youngest of four children he grew up in a modest home. The Holleys were a musical family and Buddy started the piano when he was 11 years of age. After nine months of lessons he went onto the guitar and violin. At High school he teamed up with Bob Montgomery and the thirteen year olds formed a duo, "Buddy and Bob". They sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows. Buddy also sang in the Lubbock High School Choir but when he saw Elvis Presley play in Lubbock (1955), it made him more determined to become a pop star. By the time Presley returned to Lubbock for a second performance, Buddy was on the bill as a support act and not long after later Buddy’s group opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local rock show. When Decca Records signed him up they made a mistake in the contract and called him Buddy Holly. Too modest to ask them to change he became Buddy Holly. Among the first tracks recorded for Decca was an early version of "That'll Be the Day", which took its title from a phrase that John Wayne's character said repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers. The original recording was a demo and was recorded in three takes. The complete recording session cost $15 (US).

Buddy soon formed his own band, The Crickets, which featured his school chum Jerry Allison (drums), Joe Mauldin (bass), and Niki Sullivan (guitar), and they began making records at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty was a piano player with an acute sense of hearing (acoustics), he had a trio and started a makeshift recording studio in his front room. He was also a shrewd businessman and insisted he shared the writing credits whether he contributed much to the song or not. This assured him greater share of the royalties and ironically made him one of the greatest rock’n’roll song writers of all time thanks to Buddy Holly. Coral Records was a subsidiary of Decca Records and signed Buddy Holly and The Crickets which meant Buddy was in an unusual position holding two record contracts at the same time. “That’ll be the day” (1957) hit the top of the charts.

Buddy’s songs had more sophisticated lyrics and complex harmonies than other song around at the time. Many of his early works featured a unique vocal "hiccup" technique. The clipped "uh" sound was used to emphasize certain words in his up tempo songs. "Rave On" and "Not fade away", are two good examples.

Part of his appeal was Buddy and the Crickets were younger than most of the country and western stars of the day, and the group were not constrained to one type of music. Their mass appeal crossed race with a combination of intelligent lyrics, innovative rock’n’ roll style which later included sophisticated orchestration. Buddy Holly and the Crickets were soon popular in Australia and the UK and toured. If Cliff Richard was the UK, Elvis Presley then Adam Faith was the Anglo, Buddy Holly. Buddy enjoyed his trips to Australia and made lasting (if sadly short) friendships with Johnny O’Keeffe. The band was taken with JO’K’s Wild One and recorded their own inspired version called Real Wild Child.

In 1958, the group toured the United Kingdom and later the same year he married Maria Elena Santiago. Their pop success continued with “Oh Boy” and “Peggy Sue,” but Buddy was growing restless.

A long running dispute concerning unpaid royalties caused much acrimony between members of the band. Buddy split from the Crickets (and Norman Petty), then moved to New York where he began a solo tour with other notable performers. On the 2nd of February 1959 Buddy was on a tour of the Mid West with Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper." (J.P. Richardson). Tired of travelling on tour bus, Buddy chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft to take him and his new Crickets band (Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota. Carl Bunch had suffered frostbite and was admitted to hospital on the fateful night. J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper" had a bad flu and Waylon Jennings gave him his plane seat; and as Ritchie Valens had never flown before on a small plane, he and Tommy Allsup flipped a coin and Ritchie won. The four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off into a blinding snow storm and crashed soon after into a corn field. The crash killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. Universally the event is known as “the day the music died,” and Buddy Holly was only 21. Maria Elena Holly, miscarried soon after. Universally the event was called “the day the music died.”

The gifted songster had only been recording for two years, yet in that short career he wrote and performed the most progressive music of his time which laid the musical foundation for groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and countless other musicians to come.

