Sunday, September 18, 2016

50 Tracks from the 1970’s That Pitchfork Missed with Its All-Encompassing Historical Revisionism

I couldn’t resist.  That Pitchfork list has been sticking in my craw the past few weeks.  While I find myself in agreement with many of their choices, the act of picking utter nonsense like The Slits just doesn’t sit well with me in light of how much great music was made in that decade.  I’m sticking mostly to pop, rock and strains of country music here, as trying to incorporate jazz, blues, latin, folk, classical and other genres would just be too much to handle.  Besides which, with genres like jazz and latin, there are people much more qualified who could put together lists that would blow mine away in terms of depth of knowledge.
This is in no way a complete or ranked list: frankly Pitchfork hit a lot of high points, as do publications like Rolling Stone or Mojo when they put out lists like this.  I’m glad people are gathering that tracks like “Marquee Moon” by Television or “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers deserve a higher place in history.  But to completely deny music and genres that were popular at the time is bullshit.  It’s petty and childish, in the way so many critics are.  As there are 50(ish) tracks here, the logic for each will be brief.  I could easily include a few hundred more tracks.


Love and Affection, Joan Armatrading.  A black woman performing folk songs deep in the heart of the 1970’s.  Completely on her own terms, with an audience large enough to keep her on a major label for years and still have a career now.
Ride a White Swan, T. Rex.  Ground zero for glitter rock, when an artist who had been a full-blown hippie in his previous incarnation decided it was time to rock.  It got no more basic than this track and expanded outward from this point.
My Best Friend’s Girl, The Cars.  I recall one of the guys from Television carping about The Cars, how they somehow stole Television’s sound and vibe and got major record-label backing to push it over on a mass audience.  No.  The Cars were pulling together strains of their first album while Television was getting started.  And they were much more pop oriented, with cool nods to the past, like that little rockabilly riff and hand claps in this track.  This was perfect pop music in 1978; all they had in common with Television was a co-lead singer with a nasally voice.
Pablo Picasso, The Modern Lovers.  Pitchfork picked the wrong track, although there’s nothing wrong with “Roadrunner.”  “Pablo Picasso” is much better at defining the bridge they made between The Velvet Underground and so much of what would follow in the 70’s.  I can’t even recall how I disseminated this information in the 70’s.  I most likely didn’t and wasn’t fully clued in until the 80’s.  Happened a lot with now "legendary" bands.
Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, Traffic.  I guess Traffic was too 60’s for Pitchfork.  This was genre-bending stuff, not quite jazz, not quite prog, not quite rock, not quite soul … but possessing all these elements.
Rio, Michael Nesmith.  No one knew what to make of Mike Nesmith in the 70’s.  He put out a string of excellent countryish albums that showed he was more than a knit hat in a kids' TV show, and then came “cosmic cowboy” stuff like this that defies classification.
Never Gonna Give You Up, Barry White.  Really, any White hit would do.  This one has that pulsing intro, the orchestra tuning up, the trademark heavy breathing, baby, baby, baby, the harpsichord, those great drum breaks that mark nearly every key track of his.  It’s worth your while to research the critical reception he received at the time.  It wasn’t pretty.
All through the City, Dr. Feelgood.  Pub rock formed a nice, lightly-traveled bridge between rock and punk in the U.K.  Most of the guys were aging hippies, too old to take punk seriously, much less lower their abilities to play it.  This track in particular presages the feel of punk thanks to Wilco Johnson’s guitar work. 
Rock Me Baby, George McCrae and Rock the Boat by The Hues Corporation.  A 1-2 punch in the summer of 1974 that signaled the full shift from soul to disco.  A song like “Heart of Glass” by Blondie would not have been possible without “Rock Me Baby” to serve as template.
American Pie, Don McLean.  This track must seem like a joke to your average critic.  A joke that I recall being played nightly at a bar while I was at college, and damn near every person in that bar knew a majority of the words, which was quite an accomplishment.  This song was taken very seriously in its time.  Now?  It had a nice knack for trying to take what Dylan was doing on a much higher, more complex level and bring it down to an everyman’s level.  It worked!  It was this or “Taxi” by Harry Chapin, which accomplished much the same thing.
My Big Chief Has a Golden Crown, The Wild Magnolias.  Totally unaware of this at the time, but absolutely brilliant take on New Orleans and the Mardi Gras.
I Know What I Like (in Your Wardrobe), Genesis.  Genesis seemed to get more respect than your average prog band, probably because Peter Gabriel had sense enough to leave when he got bored and had an equally successful solo career.  This track in particular shows why they were important, the merging of various styles, the vaguely African chanting that weaves throughout the song.  (And while Cameron Crowe has used the song to death in his movies, "Solsbury Hill" deserves a nod for being the best single by a departed band member.)
Death of a Ladies Man, Leonard Cohen.  I don’t think Cohen was all that influential by this point in his career.  With some artists, they weren’t influential simply because no one else could do what they were doing.  No one else could write lyrics anything like this.  This sounds like it was created in the deep pit of the 70’s, married to that template solo Beatles production by Phil Spector.
Strange, Wire.  Didn’t know this band at the time, recall a friend in college playing it for me, stating that R.E.M. had covered it.  Loved it from the first moment.  Why Wire wasn’t as big as The Clash, I don’t know (other than the political grandstanding).  Try “I Am the Fly” too … it’s hard to believe these were made in the 70’s.
Roxanne, The Police.  See Dr. Feelgood.  But this wasn’t pub rock.  It was a bunch of pub-rock aged guys pretending they were punks and throwing in reggae for good measure.  As cynical as it seemed, there was something fresh and exciting about those first two Police albums.  In America, along with bands like The Cars, Blondie and The Talking Heads, this was how “new wave” was born and became far more influential than punk.
Tulsa Time, Don Williams.  It was this or “Call Me the Breeze” by J.J. Cale.  Just a cool meeting place between country and rock by a more country-leaning artist.
