Kronomyth 3.1: STARR WARS. This was a Christmas present come early: Ringo crooning the old Johnny Burnette song with Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson hamming it up behind him. Originally recorded in 1961, the Burnette version was revived for the film, American Graffiti, which appeared a few months before the release of Ringo. Completing the Star Wars connection, Ringo recorded an early music video of “You’re Sixteen” with Carrie Fisher for his 1978 television special, Ringo. The flip side is another elpee track from Ringo, “Devil Woman,” featuring a really sharp horn arrangement from Tom Scott and some fine drumming from Ringo’s regular stand-in, Jim Keltner.
Na Poi is basically Fela’s attempt to set the act of making love to music. It starts out with a simple riff and a spoken intro that Fela refers to as “talk talk chorus,” then expands the riff into a full-blown groove complete with the usual horns, drums and bass. The song is basically one long, extended groove that changes very little over the course of twenty-five minutes; Fela’s future wives (all 27 of them) could only hope that Fela was more imaginative behind closed doors, although the song’s stamina boded well. Fela would revisit the song over the years in several versions. I’m not sure why; it’s not one of his better ideas, but maybe the salacious nature of the song appealed to him. The original album also included “You No Go Die… Unless,” which is in line with the better music from this period: strong groove, powerful singing, complex horn charts and lots of music crammed into the crevices. The song echoes a personal philosophy of Kuti’s that his destiny and death were in his own hands, which could be seen as an active challenge against a Nigerian government that might have it otherwise. Fela Kuti has released dozens of records, and Na Poi wouldn’t make my list of his best dozen efforts (it might top the list of his dirty dozen). While Kuti expected a lot from his band, he wasn’t a perfectionist as a producer. Na Poi feels like it was recorded live in a single take (which is probably the case); in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t bootlegs around from the period that sound as good. You could argue that a celebration of sex (“Na Poi”) and death-defiance (“You No Go Die… Unless”) are quintessential themes for Kuti, but Na Poi is not one of his most essential recordings. [Note: Some of the re-issue information below may pertain to later recordings of Na Poi; hopefully, I’ll sort all that out in the coming months.]
“I sat down with Marc Bolan one night and he’s using this ‘Back off, boogaloo’ kind of language. I went to bed and I woke up with this song in my head, ‘Back off boogaloo, what d’ya think you’re gonna do.’” – Ringo Starr as quoted in Keith Badman’s The Beatles: The Dream Is Over – Off The Record 2.
Kronomyth 2.7: CANDY GLAM FOR RINGO. Ringo took a greater interest in film after The Beatles, appearing both in front of and behind the camera as an actor (“200 Motels,” “Blindman”) and director (the T. Rex concert film, “Born To Boogie”). This single is sort of the musical soundtrack to that moment, featuring the Bolan-inspired “Back Off Boogaloo” on the A side and, fittingly, his song from the B movie “Blindman” on the flip side. The enthusiasm for “Back Off Boogaloo” owes much to Beatlemania; outside of Ringo’s stellar drumming (the song’s best feature), it’s pretty forgettable. (A film short was made to accompany it, featuring Ringo and a man dressed as Frankenstein’s monster. If Ringo has any acting ability, he hides it well for three minutes.) “Blindman” is interesting as Ringo’s interpretation of the spaghetti western scores popularized by Ennio Morricone, fused with a country song. While it’s tempting to re-appraise Ringo’s work as better than it really was, I don’t believe he released a decent record until Ringo and have yet to see a film where I would refer to Ringo as an “actor” without wincing a bit.
“It sucked, pretty much, it really sucked.” – Fee Waybill, explaining the appeal of Love Bomb in a 2001 interview with the San Francisco Herald.
Kronomyth 8.0: STOP WORRYING. This is the worst record that The Tubes have released. And it’s still pretty good. That last sentence is something of an emotional breakthrough for me. For years, I held genuine antipathy for Love Bomb. (It’s a piece of plastic. I need to get a life.) The production from Todd Rundgren is polarizing. Todd was in sort of a strange place artistically, having released a string of disappointing Utopia albums and the confounding A Capella, so it’s unfair to expect that Love Bomb would become Remote Control Redux. The album is littered with extraneous sounds, strung together in fragments, plagued by the kind of restless curiosity that presumes a lot of patience on the part of the listener. And the truth is that few people, Tubes fans included, had much use for “Muscle Girls,” “Bora Bora 2000,” “Say Hey” and “Theme From A Wooly Place.” They’re cute ideas, but the sort of thing that should have been left on the editing room floor, not sandwiched in between Rundgrenesque rock ballads. Sift out the strangeness, and Love Bomb is actually a decent record of sophisticated studio rock: “Eyes,” “Piece By Piece,” “Come As You Are.” Bill Spooner has defended this album in interviews, and I would agree with him (now, anyway). It’s not far removed from the band’s last two records in terms of quality. David Foster reigned in the band’s strangeness, however, where Rundgren seems to feed it. It’s too bad that I didn’t warm up to Love Bomb before I wrote a review of it for All Music Guide. Lord knows it wasn’t a lack of listening to Love Bomb that led to my displeasure. Maybe I listened to it too much, looking for the treasures of the past. Commercially, the album was a dud; that much is true. Artistically, it’s not the mess I first imagined, although I still have the sense that Todd wanted to turn The Tubes into Utopia Mark II. Yes, it’s still probably the last Tubes album you need to own, but I’ve learned to stop worrying about what it’s not and enjoy it for what it is.