Worth a listen:
Buddy Holly and the Crickets
That’ll be the day (1957)
Peggy Sue (1957)
Listen to me (1958)
Rave on (1958)
Well all right (1958)
Heartbeat (1958)
Oh Boy (1958)
Fools Paradise (1958)

Elvis Presley
Blue Moon of Kentucky (1954)

Bill Haley and the Comets
See you later Alligator (1956)

Ritchie Valens
La Bamba (1958)

The Big Bopper
Chantilly Lace (1958)

Don McLean
American Pie (1972)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Carpenters

Richard and Karen Carpenter (1950 - 1983) were both born in New Haven, Connecticut. Richard Lynn was born in 1946 and Karen Anne followed in 1950. From an early age they both loved to listen to music and because Richard had shown an aptitude his parent moved to LA to be closer to the industry. Richard was a talented pianist and when he went on to Californian State University he befriended John Bettis who he would later collaborate with on several Carpenter hits. Karen meantime was keen on physical education but also she liked playing the drums in her spare time. In 1965 Richard formed the Richard Carpenter (Jazz) Trio with Karen (drums) and Wes Jacobs (bass/tuba). The trio was originally instrumental and after winning a Battle of the Bands competition in 1966, signed for RCA. Although they recorded several tracks these were not released and the Richard Carpenter Trio was dropped by the company.

Richard and Karen would gig around LA and she became better known as a vocalist and landed a short-lived recording contract as a solo artist. The label folded before the full potential of her voice and Richard’s compositions were realised. Richard joined several bands and gained valuable experience playing in the LA and Hollywood clubs. In 1969 they both signed with A&M Records (owned by Herp Alpert) under the name Carpenters. At first their soft sound was not particularly popular especially at a time when the Beatles, Booker T and the MGs and The Rolling Stones were at their peak. Carpenters stood in direct contrast with the excessive, gaudy pop/rock of the '70s, yet they became one of the most popular artists of the decade, scoring 12 Top Ten hits, including three number one singles. Their first album from A&R Records contained the Beatles cover Ticket to Ride which sold well enough to become a minor hit.

In 1970, Carpenters released a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song "(They Long to Be) Close to You", which gave them their first number one US hit.

The follow up single We've Only Just Begun was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols reached #2 in the US charts.

1969 finished the year with Merry Christmas Darling.

For All We Know was a hit single in 1971 and gave the duo their third gold disc.

Rainy Days and Mondays another Paul Williams and Roger Nichols composition saw them continue their run at the top of the charts.

Superstar which was another hit features Karen's "haunting" vocals.

The music of the Carpenters was distinct because Karen's register was relatively low for a female singer. Karen had a wide vocal range that spanned about three octaves. Richard's voice was very complementary to Karen's voice. While Karen's melodic voice was great for a song, Richard's voice (as well as Karen's) nicely complemented her voice when doing harmonies. "Goodbye to Love" was released in 1972 and was written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis.

Top of the World (1973) gave the Carpenters their first country hit and went to the top position in the US charts.

This was followed by Yesterday Once More (1973), and then a year later I Won't Last a Day Without You (1974).

Carpenters could not go wrong and when they recorded an up-tempo remake of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)", it gave them another International hit.

Their biggest selling success came with a remake of the Marvelettes' chart-topping Motown classic, Please Mr Postman and this was followed by a Richard Carpenter and John Bettis' song called Only Yesterday.

Another major hit came with another cover version, this time Herman's Hermits' "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World). By this time Karen was concentrating on her vocals and did not play the drums at all.

By 1977 the disco craze was in full swing and adult-appeal for "easy listening" was losing its appeal. Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft sold well, particularly in the UK but in the US, Carpenters album sales were down.

The duo continued to enjoy popularity and had a surprise return to the charts with Sweet, sweet smile in 1978.

By the mid-1970s however extensive touring and lengthy recording sessions had begun to take its toll on the duo and contributed to their professional and personal difficulties during the latter half of the decade. Richard had become addicted to prescription drugs i.e. Quaaludes (Mandrax) and in 1978 he entered a recovery clinic to kick the habit. Karen undertook a solo recording project meantime which although amounted to nothing met with critical acclaim. The duo got back together again after Derek recovered but by now Karen was ill. She had became afflicted with anorexia nervosa in 1975 and despite all efforts to overcome the malady it eventually contributed to her sad demise. Exhausted they had to stop performing live and their record sales suffered and after 1978 their records no longer reached the charts. The 1981 album flopped but the single Touch Me When We're Dancing sold well.