Call Me Nigger, Swamp Dogg.  Totally unaware of this at the time, shocked when I first heard it.  Again, crossing so many genres that even if I had heard it, I wouldn’t have known what to make of it.  Swamp Dogg seems to have fallen by the wayside in the past decade, inexplicably.
Uneasy Rider, Charlie Daniels.  Perfect juncture of a hippie coming to realize he loved country music, and would go on to be a far more country artist in the next few years.  Perfect counterpoint to “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” by Jerry Jeff Walker.
Starship Trooper, Yes.  There are so many worthy tracks by Yes who didn’t single-handedly create prog, but probably became the most visible practitioners of it in America.  Like so many kids who grew up in the 70’s, I came to loathe prog at a certain point in the 80’s, but somewhere down the road it registered what an idiot I had been to do so.  Much as with Leonard Cohen, prog wasn’t all that influential simply because most musicians who came afterwards couldn’t play it.  All those punks who took pride in having rudimentary musical skills … I just can’t listen to most of that shit now.  It’s boring.
Stay with Me, The Faces.  It’s hard to pick one Rod Stewart track, but I’d rather go with The Faces and that sense of fun they brought to their music and performances.  Maybe rock should have died at some point in the early 70’s, but it was groups like this hitting their stride that guaranteed it wouldn’t.
Wild in the Streets, Garland Jeffreys.  Unclassifiable.  A black man who veered towards reggae and soul, when not trying his hand at folk, lands upon a stomping rock anthem that captured something about New York City at its low point.  He never did anything like this again.
The Bertha Butt Boogie Part One, The Jimmy Castor Bunch.  Novelty numbers were a huge genre in the 70’s, great fun, and often perfect pop moments, such as this.  I can assure you, a song like this penetrated rural Pennsylvania; we used to sing it in summer while playing baseball in the schoolyard.
Keep It Comin’ Love, KC & the Sunshine Band.  Harry Casey doesn’t get the respect he deserves for creating a disco scene in Miami that was just as vibrant and cutting edge as anything that was going on in New York or elsewhere at the time.  For me, this is the epitome of that sound, although there are a half dozen other tracks just as worthy.
Autobahn, Kraftwerk.  Pitchfork picked the wrong track.  I can assure you, the first time any rock fan heard this in the 70’s, his mind was blown, it sounded like nothing before.  I recall one friend riffing on that squiggly, synthesized yodel applied to the word “autobahn.”  While people draw lines now between stuff like Kraftwerk and prog rock, the lines weren’t so clear back then.  These were just long, fluid tracks that floored so many listeners, be it King Crimson or Kraftwerk.
Cherchez La Femme, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.  August Darnell seems to have followed Prince like a shadow, despite having much more success early on, reasonable success in the 80’s, but no “Purple Rain” style breakthrough to elevate his legacy in the culture.  He deserves better.
In the Light, Led Zeppelin.  It’s hard to pick one, but a lot of fans seem to agree that Physical Graffiti was the culmination of that sound, all the elements coming together in a prolonged, double-album blast.  I always had a hard time with Plant’s vocals and lyrics, but they somehow make sense with the music.  There’s a reason people in droves are buying multiple reissues of all their albums, some for the first time.
Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Have you listened to this track lately?  For decades, I couldn’t, it had just been hammered to death by AOR radio.  It really is a stunning piece of work, the slow build, the lead guitar work, the shift into a driving rock finale  As I noted previously, the concept of completely ignoring Southern Rock marks critics as reverse rednecks to me, their urbane snobbery turned so dogmatic it strongly resembles the mentality you’d find at a Klan rally.
Sam Stone, John Prine.  So many tracks that would apply here.  Much as with Loudon Wainwright III, an artist who so easily used humor and adult emotions in his work that he’s impossible to duplicate.  Why isn’t anyone writing songs like John Prine anymore?  Because no one can, it’s not a generational thing.
Jive Talkin', The Bee Gees.  I should pick a Saturday Night Fever track, but this was the first, the song that signaled the shift for the band from aging 60’s pop artists to disco.  Surely the most daring transformation of any rock band.  As brilliant now as the first time I heard it as a child.  Changed everything about the 70’s.
With You in Mind, Frankie Miller.  Giving a nod to the late Allen Toussaint, who wrote and produced this track, for a white artist with a better voice driving home a solid blues ballad.  Miller could have been as big as Rod Stewart but just didn’t seem to have that extra something that had little to do with the music itself.
In Every Dream Home a Heartache, Roxy Music.  Hard to pick just one track.  Ferry seemed like a more emotionally complex Bowie, willing to show depth in ways not possible for Bowie and, in this case, cast himself as a very strange bird.  This somehow avoids being a novelty song despite the topic being perfectly suited for that purpose.
Baby Hold On, Eddie Money, Feels Like the First Time, Foreigner and More Than a Feeling, Boston.  The dreaded “corporate rock.”  My only quibble now with this genre is how dumb so many of the lyrics are.  The music?  In many cases, top shelf, like the arrangement on the Money song.  That opening synth/bass/drum/rhythm guitar riff builds so organically.  Foreigner, a perfect intro, still recall hearing this and “Cold As Ice” and being immediately struck.  The Boston song is the definition of pop rock.  Sure, a lot of it is silly, but if you mean to tell me The fucking Slits were better than this … you’re just wrong.  "In need of an ass kicking" wrong.
Rose Garden, Lynn Anderson.  Possibly the first track that signaled the shift to “pop” country from straight country.  The decade would end with a track like “Here You Come Again” by Dolly Parton that were pretty much straight pop music (but charting country).
Blue Sky, The Allman Brothers Band.  A travesty that a band this steeped in so many genres would get short-sheeted by hipster critics playing dumb decades down the road.  Because of their southern-ness?  The hair?  The popularity with rock radio?  I don’t know why something like “Marquee Moon” by Television would be held in such high regard when that was a derivation of what The Allman Brothers had been doing for years.
Saint Dominic’s Preview, Van Morrison.  To get a better perspective of what Van Morrison was doing in the 70’s, place him next to contemporaries like The Beatles or The Stones.  All of them grew exponentially as musicians through the late 60’s, but Morrison also figured out how to work adult themes into his music, in this case being in his early 30’s and feeling the security of his teens and 20’s fading behind him.  John Lennon started down a similar path, but didn’t stick to it the way Morrison did.