Kronomyth 2.0: MELLOTRON TIME. Graham and the band returned to the studio quickly to record a second album. Too quickly, apparently, since There’s A Bond Between Us is a pale imitation of the first. Where the first was downright sinister-sounding in spots, a good half of TABBU is merely competent R&B played with no more and no less passion than Them or any other R-and-wanna-B act at the time. The record does include two really interesting “pop” songs: Jack Bruce’s “Hear Me Calling Your Name” and Bond’s “Baby Can It Be True?,” a cross between Tom Jones and Dracula that features one of the earliest appearances of the mellotron. An exciting version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?” and Ginger Baker’s exotic-sounding “Camels And Elephants” (which anticipates his Air Force by several years) are also highlights. But there was something about hearing Bond sing “Hoochie Coochie Man” that set your hairs on end, while I’m pretty I actually yawned during the opening instrumental, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This would be the last official album from The Graham Bond ORGANisation, with a few singles following. (Those singles are appended to the 2009 remaster, and “You’ve Gotta Have Love Baby” from 1967 is an ear-opening experience.) The organization had a world of talent (Dick Heckstall-Smith might have been the best horn player in a rock band at the time), they just didn’t have a clear roadmap. There’s A Bond Between Us will appeal to completists and Cream aficionados I suppose (who share a similar supply chain problem), but I’d definitely start out with their first and then shell out for Solid Bond.
Kronomyth 3.0: WILL HE AMAZE? In 1986, after two years of tantalizing speed and power, Eric Davis of the Cincinnati Reds became only the second player in baseball history to record more than 20 home runs and 80 stolen bases in a season. Which may seem apropos of nothing, but I believe that baseball is a suitable analogy for everything. (It has to do with the statistical purity of baseball, which is a long discussion for another day.) Camper Van Beethoven’s eponymous third album is analogous to Eric Davis’ career: after two years of tantalizing but uneven albums, CVB finally delivered on their potential. The album includes some of their strongest songs so far: “Good Guys And Bad Guys,” “Still Wishing To Course,” “We Saw Jerry’s Daughter.” There’s still a lot of russian folk american country psychedelic punk “stuff” sandwiched in between, but it’s shaped into actual songs this time (okay, well, most of the time anyway) and imprinted with interesting narratives. “The History of Utah,” “We Love You” and “Peace & Love” would fall into the latter category, and I would submit that they’re just as interesting as the proper songs. I don’t know why CVB finally decided to make a “normal” alternative rock record, but maybe it has to do with that third-time-is-a-charm thing. CVB v3.o is certainly the most charming album they’ve made. The production on the album is also noticeably better, which could be a case of experience, a bigger budget or both. The connection between CVB and the previous generation of classic rockers also becomes clearer, with titular references to Led Zeppelin, a musical nod or two to VU and a swell cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” For me, this marks the beginning of the band’s best music because, I suppose, I am a melody-loving milquetoast and a middling marxist at best.
Kronomyth 7.0: THE PROOF IS IN THE PADDING. Stills’ second album for Columbia follows the format of the first, featuring material collected over the last few years. At the time of its release, Stills was at work on the album that would become Long May You Run, and a quick glance at the songwriting credits suggests that Stills wasn’t fully engaged in his own solo career. Donnie Dacus appears happy to pick up the slack, taking lead vocals on a couple tracks and even cowriting one of them with Stills’ soon-to-be-ex wife, Véronique Sanson. While nothing on Illegal Stills could be considered classic Stills, it’s a competent studio rock album from the mid 70s, suggesting Elton John’s Rock of the Westies on a more modest scale. (In fact, Kenny Passarelli, who again cowrote the closing track, was currently a member of Elton’s band.) The album’s hit single, “Buyin’ Time,” is typical of the American malaise of the mid Seventies, as history (the bicentennial celebration) and reality (the shadow of the Vietnam War, gas shortages, economic recession) collided. Other highlights include the biting “Soldier” and a decent cover of Neil Young’s “The Loner.” Given the diminishing quality of the product, Columbia had to be wondering if they didn’t trade for a lame horse. The collaboration with Stills and the CSN reunion showed that Stills still had some ethanol in his tank, so maybe it was just a case of Stills not taking his Columbia contract seriously. Both the label and fans weren’t paying for half of a Donnie Dacus album, but that’s what they got with Illegal Stills. Again, it’s not a disaster, but Stills was fast becoming an anachronism in a world where punk had been let out of Pandora’s box.