In 1982, Karen sought therapy but years of over self medication had caused fatal changes to her heart. Karen died on February 4th, 1983. She was 32. Karen's death brought media attention to anorexia nervosa and also to bulimia and encouraged other celebrities to go public about their eating disorders. After Karen’s death, Richard Carpenter continued to produce various compilations of the duo's music. In 1987, he released a solo album called Time, which featured guest appearances by Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick.

Worth a listen
Ticket to ride (1969)
Close to you (1970)
We’ve only just begun (1970)
For All We Know (1971)
Rainy Days And Mondays (1971)
Superstar (1971)
Goodbye to Love (1972)
Yesterday once more (1973)
Top of the world (1973)
Jambalaya (1974)
Please Mr. Postman (1974)
Only yesterday (1974)
There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World) (1976)
Callin occupants of interplantery craft (1977)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A mini history of disco

After the success of Rock’n’Roll many African American artists started to explore their musical heritage and look beyond blues and R&B for inspiration. The terms ‘funk’ and ‘rock’n’roll were euphemisms for sex, with the former referring to the smells of intimacy and the latter the act. James Brown was probably the first popular funk performer and literally forged the new genre of African American music by changing emphasis from the 2nd and 4th beats (backbeat) to a downbeat rhythm with accent on the 1 and 3 counts (of 4 beats to the bar).

In Funky music, guitars and the horn section were used to drive the rhythm and beat with bass lines the centerpiece of the song. Much less emphasis was placed on harmony and the rhythms of funk became more complex with fewer chord changes. The same formation had been seen in bebop jazz. Initially funky music was live music and not dance music which suited jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. These musicians started to merge funky rhythms into their cool jazz.

At the same time soul music evolved through the 50s with its origins were deep in R&B and gospel music. Simultaneous development in the cities of the north and south of North America gave soul music a wide appeal and the definitive sound can be heard in Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" (1967).

When the two genres were brought together, disco was born. The movement started in the late sixties with dance records like Dance to the Music by Sly and the Family Stone. Like many other early disco performers Sly Stone had come from a funk-oriented background. Disco music puts equal accent on all four beats and could be heard in discothèques (French word for nightclub). Mixed race venues and dance clubs for gay people had sprung up in all major cities in the West.

With less emphasis on live performances, the new centre of attention was Disc Jockeys (DJs) who played recorded music to the audience. Often they would talk to the crowd in a radio show kind of way. The appeal for disco spread and by the early 70s discos were everywhere. What brought us all to the dance floor was a dance craze called, The Hustle which was originally a Hispanic line dance, popular in New York City and Florida. It had a Salsa-like foot rhythm fused with swing ant the rock step (taken on the left foot) happens at the beginning of the count – "and-one, two, three" rather than at the end of the count as in swing – "left, right, rock-step".

The popularity of disco meant dance records soon began to receive radio play and respectable sales. New disco sounding records with strong pop hooks were soon produced to encourage crossover success. One of the first "Disco Hits" was "Never can say goodbye" by Gloria Gaynor (1974). The gay scene also got its own icons with the Village People. Their single "In the Navy" not only was a massive hit but is thought to have boosted US naval recruits. Disco songs had a steady four on the floor beat, often with soaring and reverberated vocals usually accompanied by prominent, syncopated electric bass lines and strings, horns, electric pianos, and electric guitars used to create a lush background sound. Unlike rock’n’roll lead guitars were rarely used and orchestral instruments such as the flute were sometimes featured for solo melodies. In truth, the creative disco sound was a combination of musicianship and behind the scenes mysteries of the control panel with their studio based sound engineers.

Whilst early disco sound was largely an urban American phenomenon there were others chipping away in Europe including Giorgio Moroder (Italian) and Jean-Marc Cerrone. Giorgio Moroder was one of the principal architects of the disco sound and worked with Disco Queen, Donna Summer.

At first disco hits had a pounding beat with relatively slow tempos (approx. 90-110 bpm [Beats Per Minute]) then as the music became more popular the tempo was stepped up to 110-140 bpm. Emphasis was on dancing and the disco song started to get longer than the standard three minute, pop tune. Tom Moulton invented the disco-mix which involved making two copies of the same song, remixing them into a longer version then transferring this new recording to another track. 7” vinyls were too small for accommodate extended disco mixes and so the 12” single was introduced. In 1976, 12-inch discs were packaged in a collectible picture sleeve. The new format brought a huge Disco explosion which reached its peak after the release of Saturday Night Fever movie. The Bee Gees became disco icons and John Travolta (Tony Manero) set the style with his fitted Qiana polyester shirt, well cut suit and platform shoes. Ladies under the glare disco ball wore flowing Halston dresses and tripped the light fantastic in high heels or platforms.