Personality Crisis, The New York Dolls.  The concept of an entity like Pitchfork skipping this track in a “best of 70’s” list is mind-bending.  Punk would not have happened in England without this track, or surely not sounded like it did.  Were they playing stupid as they did with southern and corporate rock?  To what end?
Vietnam, Jimmy Cliff.  Bob Marley didn’t just happen.  Jimmy Cliff blazed a trail with The Harder They Come, and solid tracks like this just before then.  The real trailblazer in America was Johnny Nash with “Hold Me Tight” and “I Can See Clearly Now.”  Not to take anything away from Marley.
Jealous Guy, Donny Hathaway.  Could be any number of tracks by him.  A good example of an artist hijacking a cover and taking it in very positive, new direction.  The Faces covered Hathaway’s cover of this Lennon track, but nowhere near as good.
Heart of Darkness, Pere Ubu and Jocko Homo by DEVO.  A salute to Ohio, and how far out in front of a lot of things it had to be in the early 70’s.  Not even getting into The Dead Boys or The Rubber City Rebels. A nice 70's moment: I recall when DEVO came on Saturday Night Live, playing their cover of "Satisfaction."  Dad sometimes went to bed early and left us kids watch the great late-night TV options of the time, but he stayed up this time, when DEVO came on.  I recall him sitting up on the sofa, looking over at me splayed out on the living-room carpet, and for once, the look on both our faces said, "Fuck this shit."  It really took something to offend multiple generations like this in the 70's!
Beth, Kiss.  I couldn’t stand KISS (and was just the right age to “get” them).  But for them to put out a formulaic 70’s ballad when they were trying to make their bones as cartoon hard-rock heroes was unprecedented.  Couldn’t even call it the first power ballad as there isn’t a shred of guitar on the track.  Would that honor go to “Only Women Bleed” by Alice Cooper?
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Paul Simon.  Of course, he was way too tasteful and respected to have Pitchfork type critics recognize him.  His early 70’s singles were always interesting, always different, a growing artist trying out different styles.  Not to mention a nice slice of 718 life he knew very well.
New Kid in Town, The Eagles.  I need to pick something by them, particularly from this album.  The heat’s off … you can like The Eagles now.  (Of course, critics have been trained not to.)  This particularly cool nod towards Roy Orbison (which happened constantly in the 70’s) show-cased everything good about the band: solid songwriting, great lead and background vocals, tasteful pop music performed at the highest level.  What a sin.  Their influence would be huge on country music over the next few decades.  Think that’s tragic?  Yeah, well, this song has had a much larger influence on what modern-day country has become.  Maybe not so tragic in this light?
Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Meat Loaf.  Jim Steinman did it: he wrote the best rock opera, stole Pete Townshend’s concept.  “A Quick One” sounds like an unfinished demo next to this track.  This isn’t rock opera with classical or operatic pretensions, like “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  Or a prog workout spanning multiple genres.  Every section is rock and roll.  Fun, well-written and perfectly set in that hazy place between rock and real-life mythology: it was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better than it is today.  (cough) Never mind.
My Baby Gives It Away, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane.  Townshend wanted so bad to be a punk, but he knew it wasn’t possible.  The Who had become rock stars, and he recognized the prison it had become.  This was a slight respite, a nice follow-up to “Squeeze Box,” with the help of Ronnie Lane, who got a much-needed cash infusion to his sadly under-valued solo career after The Faces.  Townshend’s first solo album was also brave in the same respect.
The Piano Has Been Drinking, Tom Waits.  Waits wouldn’t hit his stride until the 80’s, but his “previous career” as beatnik balladeer was nothing to scoff at, some inventive songwriting.  These videos show the kind of mischief he raised in the 70’s playing off that image.  I’m surprised he and Marvin Hamlisch didn’t get along better as they had similar influences. (Hamlisch deserves a nod for writing the best James Bond theme, despite stiff competition.)
Mistral Wind, Heart.  Of course, your average hipster music critic could never admit the importance of a band like Heart over The Slits.  A lot of bands wanted to be Led Zeppelin in the 70’s.  Strange that two sisters from Seattle came the closest.  This track in particular, I suspect when Jimmy Page heard it, he must have smiled.  This is a perfect Led Zeppelin song.
Life’s Been Good, Joe Walsh.  Aside from the drug and alcohol abuse, or maybe because of it, Walsh was the rock-star archetype: a rogue, journeyman, had his own successful solo career, played lead guitar in one of the biggest bands.  This track encapsulates how enjoyable it was to be a rock star … compare and contrast to your average Pink Floyd ballad!
Goodbye to Love, The Carpenters, Maybe I’m Amazed, Paul McCartney and Without You by Harry Nilsson.  The triumvirate of 70’s balladry, each as important as the other, the blueprints for a genre that dominated the decade.  The guitar solos in “Goodbye to Love” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” were mimicked countless times afterwards, as was that gentle piano chord progression that Nilsson created.  You can’t stand this short of shit?  That’s fine.  A lot of people hate hiphop, but “Rapper’s Delight” is still a great song.
Lean on Me, Bill Withers.  Pitchfork got the wrong track.  By far his biggest hit, crossing gospel, folk, soul … something Withers did routinely.  Has there been anyone like this since?
Une Nuit a Paris, 10CC.  Not quite prog.  Pitchfork go the right track (“I’m Not in Love”) but this track was a showcase for the band’s talents.  Did every “best track” from the 70’s need to be in some way influential?  It couldn’t just be good music, indicative of the time period, simply memorable in and of itself?  Being pretentious in the 70’s made a lot more sense when bands actually had the musical talent to back it up.  Punk didn’t kill that concept, but it ensured that most rock bands in the future with similar pretensions would go about their work on a lower level of musical talent, mostly in the lead vocal department.  Thanks, punk.  Thanks a lot.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Kaepernick and the Art of Media Manipulation