Kronomyth 2.0: TWEE FOR TWO. The first ‘Rex record was a rushed affair, so producer Tony Visconti made a point of giving Bolan and Took more takes on the second, Prophets, Seers & Sage The Angels of the Ages. Only four months had elapsed since the first record, so the material on Prophets is understandably underdone; fourteen new songs in four months produces a fair amount of filler (“The Friends”), fragments (“Our Wonderful Brownskin Man”) and poems with only minimal musical accompaniment (“Juniper Suction”). The album does have a certain stately sonic presence though. Bolan and Took strike a better balance in their contributions; the possessed bongo-playing on “Deboraadored” and “Salamanda Palaganda,” the driving beats of “Conesuala” and the pixiephone on “The Travelling Tragition” are integral to the success of those songs. Visconti also plays more of a role in shaping the music, whether it’s playing “Debora” backwards (thus the palindromic title) or giving the backing vocals on “Wind Quartets” a breezy quality. So is Prophets an ostensibly better record than the first? No, not really. They’re both precious, mystical moondances to dead gods and childish dreams featuring unicorns, harlequins and Bolan’s pixilated prose and poetry. The first record had felt like Bolan brought into the studio for an intimate “live” concert, which in effect it was. Prophets is a professional snapshot of Bolan at the same stage of creative development but better dressed, even if some of the clothes have their seams showing on close inspection. Over the years, Prophets, Seers & Sages has been expanded and engorged with additional takes, few of which (I imagine) add to the man’s legend, though they may extend the pleasure of inhabiting Bolan’s faerie world for a mere thirty minutes.
After Manassas, Stills went back to recording solo material, signed with Columbia Records and released Stills. The opening “Turn Back The Pages” sums it up nicely, as the album collects material from several sessions including one (“As I Come of Age”) dating back to 1971. The music on Stills isn’t quite as compelling or cohesive as the last two Manassas records, a point that didn’t escape critics. But it’s not a bad record by any means. You’ll find ambitious arrangements (“Love Story,” “Myth of Sisyphus”), sneaky melodies (“My Favorite Changes,” “In The Way”), a Neil Young song (“New Mama”) and what might be the best CSN song that never was, “As I Come of Age.” The supporting players represent a several-year span of time, including some new faces: Donnie Dacus, Marcie Levy, Kenny Passarelli, Rick Roberts. If you’re a fan of Stephen Stills, then Stills is definitely worth a flyer at some point. At least it meets my expectations of a Stephen Stills solo album: solid songs, thoughtful lyrics, some sharp guitar and organ playing, a revolving cast of stars and cameos from Crosby and Nash. You get the sense, reading some of the negative reviews of Stills as the time, that critics had simply soured on the whole CSN and sometimes Y experience. I’ll admit that their hand was overplayed and that the whole country-rock movement (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Crosby-Nash, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, Firefall, Poco, The Southern Hillman Furay Band, etc.) seemed to re-shuffle the same cards in endless and often-diluted variations. A world that had grown tired of Stephen Stills, however, was a jaded world indeed. I think there’s plenty on Stills to hold your interest, even if it isn’t the first, second or third Stephen Stills album you need to own.
Kronomyth 7.2: OUR HURT IS QUIET AND OUR HEARTS TAMED, AS THE SEA MAY YET BE TAMED. “Southern Cross” has its origins in a different song, “Seven League Boots,” written by The Curtis Brothers and recorded with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (of future Fleetwood fame) in 1974. Stephen Stills rewrote the lyrics, added a new chorus and recorded it for CSN’s Daylight Again. Stills’ version is the clear winner, here re-cast as a healing sea journey, a retreat from the pain of love rather than a passionate pursuit after it as originally envisioned. A music video was also produced, featuring the trio singing in the dark interspersed with film of Stills sailing that appears to date from 1977. (In a confusing move, the picture sleeve repurposed the cover artwork from their last album to extend the sailing motif.) The single version of “Southern Cross” is 40-45 seconds shorter than the elpee version and fades early at the end. The flip side is Nash’s “Into The Darkness,” presumably written about David Crosby’s drug addiction and identical to the elpee version.