Month: March 2021

War – Anthology: 1970-1994

ARTIST: War 

TITLE: Anthology 1970-1994

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Spill the Wine (#3 US), All Day Music (#35 US, #18 R&B), Slippin’ Into Darkness (#16 US, #12 R&B), The World Is a Ghetto (#7 US, #3 R&B), Cisco Kid (#2 US, #5 R&B), Gypsy Man (#8 US, #6 R&B), Me and Baby Brother (#15 US, #18 R&B, #21 UK), Ballero (#33 US, #17 R&B), Why Can’t We Be Friends? (#6 US, #9 R&B), Low Rider (#7 US, #1 R&B, #12 UK), Summer (#7 US, #4 R&B), LA Sunshine (#45 US, #2 R&B), Galaxy (#39 US, #5 R&B, #14 UK), You Got the Power (#66 US, #18 R&B, #58 UK), Outlaw (#94 US, #13 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They covered Tobacco Road. Who didn’t?.

LINEUP: Howard Scott, Lee Oskar, Papa Dee Allen, Charles Miller, BB Dickerson, Lonnie Jordan, Harold Ray Brown. Eric Burdon peaced out after two albums (for the best). Others came in after their glory days.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: LA socially conscious soul band discovered by Eric Burdon and producer Jerry Goldstein sheds Burdon after two records, and becomes an chart mainstay for the 70’s

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Playing around LA for most of the 60’s, War (then known as Nightshift) was brought on to back Eric Burdon on his next venture. Burdon brought in Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar, who soon became an integral part of their sound.

Burdon left mid-tour after two albums because of health reasons, but War kept chugging along. Their second album after Burdon left established their popularity, and through most of the 70’s were mainstays in the R&B charts, and making some impact in crossing over.

The unique sound of War was fueled by congas along with drums, mixed with the combo of sax and harmonica, over the typical funk bass, drums, and keyboards. They had a tendency to jam and extend on the albums (and live, their mid-70’s live double had SEVEN tracks spread over four sides), but a collection like this distills their meanderings to a pretty concise package, at least for the songs.

They’re an important and vital group, as shown by the number of samples of War material in hip-hop now. A large collection is warranted, but this dips too much into their 80s and 90s material, which diminishes the impact of their key period.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: When Goldstein and Burdon found them, they were backing football player Deacon Jones in clubs around LA.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but in 2003 there was another comp called “The Very Best of War”, which has many of the same cuts. However, they truncate some of the songs even more (for better or worse).

 GRADE: A-: Their 70’s work is so critical to R&B and hip-hop, I can safely exile the later stuff and still be happy with this grade.

? and the Mysterians – Cameo-Parkway: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

ARTIST: ? and the Mysterians 

TITLE: Cameo-Parkway: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: 96 Tears (#1 US, #37 UK), I Need Somebody (#22 US), Can’t Get Enough of You Baby (#56 US), Girl (You Capitvate Me) (#98 US), Do Something to Me (#110 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Shout.

LINEUP: Rudy Martinez (“?”). Frankie Rodriguez, Bobby Balderrama, Eddie Serrato, Frank Lugo. Fernando Aguilar played bass on their first single.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sons of migrant workers hit #1 with their organ drenched track “96 Tears” and become legends.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After gigging around Saginaw and vicinity for a couple of years, ? and the Mysterians went into the studio and recorded a single for a small local label. A station in Windsor, Ontario, started to play both sides, Cameo-Parkway licensed it, and “96 Tears (backed with “Midnight Hour” – an original) rocketed to #1.

They then had to make an album, and because they had been gigging for a while, definitely had the songs ready for it. Then a follow up was needed, and they duly cranked out another pretty good album. It was a better album, but didn’t have THAT hit, so it flopped. Overall, they covered just four songs out of 23 on their albums, which for a garage band was definitely unusual, and refreshing.

This compilation combines their two Cameo-Parkway albums, and their follow up single before the label went bust (allegedly taking their royalties with it). While 96 Tears (#66) had the hit, Action was a more cohesive, tighter, and tougher album. It showed more of the garage side of the band. Had “Girl (You Captivate Me)” received its proper attention, they may have been able to make farfisa hits for a while.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Can’t Get Enough of You” is the song that Smashmouth had a big hit with in the 90’s. It originally was a Four Seasons track.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B+ This captivates me.