I’m not going to link to any of the idiotic stories regarding San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the playing of The National Anthem before each football game this pre-season.

Why?  Because not once have I read anything remotely near the truth of the situation.  It’s all been political grandstanding of one form or another, the author eager to impose his inviolable political views on the reader.  As usual, the sportswriters of America show their asses, exposing themselves as the mediocre, cowardly hacks so many of them are.  Ditto, their editors.

What is the truth?  Football is a team sport.  It relies on dozens of moving parts operating in unison to create a victory over an opposing team, as many times as possible.  From the coaches, to the starting players, to the substitutes, to the trainers and staff, to the front office, to the fans.  In and of itself, it’s a beautiful thing when it’s running properly and the team is winning.  That’s what everyone craves: that sense of belonging to something larger than himself, that has a history and mythology, that implies he’s playing some role in this dynasty, this ongoing affirmation that at least this one thing in his life is working out fine, something to look forward to.  The sport ceases to exist on that level when fans don’t want to invest their money, time and personal well beings into this entity that affirms their existence.

When things happen that draw attention away from the unifying process?  It’s awful.  Witness the recent Penn State/Paterno/Sandusky meltdown that I’ve written about many times.  Even this nonsensical Tom Brady “deflategate” imbroglio.  Historically, these sort of distractions in football usually imply a few things: flaming asshole players, drugs, sex, spousal abuse, celebrity egos, money issues, etc.  In short, this non-football issue draws attention away from the real issue: the sport itself and the fans’ and team’s desire to win.

(But what a minute.  Shouldn’t we take this opportunity to engage in the larger reality of our every-day lives?  To use this sport, and this situation as a microcosm of the larger world from which we can learn something more complex?  In a word: NO!  The beauty of sports is that it represents a self-contained universe that allows us to escape the reality of our lives.  No one, and I mean no one, watches a football game to gain greater insight to politics, or sociology, or the human condition.  You think I’m wrong?  Then do yourself a favor and become a politician, or a sociologist, or a psychiatrist … you’ll be divining much more truth and substance from the world doing these things directly, as opposed to half-assedly applying them to a child’s game that grown men are playing for lots of money.  And grown men follow to tap into those lost senses of camaraderie and bonding that were more powerful in their childhoods.)

I’d file Kaepernick away under the “flaming asshole” category.  Not for his beliefs or opinions, all of which are irrelevant to me, and should be to you, too.  We probably agree and disagree on lots of things, like any other human beings, like every player and every coach on every team, like every referee at each game, like every hot dog vendor, like every fan in the stadium, like every fan watching on TV.  He’s a flaming asshole simply for diverting attention away from his team and onto himself.  His importance in the world is to get on the football field and help his team win; he’s not being paid millions of dollars for his socio-political stances.  As a team leader, every time he takes the field he should understand this implicitly and imbue his fellow players following him with this sense.  With no other sense.  He does not dictate to anyone how they should think or feel about anything, save using his skills, mentally and physically, to win football games.  (While on the field … off the field, he could run for political office, for all I care.)

The real culprit here is coach Chip Kelly … whom I already sort of despise for screwing up my team, the Philadelphia Eagles, with his numb-nut, Dr. Mengele-style theories that are destined to rain shit on San Francisco fans now.  Kelly should have immediately recognized this situation for what it was: an immature player drawing attention to himself and away from the team – in essence, damaging and separating the team by placing his personal, non-football beliefs above this implicit understanding that “team is all” in professional sports.  It’s Coach Kelly’s job to sit him down after the first time and say, “Don’t do this again, you’re damaging our team with your antics.”  After the second time, to tell him, “This ends now.  I’m glad you hold such powerful political beliefs.  They’ll serve you well in your new occupation as social activist.  There’s the door.  Hurry now, the world needs you to change it.  Don’t waste another second playing this children’s game for millions of dollars!”