The Disco era is sometimes cynically referred to as the "Age of the one hit wonders," as many performers came and went. Already established artists like Rod Stewart (Do ya think I’m sexy?), Kiss (I was made for lovin you) and Cher (Take me home) also dipped their toe in the new trendy disco sound. Memorable one hit wonders included Alicia Bridges "I love the nightlife" (1978); French singer, Patrick Hernandez’s ‘Born to be alive,’(1979) ; and Anita Ward's "Ring my bell," (1979) among many, many others. By the end of the 1970s, disco was dominating the charts and influencing other soul genres. A Swedish group who had previously won the Eurovision Song Contest (which is usually a big disadvantage) made the recording world sit up and take note as literally Abba made disco music their own. Definitely not one hit wonders, the chart toppers poured forth as they dominated the world for most of the seventies. Whilst in America, groups like The O'Jays, The Commodors and The Spinners continued to turn out the disco hits.

Come the eighties the cost of producing disco music had escalated and unlike simpler pop music, disco music required a lot of studio musicians, the latest in recording technology and an army of technicians to produce. Anti-disco rallies were organised by US Rock Stations and one major event turned into a riot. Punk rock and then new wave replaced disco music in the charts as the disco club scene became passè. Dance music of future decades would owe a debt to the disco phenomenon but by the eighties disco was dead. The influence of electro-music on soul music forged new metamorphoses into a softer more lush style called contemporary R&B. A new order of artists emerged including Luther Vandross, Prince and Michael Jackson. Female R&B singers such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson became very popular during second half of the 1980s.

Worth a listen:

James Brown
Papa's Got a Brand New Bag (1965)

Aretha Franklin
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (1967)
Sly and the Family Stone
Dance to the Music (1968)

Gloria Gaynor
Never can say goodbye (1974)

The Hues Corporation
Rock The Boat (1974)

Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra
Love's Theme (1974)

The Jackson 5
Dancing Machine (1974)

Barry White
You're the First, the Last, My Everything (1974)

Lady Marmalade (1974)

The Blackbyrds
Walking in Rhythm (1975)

Gloria Gaynor
Never can say goodbye (1975)

Van McCoy
The Hustle Van McCoy (1970)

Bee Gees
Jive Talkin' (1975)
You Should Be Dancing (1976)
Stayin' alive (1977)

The Four Seasons
December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) (1975)

Silver Convention’s
Fly Robin Fly (1975)

Donna Summer
Love to Love You, Baby (1975)
Could It Be Magic (1976)
I feel love (1977)

Helen Reddy
I Can't Hear You No More (1976)

Dancing Queen (1976)

Silly Love Songs (1976)
Goodnight Tonight (1979)

Marvin Gaye
Got to Give It Up (1977)

Boney M
Daddy Cool (1976)
Ma Baker (1977)
Rivers if Babylon (1977)

Rod Stewart
Do ya think I’m sexy (1978)

The Commodors
Three Times a Lady (1978)
Le Freak (1978)

Cheryl Lynn
Got to Be Real (1978)

Barry Manilow
Copacabana (At The Copa) (1978)

Chaka Khan
I'm Every Woman (1978)

Patrick Hernandez
Born to be alive (1979)

Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer duet
No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) (1979)

Electric Light Orchestra
Last Train to London (1979)
Shine a Little Love (1979)

Michael Jackson
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (1979)
Rock With You (1979)
Off the Wall" (1979)
Thriller (1983)

Kool & the Gang
Celebration (1980)
Rick James
Super Freak (1981)

Carol Jiani
Hit N' Run Lover (1981)

The Weather Girls
It's Raining Men (1982)

The Pointer Sisters
I'm So Excited (1982)

1999 (1983)

Lucky Star (1983)

Irene Cara
Flashdance (What A Feeling) (1983)

Angela Bofill
Too Tough (1983)

Thelma Houston
You Used To Hold Me So Tight (1984)

Village People
In the Navy The Village People (1979)
Sex Over The Phone" (1985)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Renée Geyer (The Renée Geyer Band)

At first Renée Geyer was stage shy and found it difficult to face the audience but persevered and after many hours of hard work overcame her nerves to become a credible soul performer. Renée changed bands until she joined an ambitious jazz fusion group called, Sun. They recorded one album called Sun ’72, but the singer soon parted to join Mother Earth, which was a bluesier outfit and the band started top tour.