Squeeze – Sweets From a Stranger

ARTIST: Squeeze 

TITLE: Sweets From a Stranger

YEAR RELEASED: 1982

CHART ACTION:  #32 US, #20 UK

SINGLES: Black Coffee in Bed (#103 US, #26 Mainstream, #51 UK), When the Hangover Strikes, I’ve Returned

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: In Quintessence

LINEUP: Glenn Tillbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Don Snow, Gilson Lavis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Paul Carrack leaves, Difford and Tillbrook don’t have the songs, and while they have a video on heavy rotation, no one is really happy about the record, much less the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Almost every track on Sweets From a Stranger seems like it’s been done before. Maybe not by Squeeze, but there isn’t a lot of originality here. You have new wave sounding tracks, arty rock songs that sound a little Broadway-esque, and classic guitar-oriented pop songs. Only “Black Coffee in Bed” rises above the déjà vu feeling of the songs.

This even extends to lyrics, where Chris Difford mines the familiar themes of drinking and cheating, but without the originality and verve before. Glenn Tillbrook tries hard but gets too fancy by half on some tracks, and on others the tunes just seem a bit flat. The production didn’t help either – it was a bit busy in places and didn’t let the songs breathe.

“Black Coffee in Bed” was a classic, and MTV played the video like crazy in 1982 (even with Gilson Lavis dropping a drumstick). It’s not a bad album, but quite disappointing when measured by the preceding three Squeeze records. After this, they released a ‘final’ single (the brilliant “Annie Get Your Gun”) and split up for a bit. When they came back, their sound had morphed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Some songs sounded like musical theatre tracks, and yes, Difford and Tillbrook did mount a short-lived musical in London in 1983.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Outtakes, demos, and “Annie Get Your Gun (#40 Mainstream, #43 UK)

 GRADE: B- A disappointment to say the least.

Squeeze – East Side Story

ARTIST: Squeeze 

TITLE: East Side Story

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION:  #44 US, #19 UK

SINGLES: Is That Love (#35 UK), Tempted (#49 US, #8 Mainstream Rock, #41 UK), Labelled With Love (#4 UK), Messed Around

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: In Quintessence

LINEUP: Glenn Tillbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Paul Carrack, Gilson Lavis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Squeeze recruits Paul Carrack to replace Jools Holland and comes out with a fantastic chameleon of an album, full of witticisms, hooks, and changing motifs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Going into 1981, Squeeze was on a roll in crafting new-wavish pop tunes, charting in the UK and getting a cult following in the US. Though keyboardist and funnyman Jools Holland left to go solo, the band recruited ormer Ace leader Paul Carrack and didn’t miss a beat.

For this album, Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook came up with a group of songs that all had different motifs and structures, with most of lyrics focusing on love, cheating, drinking, and other combinations thereof. It shouldn’t have worked, really, with all of the disparate styles on one record. But it does work – it’s brilliant. The production (by Elvis Costello with engineer Roger Bechirian) is probably the clearest and brightest Squeeze had ever sounded.

Only a couple of tracks have the classic Squeeze sound. Some are more rooted in R&B (“Tempted” of course), and then there’s songs that are country, art and chamber pop, vocal pop, rockabilly, and whatever you call “Heaven” (a drinking song with bouzoukis?). Difford is on top of his game with his lyrics, and Tillbrook somehow weaves them all into melodies and songs that aren’t just run of the mill pop or new wave. It’s fabulous.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, you saw that right. “Tempted” didn’t hit the Top 40, and in the UK was the lowest charting released single. (“Messed Around” was a US single only – and that was an odd choice, really).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple with B-sides and outtakes. 

GRADE: A+ Argybargy and East Side Story are a brilliant one-two of early 80s UK music.

Alternative TV – Action Time & Vision – the Very Best of Mark Perry & ATV 1977-1999

ARTIST: Alternative TV

TITLE: Action Time & Vision – the Very Best of Mark Perry & ATV 1977-1999

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation 

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Love Lies Limp, How Much Longer, Action Time & Vision, The Force Is Blind, Life

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Definitely not here.

LINEUP: Mark Perry and a rotating cast of characters after he basically fired everyone a year after starting the band.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Fanzine editor Mark Perry decides to show punk rockers how to do it, and starts a long career as an experimental music maker and gadfly commentator on the scene.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sniffin’ Glue was a fanzine that was a must read in the UK in 1976 and 1977. It lasted just 12 issues but soon grew to a circulation of 15,000. Mark Perry, the instigator, decided he’d had enough writing and formed Alternative Television (ATV for short).

After releasing some punk records (and being one of the first to mix punk and reggae), and after basically firing everyone, Perry dove into a long career distinguished by side projects, changing lineups, and not caring about expectations. This makes this compilation interesting, challenging, and compelling.