The next real culprit is the media.  Social, and otherwise.  The real media, the one that should be reporting this accurately, are so cowed by the “Black Lives Matter” crowd and the stranglehold liberalism has on mainstream media that it’s impossible to get a straight read on this story by their so-called reporting of it.  I read three stories online about the game in San Diego last week, which happened to be military appreciation night, in a town that’s heavily geared to supporting the navy via the various bases around that city.  I couldn’t tell what the reception to Kaepernick taking the field and not standing again was.  Apparently, he was booed mercilessly from the get-go, probably lucky not to have been struck by any thrown objects or physically attacked by the crowd.  I had to get on youtube and watch smartphone videos taken by fans to learn this – no news story reported it as such.

Social media?  I can’t begin to fathom the counterfeit weight that real media grants to this echo chamber of oblivion.  Twitter and Facebook are notorious sounding boards for overgrown children with too much time on their hands.  To use anything anyone writes on social media as some “finger in the wind” arbiter of truth is a severe misunderstanding of reality.  Someone in a position to refute this, someone being made a target of clannish, agenda-obsessed buffoons on Twitter, needs to step up and say, “Social media can go fuck itself.”  It’s as if the moon-faced townspeople in the Carpathian countryside, bearing their pitchforks and torches in the night, have taken over Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, save they have no clue what to do because they’re imbeciles.

To think that actual, real-life organizations are quaking in fear over any opinion stated on social media is just ludicrous, but read it and weep, this is how things work now.  I’ve seen how the internet works, from its inception, and I know the smoke screen social media represents, saw it growing from day one, saw the real media lose its grasp on the power it should have, giving it away like a frightened child forfeiting his lunch money to a flagrant bully.  To the point now where every celebrity athlete puts forth like Moses carrying his stone tablets down from the mountain to his waiting followers.  People who have been the objects of attention all their lives and only understand the world through the disjointed prism of their own celebrity. The people following these jackasses not fully grasping that they have much better, more grounded takes on reality.

I’m not kidding myself about football.  There’s a lot of bullshit surrounding it, I’ve picked up on this at any job I’ve held in my adult life, managers attaching football/sport strategies to their agendas and treating the work place as if we were one big sports team.  Problem being, we’re not throwing balls in a hoop, or hitting a ball with a stick, or kicking a ball through some posts.  There are so many complex variables in every-day workplaces, including the biggest X factor – women coworkers, most not imbued with this weekend-warrior culture – that the concept of applying all these asinine, macho sports clich├ęs to our real lives just rings hollow.  Our lives aren’t childhood games predominately played by boys, although they’re often reduced to such measures.

The whole “patriotic” aspect of football rings false, too.  What it has to do with the military, I don’t know.  It’s not the military.  I guess because it’s a violent sports featuring men attacking each other?  Because of The National Anthem?  The act of playing the anthem before a game didn’t even exist before World War II.  Just as the act of playing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch of baseball games didn’t become a tradition until after 9/11.  Does it bother me?  Not that much.  I can see that these large gatherings in public are being used to convey this sense of patriotism: it’s mass manipulation for what’s perceived as a common good.  Harmful?  Hardly.  A nice reminder of where we live, and a shared moment to salute it.  Got problems with this country?  Buddy, we all do, it’s the nature of being complex human beings who hold countless beliefs and opinions that are often contradictory and confusing.

I don’t follow sports for these reasons and wouldn’t blink twice if these minor salutes to patriotism were removed from sporting events.  (Obviously, this is never going to happen.  But why isn’t The National Anthem played before concerts … similarly large public gatherings?)  Football games are not political rallies, thank God, which is another reason why I reject Kaepernick’s grandstanding for his own political beliefs in an inappropriate forum.  Having just watched the summer Olympics, I understand why national anthems are played there: these athletes are representing their countries.  Football players aren’t.  They’re representing their various team cities.  These days, they’re representing only themselves, their own egos and financial interests, far more than any team or city.

But I’m enough of a fan to know that this doesn’t sit well with your average football fan, that the whole effect of The National Anthem being played is to tie in some loosely defined definitions of patriotism and America with this sport, in some sense to honor heroic acts in any respect, which is the great myth of all sports.  Would I boo Kaepernick?  Hell, no.  But I’d surely mutter “what an asshole” under my breath and shake my head.  Then I’d get over it.  Consider this piece a more illustrated example of that succinct act.

Post Script:  While buying groceries today in the supermarket, I couldn’t help but notice the music playing over the P.A. system.  In the past I’ve noticed how great the song selection has become over the past decade or so.  Today’s big hit:  “Five to One” by The Doors.  Next to “Land Ho” probably my favorite Doors song.  I imagined Jim Morrison, a week or two after cutting the song, getting into a time machine in 1968 and being transported to a supermarket in Queens in 2016, only to hear his song being played as background music while people from all walks of life filled their shopping carts with groceries.  Food for thought with similar 60’s themes that Kapernick’s protest mirrors.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pitchforking Pitchfork’s Best Songs of the 1970’s