RCA had offered Renée a contract as a solo singer but when it came to recording her first album Renée, the singer was insistent members of Mother Earth would provide the studio backing.

Brave and loyal as this was, she soon gained a reputation in the business as a difficult artist. Never the less her talent was acknowledged and by the time of her second album, she was working with the cream of Melbourne’s sessions musicians. The title track of her new solo album was James Brown’s, ‘It's A Man's Man's World’ (produced by Tweed Harris). In 1974 it was released and became a chart success.

She formed her own band called Sanctuary and they toured Australia. Renée felt constrained with RCA because the company refused to release her original material, preferring her cover versions. Mushroom Records were keen to sign an Australian act struck a deal with RCA where they would record her and RCA would release the albums and singles with a Mushroom logo stamped on the label. The next album, arguably considered to be the best example of Australian Soul, was called Ready To Deal. Most of the material was written by Renée and the band. They renamed themselves, The Renée Geyer Band. ‘Heading In The Right Direction’ was released as a single and sold well in Australian and New Zealand to become a hit in 1976.

The Renée Geyer Band was an outstanding live act and attempts were made to capture this on a live album recorded at Dallas Brooks Hall, Melbourne. It was called Really Really Love You, and represented a farewell to their Australasian fans because Renée wanted to work in the US.

In 1977 she went to LA to work on her next solo project with Frank Wilson (Motown Records). The album was Movin' Along and Renee worked in the studio with Ray Parker Jr, members of the Stevie Wonder’s band as well as other notable session musicians. The album gave her biggest success in Australasia but did less well in the States.

Part of the problem was she sounded black but was a white artist. The single “Stares And Whispers” was earmarked to become a major US hit on black music radio but when Rene refused to take the record company’s advice, not to have her face on the record’s cover, radio programmers refused to give it airplay.

Her stubbornness not to be misrepresented may have adversely affected her commercials success in the US but her action won her much respect from her fellow musicians who kept her going by employing her as a session singer. Renée carried on working between American and Australia and had a major hit in 1981 with the single ‘Say I love you,’ from her So Lucky album.

In 1980 she signed with Mushroom Records and recorded another US album with the Bump Band (Bonnie Raitt’s support group). ‘So lucky’ was produced by Rob Fraboni and contained more gutsy r&b material inter spaced with reggae and salsa.

In 1983 Renée was back in Australia and recorded another live album which produced a superb version of Dusty Springfield’ ‘Going back, ’ sang as a duet with Glenn Shorrock (Little River Band).

She eventually decided to settle in LA and joined Easy Pieces with Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone, former members of the Average White Band. They recorded one album which met critical acclaim but nothing commercial came from the venture.

Renée left the band and continued as a session singer working with Sting (We'll Be Together), Toni Childs (Don't Walk Away), Joe Cocker (Unchain my heart), Neil Diamond, Buddy Guy, Julio Iglesias, Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt among many others.

She diversified her career and appeared on Broadway before touring as a session singer with major acts including Joe Cocker and Chaka Khan. In 1993 Paul Kelly asked Renée to sing “Foggy Highway,” and was so knocked out with her rendition he produced her next album, called “Difficult Woman”.

Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri (Black Sorrows) went on to produce Renée’s 1999 album, Sweet Life.

Renee continues to record and perform and although she is sadly the least celebrated of Australian greats, she certainly was one of the best. Renée has written her autobiography entitled Confessions of a Difficult Woman (Harper Collins).

Worth a listen:
Born under a bad sign (1973)
It’s A Man’s Man’s World (1974)
Turn On The Lights (1975)
Heading in the Right Direction (1976)
Stares And Whispers (1977)
Say I love you (1981)
Going back duet with Glenn Shorrack (1983)
Foggy Highway (1993)
Difficult Woman (1994)