He toned down a little bit as he got older and released a great song about the long lost space program “Apollo”. That’s relative, of course, as he’s still a bit combative and changes directions constantly. “Action, Time, & Vision” is an all-time classic track and you should give the others a listen, even if like me you exile a bunch.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This has a solo record and songs by The Reflection and The Long Decline.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but you can get all of the original independent records that were released from 1977-1980. Mind you, that’s a MUCH bumpier ride than this compilation.

GRADE: B+ – There’s a lot of…interesting stuff that doesn’t quite work in my ears, but “Action, Time, Vision” is an ALL TIME track.

Golden Earring – Moontan

ARTIST: Golden Earring

TITLE: Moontan

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION:  #12 US

SINGLES: Radar Love (#13 Us, #7 UK), Candy’s Going Bad (#91 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, no.

LINEUP: George Kooymans, Rinus Gerritsen, Barry Hay, Cesar Zuiderwijk. Eelco Gelling and Bertrus Rogers also appeared.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: On their NINTH album, longtime Dutch band breaks through.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Going from Beatle-esque popsters to psychedelic popsters to prog rockers usually wasn’t a career path that many bands took. But this quartet (who solidified in 1970, added a few members here and there, and stuck together as a foursome until 2019, sidelined only by illness) stuck together, and their movement towards prog and rock, with long songs built on riffs and movements, finally got them ears outside of the Netherlands. 

“Radar Love” was the cut that got them noticed, of course, and it was an irresistible radio song. However, the record was more than just that. The opener, “Candy’s Going Bad” was a great exercise in wah-wah guitar, dramatics, and an ending coda that put the story of Candy to bed. Most of the other tracks were long excursions, showing the versatility of the band, and yet they weren’t just jams for jams sake.

It’s not perfect. A couple tracks aren’t as well thought out as the others, which hurts the record a tad. However, it’s more than just “Radar Love”, and should be enjoyed as a unit.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Candy’s Going Bad” is on a compilation called The Long Versions, however, they chose a live version that is SHORTER than the album version. Long? Hmpf.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: They had other albums released in the US, but they were released and soon forgotten over here. So when this was released in the US, MCA scrapped two tracks (one understandable, the other…not so much) and added a track from their 1970 self-titled album – which WAS released in the US.

 GRADE: A- If you like “Radar Love”, you’d really like most of this.

Al Stewart – Al Stewart: Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Al Stewart

TITLE: Al Stewart: Greatest Hits 

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: Year of the Cat (#8 US, #31 UK), On the Border (#42 US), Time Passages (#7 US), Song on the Radio (#29 US), Midnight Rocks (#24 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, unless you’re a super fan and loved his wordy-as-hell historical songs.

LINEUP: Al Stewart. He was produced by Alan Parsons in his chart years, and always had good guests like Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson, or Simon Nicol on his early records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A Scottish spinner of tales and legends got some hits in the mid-70s after 10 years of recording.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This compilation is chronological, and it takes eight tracks to get to “Year of the Cat”. Al Stewart was a cult artist before that was really a thing, and he made his name by having the first mainstream-ish song with “fucking” in the lyrics (not here since that was in an 18 minute song), and wrote and recorded historical epics (“Road to Moscow” is 8 minutes of watching the Germans invade the USSR in World War II).

In 1975, he had a top 30 US album thanks to his FM radio play, and in 1976 “Year of the Cat” came on everyone’s radio, and he had a couple of years of fame. But he didn’t really change his motif. And when the hooks didn’t grab the listeners, he lost steam and got dropped by 1982.

This collection grabs a song from every album from his debut to his last Arista album in 1980. While hardly anything is in the wheelhouse of his hits, and sometimes he should just SHUT UP, the songs are tuneful and engaging enough for them not to be exiled. Most of his historical excesses are left on the albums, and that’s probably best.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He played at the first Glastonbury in 1970.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nah

 GRADE B: Oh, he’s wordy. So wordy. But has a knack for minor-key hooks too

Aldo Nova – The Best of Aldo Nova

ARTIST: Aldo Nova 

TITLE: The Best of Aldo Nova

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Fantasy (#23, #3 Mainstream), Foolin’ Yourself (#65), Monkey on Your Back (#12 Mainstream), Always Be Mine (#107), Tonight (Life Me Up), Rumours of You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Aldo Nova. He always used session musicians for his records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Canadian’s first three albums are compiled here for your listening pleasure.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If Aldo Nova had just shut up shop after releasing “Fantasy”, he would still be revered as the one who helped the pop-metal genre take off.