I get what Pitchfork is doing with its Best of the 70’s listing of key songs from that decade.  They’re encouraging healthy debate and, much like their usual M.O. with reviews, disdain.  They’re hoping most people don’t get it, crying out, “No Steve Miller or BTO?  Man, fuck these clowns!”
I do like the inventiveness of a lot of their selections.  They’re way off base with so much reggae stuff, and it’s revisionist history to place African artists in this higher context.  If you were into African music in the 70’s, you were way ahead of some major curves that would become more prominent in the 80’s.  Rest assured, your average Pitchfork editor in 1978 wouldn’t have given a shit about Fela Kuti.  As with most critics, he would have name dropped Fela in a Talking Heads review and not known what he was writing about.  But it’s always nice to imagine yourself as prescient.
What I’ll do here is offer my take on some of the issues I noticed in the list.  Odd omissions and such, things they purposely didn’t get right because they want to rewrite history.  I can’t blame them: all dictators want to revise history to conform to their take on it.  Most music critics are wannabe dictators, although their domain is taste as opposed to political power.  I can’t blame them for trying.  But it will never change the fact that Captain & Tennille ruled 1975.
There’s plenty of disco and 70’s R&B, most of it unbelievably asinine and questionable, but not one song by The Bee Gees, KC & the Sunshine Band, Barry White, or massive hits like “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae or “Rock the Boat” by The Hues Corporation.  For that matter, there’s no Village People.  It would seem that in the context of revising the 70’s, a gay-themed band dominating the charts via subterfuge and silliness would have been right up their alley.  But apparently not.  “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart?  They include one of the songs he ripped off (“Taj Mahal” by Jorge Ben, although Stewart stole the synth line in his hit from the string arrangement on Bobby Womack’s “If You Want My Love Put Something Down On It”).  I’m surprised they recognize The Rolling Stones with “Miss You.”  (Keep in mind, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street came out in the 70’s … recognizing numerous tracks from these albums would be un-hip.  Not sure why they gave a nod to “Wild Horses” save for the Gram Parsons connection.)
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor was a crucial disco song, not to mention perfectly constructed and executed.  It reached across racial and sexual barriers, and now across generations.  But it wasn’t one of the best 200 songs of the 70’s?  Not even “Native New Yorker” by Odyssey which set a perfect tone for that city’s involvement with the disco movement.  August Darnell, frozen out completely, although that album by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band was ingenious in terms of crossing genres (in this case, Big Band, jazz, pop and disco) … “Cherchez La Femme” a monster hit that sounds timeless now.  They’ll include an obscure track like “Kiss Me Again” by Dinosaur, which reeks of hipster revisionism.  There are dozens of underground disco tracks from that time period just as worthy (and just as irrelevant … ask your fiftysomething, disco-loving relative if he remembers “Kiss Me Again” … unless said relative was frequenting gay NYC dance clubs, probably not).
I’m glad they got Chic, but you knew they would.  “Heart of Glass” by Blondie deserved to be in the Top 10: a perfect pop song that turned the world upside down and crossed barriers between new wave and disco that were nearly as impassable as those between rock and disco. I grasp the importance of "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer ... but why not "Funky Town" by Lipps Inc.? It was a major hit in 1979 and took the electronic/dance formula even further.  It makes no sense why one song is on the list, but not the other.
Prog Rock did not exist in Pitchfork’s world.  Another instance of Pitchfork writers showing their asses.  I get it … it’s uncool to champion prog, even now.  But there are plenty of great 70’s Prog Rock tracks that still resonate.  No solo Peter Gabriel for that matter, too.  Trust me, Pitchfork writers too young to grasp this or do your research, Peter Gabriel was hot stuff with critics in the 70’s.  Pink Floyd?  Not hardcore prog, more pop prog, if you ask me.  I love “Wish You Were Here” but the entire Pitchfork staff should throw on Animals and see where it takes them.  Supertramp would make just as much sense in this context in terms of popularity and influence, but good luck running those gentle hippies through the hipster litmus test.  (And, no, fucking Can or Neu doesn’t count here!  I’m surprised these assholes didn’t throw in Van Der Graaf Generator and Hawkwind for good measure.)
Hard rock (hesitant to call it heavy metal as it wasn’t called that yet) is under-represented, and only by obvious choices (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and the one Blue Oyster Cult track appearing in numerous horror movies over the decades).  “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple was a song known by every struggling garage rock band in America at the time.  AC/DC was what real punks in America in the 70’s listened to and used to fuel their sense of rebellion.  It wasn’t punks, per se, mohawks and safety pins in noses.  Punks in America in the 70’s were an anomaly and a bit of a joke, thanks to the over-hype of The Sex Pistols' arrival in America.  If you were a white American teenager in high school in the late 70’s, and in trouble with the authorities, AC/DC was your band, among a host of other hard-rock bands.  That’s the kind of things critics never pick up on long after the fact (because it doesn’t serve their purpose or suit their taste).
No Philip Glass or Steve Reich.  Brian Eno was pretty much it for experimental composers in the 70’s.  Not true, but what the hell, he works for lazy bastard critics.  I barely have my feet wet in this genre and know what utter nonsense it is to champion Eno in this company.
I’m wondering how on earth they came up with “The Immigrant Song” and “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin.  I gather it’s consensus, people voting for favorite tracks … but how in the hell do these two tracks get chosen over “Stairway to Heaven” or “Kashmir” or a handful of other more famous, more worthy tracks?  I seem to recall Jeff Buckley covering Levee, but no idea how Immigrant penetrates this melee of hipster critics.
No singer songwriters (barring Judee Sill and maybe Elton John).  Karen Dalton was virtually unknown in the 70’s, so I’m not even going to get into that.  I understand wanting to take a dump on James Taylor: many of us have been doing it since coming across that white-faced Greatest Hits album in dorm rooms one time too many.)  I guess the concept of taking someone like Cat Stevens or Carole King seriously doesn’t register with people like this.  Not sure why Nick Drake does other than car commercials?  Jackson Browne?  Solo Paul Simon?  I know, I'm wasting my time.  But if you think both those artists don't have a dozen songs a piece that would make sense on any 70's Best of list, you're just being standoffish, not cool.
The only Folk music that mattered in the 70’s was Nick Drake.  Even though about 36 people knew who he was at the time.  Never mind that there was a resurgence in British Folk and Celtic music throughout the decade.  Don’t you know this was the dreadful music punk “saved” us from in 1977?  Johnny Rotten, thank you for saving us from Sandy Denny!  If only you had killed Richard Thompson with your bare hands at the same time!  American counterparts?  Forget it, whether it was the poppy stuff like Jim Croce or Harry Chapin, or more lasting artists like Loudon Wainwright III, who along with Leonard Cohen was writing songs of such adult emotional depth and honesty they've yet to be rivaled.  Joni Mitchell gets a nod, and I'm assuming in doing so gets all the folk and California references that people like Pitchfork writers are willing to dole out.  And a major shout-out to Joan Armatrading!  Wait a minute, she's not on the list either.
“Street Hassle” by Lou Reed?  “Walk on the Wild Side” is a painfully obvious choice, as is “Perfect Day.”  I’m glad to see they included “Rock and Roll” and “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground.  A lot of what Lou Reed did in the 70’s was mediocre, but when he got it right, he got it very right, and that started happening more as the 70’s wore on.  The song “Street Hassle” is a tour de force, a gritty street poem backed by a string quartet.  (Is there any precedent for this?)  On a similar note, “Wild in the Streets” by Garland Jeffreys surely deserves a nod, too, but most critics take that express bus right by his work.
No Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter.  Ask Mick Jones of The Clash how important “All the Young Dudes” was to him.  It was just as important to American rock fans, and a deeply influential track.  On a similar note, how does a track like “Metal Guru” get selected for T. Rex in the presence of “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”?  It doesn’t make sense.  It would be like selecting “On Top of the World” for Cheap Trick instead of “Surrender.”
No New York Dolls.  Unbelievable that “Personality Crisis” didn’t make the list.  Hugely influential.  Punk in the United Kingdom would not have existed without this band to serve as a sonic template for The Sex Pistols.  Punk in the U.K. would not have existed without what happened in the East Village in the early 70’s.  To give Richard Hell his due (which he surely deserves for that one song) makes sense, and Television, and The Ramones, and Patti Smith.  I’m amazed they only granted The Talking Heads two tracks.

Would the exclusion of Frank Zappa be indicative of the contributors having little to no knowledge of comedy-leaning artists and comedians, or simply that they came of age in a time where Frank Zappa albums were harder to find due to estate issues and the availability of his catalog?  Or maybe they just don't consider anything he did in the Top 200 of the decade?  Zappa was a huge presence in the 70's, but I guess now he's being penalized for his catalog having so many issues over the years.  (Ditto, Bob Seger, although I wouldn't expect anyone at Pitchfork to acknowledge his presence.) Comedy albums were huge in the 70's, but I guess it would be hard to narrow down to track choice, but you better believe people like Richard Pryor and George Carlin had a very large influence on rock audiences and the overall culture.
No Southern Rock.  A glaring omission that pretty much tells you where Pitchfork writers are at.  You mean to tell me The Allman Brothers didn’t have one track that merits inclusion in this list?  That’s foolish.  Never mind Lynyrd Skynyrd: I can understand critics blowing off a band that deeply southern (although they’d be just as wrong to do so).  I can’t see why they include a track by The Grateful Dead (admittedly, a pretty boring choice that makes no sense given a surplus of great early 70’s tracks).  Jam bands would not exist without these two bands hitting their stride in the early 70’s.  You think it would be a better world without jam bands?  Possibly so.  But the world would be just as well off without EDM, so let's deep six Joy Division and Giorgio Moroder while we're at it.  The things that fill stadiums now … were done much better and much more subtly in the 70’s.  And that’s hard to believe given how unsubtle most of the 70’s were!
Very little country, more accurately, only critically-approved country.  While the Pitchfork editors are busy deep mining reggae and African music, they skim over country.  I can understand skimming over Blues, Jazz and Classical from the 70’s (although, again, it’s a mistake born of critical miseducation), but I gather most of these critics have never been culturally predisposed to understanding or even liking country music, save for token gestures to “outlaw” country and female artists who hung around a few decades, the sort of shit people with far too many tats and a studied penchant for Pabst Blue Ribbon will punch up on a jukebox in a faux redneck bar.  Give it a break … put on a Johnny Cash album from the 70’s.  If you can handle that, then we’ll talk!  (To be honest, I can’t handle that, just making a point.  There’s a reason “One Piece at a Time” is the only 70’s Cash songs that resonates with me.)
Let me put it this way with jazz: I’d take even an average Keith Jarrett track over anything Gil Scott Heron did.  I grasp the hipster quotient (in light of hiphop years later).  But if you’re going that route, I’d skip the jazz angle and go with The Last Poets.
Nothing happened in New Orleans in the 70’s according to Pitchfork.
No Carpenters.  Huge mistake indicative of critics who just weren’t around then and don’t have a clue.  While The Carpenters didn’t invent “soft rock” their chart dominance at the time, and the quality of their production, songwriting and Karen Carpenter’s voice, created core production values for early 70’s pop, for better or worse.  I understand that Pitchfork wants to disregard certain chart-topping genres, but they don’t seem to grasp that there were quality/sustainable artists working in those genres.  I’m far from the only one to recognize this!
Aside from Elvis Costello, no major English new wave artists, namely Graham Parker and Joe Jackson.  Squeezing Out Sparks was one of the best albums of the 70’s, and you could pick any number of Parker songs for this list (I’d have gone with “Don’t Ask Me Questions.”).  Joe Jackson simply for his minor hit, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” which made new wave seem so much more palatable to American kids raised on AOR radio.  Granted, Jackson would hit his stride straddling the 70’s into the early 80’s, but that song is important.  I wouldn’t expect Pitchfork to champion Rockpile or solo Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds (despite more than a few worthy tracks), but skipping Parker and Jackson makes no sense.
There’s way too much late 70’s punkish/new wave shit on their list that just didn’t register then and still doesn’t now.  The Slits were a bit of a goof at the time … Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders don’t exist on this list, but they were cusp of the 70's) was a much better role model, and that first album was hugely influential.  The Raincoats?  O.K., I get it, but Top 200 songs of an entire decade?  Not quite.  I suspect if you spoke candidly with all those 90's Riot Grrrls, you'd hear more about Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Debbie Harry than The Raincoats.
No NRBQ.  You can tell how old most Pitchfork writers are: not old enough to have been around for the 80’s deification of NRBQ as America’s great lost 70’s rock band.  And they were.  “Riding in My Car” would make the Top 20 of any worthwhile 70’s song list.
Big Star but not The Raspberries.  The Raspberries were what Big Star wanted to be.  “Overnight Sensation” is as worthy as any song in the Big Star canon.  Again, critical revisionism at work here, although plenty of people have given The Raspberries their due in the interim.  I am glad to see Big Star tracks included in the list.
I can understand why Van Halen wasn’t on the list, but their first album rejuvenated a genre that was in dire need of a swift kick in the ass, bringing it back to shorter songs and a sense of fun.  Again, if you were a punk in America at the time, a real punk having severe issues with authority figures, chances are you were listening to Van Halen … not The Slits, for crying out loud.
The Eagles vs. Gram Parsons.  You have to give them credit: aside from one Grateful Dead track and a smattering of Neil Young, they completely ignored country rock and Gram Parsons in particular … which is a travesty to most critics.  But I tend to agree with them.  Parsons was riding that 60’s wave of country rock bands with The Flying Burrito Brothers.  His solo albums were good with a few great tracks.  And he only made two.  He hated The Eagles?  I’m sure his logic was “I’m more authentic than they are” … but the reality was “they had a far better pop sense, a great vocalist and harmony/background singers, and were good songwriters, too.”  Hotel California was an important album and song; that album is more fully realized than anything Gram Parsons ever did.  I know, acknowledging as much for your average Pitchfork editor would be like voting for Trump.
There’s no DEVO on a list like this?  It’s senseless in the context of their hipness.  In terms of American bands getting that out there in terms of song structure and image, they were way out in front of everybody.  I’m also surprised not to see Pere Ubu.  It makes me doubt the veracity of Pitchfork critics.  Are they really that young that they just don’t have any cultural reference points for bands like this?  They need to have this spoon-fed to them by older critics and movie/TV show references?  Silly shit like The Slits make it while Pere Ubu doesn’t? 