This collection focuses on his first three albums from the 80’s, where he rocked hard and power balladed with the best of them (before power ballads were cool). He had a good ear for melody and harmonies, and also guitar arrangements. There was a reliance on 80’s production sounds, for what that’s worth in your ears.

But even with his 80’s records trimmed down to 15 songs, it shows his limitations. He sometimes veers into cliché-land and only “Monkey on Your Back” rocks with the fervor and directness of “Fantasy”. He also veered into being keyboard heavy at the end. Still, it’s a good primer for 80’s hard rock/pop metal in case you were looking for something out of the hair band lane.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He took six years off from recording waiting for his contract to expire. He wrote jingles, and went into production and songwriting. He produced a lot of 90’s Celine Dion, and wrote Clay Aikens’ #1 hit. He made bank.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nope.

 GRADE B: It’s almost “Fantasy and 14 Others”, but some of the others are decent enough.

Aaron Neville – For the Good Times: The Allan Toussaint Sessions

ARTIST: Aaron Neville      

TITLE: For the Good Times: The Allan Toussaint Sessions

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: Tell It Like It Is (#2, #1 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Hercules. He covers Baby I’m a Want You, Mojo Hannah, One Fine Day, and For the Good Times

LINEUP: Aaron Neville. Allan Toussaint always had a good band with many of the Neville Brothers or the Meters backing him on occasion.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After leaving Minit Records, a soulful tenor crooner makes a bunch of great sides with famous producer Allan Toussaint, and it’s a shame they weren’t really heard for the most part

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Aaron Neville had been recording for a few years on Minit Records, but nothing really came of those tracks except one minor R&B hit in 1960. In the mid-60s, he recorded a few tracks, including “Tell It Like It Is” for a local New Orleans label and that became a smash.

Later, famous producer Allan Toussaint snapped up Aaron for some work for his production company and released and leased out singles, and recorded a would be theme for a Blaxploitation movie (“Hercules”). He covered some tunes that in other hands are treacly, but with Neville at the mic and Toussaint at the helm they were soulful and funky (he transforms “Baby I’m a Want You”).

This collection shows what we could have had if Neville’s singles would have hit. Alas. But it exists now, and that’s good enough for me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “”Hercules” had some pressing problems in the UK and never got a release, which is a shame

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. But there is another collection that also has tracks from this era. Also, the rest of his Par-Lo record recordings aside from “Tell It Like It Is” has vaporized.

 GRADE A-: Aaron Neville’s voice makes everything better.

Nancy Sinatra – Start Walkin’ 1965-1976

ARTIST: Nancy Sinatra      

TITLE: Start Walkin 1965-1976

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 40: These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (#1 US, #1 UK), How Does That Grab You Darlin’ (#7 US, #19 UK), Friday’s Child (#36 US), Sugar Town (#5 US, #8 UK), Jackson (with Lee Hazlewood) (#14 US, #11 UK), Lightning’s Girl (#24 US), Lady Bird (With Lee Hazlewood) (#20 US, #47 UK), Some Velvet Morning (with Lee Hazlewood) (#26 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bang Bang, You Only Live Twice, This collection doesn’t have any duets with her dad.

LINEUP: Nancy Sinatra. Lee Hazlewood. Session pros led by Billy Strange

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Frank’s daughter made a name for herself with tough songs, tender songs, and songs with Lee Hazlewood that are odd yet wonderful.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After struggling for almost five years recording standards, Nancy Sinatra started to make records with Lee Hazlewood and Billy Strange, and magic happened. She started to have hits, both by herself and with Hazlewood and his dusky baritone / bass.

For about three years, she had an excellent run on the pop charts in both the US and the UK, and not just because she was Frank’s daughter. She had her own style, brassy with bravado, but also sweet when she needed to be.

After “Some Velvet Morning” (one of the best singles of all time just on the audacity of its arrangement and lyrics), the hits dried up. She put out some country / folk records that didn’t sell, and she didn’t get to make an album that included those later singles. A move to RCA records away from her dad’s label did nothing in the US, and soon she was a fond memory in the minds of pop fans. However, the singles she made from 1965-1968 were essential listening for any fan of that era and this collection does a good job of capturing the highlights.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “You can’t sing like Nancy Nice Lady anymore. You have to sing for truckers”. That was the advice Hazlewood gave Nancy when they started collaborating.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: As time goes on the quality diminishes, but her run from 1965-1968 was full of excellence.