It’s just wrong, but it helps me understand how this process works  Most critics aren't historians; they just follow the easy path placed in front of them via older critics, savvy film makers using cool, lesser-known music in movies and TV shows, the occasional hiphop sample and apparently recent deaths.  (That's the only way I can explain "Life on Mars" being their top pick and any Prince song from the 1970's being anywhere on the list, much less in the Top 10.  It would have been gauche to acknowledge Glenn Frey's passing, even though The Eagles clearly had a massive influence on what mainstream country would become two decades down the road.) If a band like Pere Ubu doesn't fall under those auspices, someone not alive at that time and following indie music most likely isn't going to grasp their meaning as they haven't been hyped by the usual suspects.  What dissuaded me from really getting into music criticism?  The realization that most music critics were even worse than sports writers in terms of their mediocrity.
The plus sides of their list?  I can’t believe they went with “Lola” by The Kinks.  Then again, the song plays into currently popular gender themes (for the record, listed as my favorite song in my high-school yearbook).  I can’t believe “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen placed so high on their list (#15).  The lame critical take on what the song “really meant” is complete and utter horseshit, but I’m glad hipsters now can recognize how mind-blowing the song was.  Glad to see “I’m Not in Love” by 10CC make the cut: deserves it for production values alone.  While The Roches scared me when I first saw them on Saturday Night Live, I must admit, they were way out in front of a few things that would come later.  “What a Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers?  OK, I’ll go along.  Is this some odd type of yacht rock vote?  I’m sure the guys in Steely Dan are wondering what sort of ass-backwards universe Pitchfork critics are living in to have their legacy be roughly no more or less than The Doobie Brothers.
And I have to respect weirdness like that although, again, what I learn from a list like this: if you weren’t alive at the time, you really don’t know what in the hell you’re writing about.  It pains me to recognize the same about myself with decades earlier than the 70’s, but it’s true.  There’s clearly little to no context for a lot of these songs selections; it’s just crazy shit that somehow got a foothold with X number of critics decades after the fact.  It would be like me falling in love with obscure Frank Sinatra album tracks from his albums from the 1940’s and 1950’s, going up to someone who was alive at the time and a huge fan, and describing to him what my favorite tracks are.  Sure, he’d know the songs that I was talking about, but he’d be thinking, “This guy doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to Sinatra.”
I think Pitchfork prides itself on not knowing its ass from a hole in the ground.