Released this month in 1973! Houses of the Holy ~ Led Zeppelin

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Houses of the Holy follows the same basic pattern as Led Zeppelin IV, but the approach is looser and more relaxed. Jimmy Page’s riffs rely on ringing, folky hooks as much as they do on thundering blues-rock, giving the album a lighter, more open atmosphere. While the pseudo-reggae of “D’Yer Mak’er” and the affectionate James Brown send-up “The Crunge” suggest that the band was searching for material, they actually contribute to the musical diversity of the album. “The Rain Song” is one of Zep’s finest moments, featuring a soaring string arrangement and a gentle, aching melody. “The Ocean” is just as good, starting with a heavy, funky guitar groove before slamming into an a cappella section and ending with a swinging, doo wop-flavored rave-up. With the exception of the rampaging opening number, “The Song Remains the Same,” the rest of Houses of the Holy is fairly straightforward, ranging from the foreboding “No Quarter” and the strutting hard rock of “Dancing Days” to the epic folk/metal fusion “Over the Hills and Far Away.” Throughout the record, the band’s playing is excellent, making the eclecticism of Page and Robert Plant’s songwriting sound coherent and natural.

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Did you know? Muddy Waters died on this day in 1983..

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1983, American Blues legend Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) died in his sleep at his home in Westmont, Illinois, aged 68. Major influence of many acts, Cream, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones named themselves after Waters’ 1950 song ‘Rollin’ Stone.’ Best known songs include ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’, ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’, ‘Got My Mojo Working.’

Released this month in 1976! Jailbreak ~ Thin Lizzy

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Thin Lizzy found their trademark twin-guitar sound on 1975’s Fighting, but it was on its 1976 successor, Jailbreak, where the band truly took flight. Unlike the leap between Night Life and Fighting, there is not a great distance between Jailbreak and its predecessor. If anything, the album was more of a culmination of everything that came before, as Phil Lynott hit a peak as a songwriter just as guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson pioneered an intertwined, dual-lead guitar interplay that was one of the most distinctive sounds of ’70s rock, and one of the most influential. Lynott no longer let Gorham and Robertson contribute individual songs — they co-wrote, but had no individual credits — which helps tighten up the album, giving it a cohesive personality, namely Lynott’s rough rebel with a heart of a poet. Lynott loves turning the commonplace into legend — or bringing myth into the modern world, as he does on “Cowboy Song” or, to a lesser extent, “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” — and this myth-making is married to an exceptional eye for details; when the boys are back in town, they don’t just come back to a local bar, they’re down at Dino’s, picking up girls and driving the old men crazy. This gives his lovingly florid songs, crammed with specifics and overflowing with life, a universality that’s hammered home by the vicious, primal, and precise attack of the band. Thin Lizzy is tough as rhino skin and as brutal as bandits, but it’s leavened by Lynott’s light touch as a singer, which is almost seductive in its croon. This gives Jailbreak a dimension of richness that sustains, but there’s such kinetic energy to the band that it still sounds immediate no matter how many times it’s played. Either one would make it a classic, but both qualities in one record makes it a truly exceptional album.

Happy Birthday Duke Ellington!

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Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist and bandleader of jazz orchestras. His career spanned over 50 years, leading his orchestra from 1923 until he died.

Though widely considered to have been a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington himself embraced the phrase “beyond category” as a “liberating principle”, and referred his music to the more general category of “American Music”, rather than to a musical genre such as “jazz”. Born in Washington, D.C., he was based in New York City from the mid-1920s, and gained a national profile through his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club. In the 1930s they toured in Europe.

Some of the musicians who were members of Ellington’s orchestra, such as saxophonist Johnny Hodges, are still, in their own right, considered to be among the best players in jazz, but it was Ellington who melded them into the best-known jazz orchestral unit in the history of jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained members for several decades. A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm record format, Ellington often composed specifically for the style and skills of his individual musicians, such as “Jeep’s Blues” for Hodges, and “Concerto for Cootie” for trumpeter Cootie Williams, which later became “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” with Bob Russell’s lyrics.

Often collaborating with others, Ellington originated over a thousand compositions and his extensive oeuvre is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, with many of his extant works having become standards. Ellington also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, for example Juan Tizol’s “Caravan”, and “Perdido”, which brought Spanish tinge to big-band jazz.

After 1941, Ellington collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his “writing and arranging companion”. With Strayhorn, he composed many extended compositions, or ‘suites’, as well as further shorter pieces. Following an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island in July 1956, he enjoyed a major career revival and, with his orchestra, embarked on world tours. Ellington recorded for most American record companies of his era at some point, and appeared in several films, scoring several, and composed stage musicals.

Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big-band, and thanks to his eloquence and charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and he was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize in 1999.

Gunther Schuller wrote in 1989: “Ellington composed incessantly to the very last days of his life. Music was indeed his mistress; it was his total life and his commitment to it was incomparable and unalterable. In jazz he was a giant among giants. And in twentieth century music, he may yet one day be recognized as one of the half-dozen greatest masters of our time.”

Happy Birthday Willie Nelson!

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Willie Hugh Nelson (/wɪli nɛlsən/; born April 29, 1933) is an American country music singer-songwriter, as well as an author, poet, actor, and activist. The critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973), combined with the critical and commercial success of Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978), made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music. He was one of the main figures of outlaw country, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound. Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana.

Born during the Great Depression, and raised by his grandparents, Nelson wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at ten. During high school, he toured locally with the Bohemian Polka as their lead singer and guitar player. After graduating from high school, in 1950, he joined the Air Force but was later discharged due to back problems. After his return, Nelson attended Baylor University for two years but dropped out because he was succeeding in music. During this time, he worked as a disc jockey in Texas radio stations and a singer in honky tonks. Nelson moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he wrote “Family Bible” and recorded the song “Lumberjack” in 1956. In 1958, he moved to Houston, Texas after signing a contract with D Records. He sang at the Esquire Ballroom weekly and he worked as a disk jockey. During that time, he wrote songs that would become country standards, including “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, “Pretty Paper”, and “Crazy”. In 1960 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and later signed a publishing contract with Pamper Music which allowed him to join Ray Price’s band as a bassist. In 1962, he recorded his first album, …And Then I Wrote. Due to this success, Nelson signed in 1964 with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ole Opry the following year. After mid-chart hits in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Nelson retired in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas. The rise of the popularity of hippie music in Austin motivated Nelson to return from retirement, performing frequently at the Armadillo World Headquarters.

In 1973, after signing with Atlantic Records, Nelson turned to outlaw country, including albums such as Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In 1975, he switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded the critically acclaimed album, Red Headed Stranger. The same year, he recorded another outlaw country album, Wanted! The Outlaws, along with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. During the mid-1980s, while creating hit albums like Honeysuckle Rose and recording hit songs like “On the Road Again”, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”, and “Pancho & Lefty”, he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen, along with fellow singers Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. In 1990 Nelson’s assets were seized by the Internal Revenue Service, which claimed that he owed US $32,000,000. It was later discovered that his accountants, Price Waterhouse, did not pay Nelson’s taxes for years. The difficulty of paying his outstanding debt was aggravated by weak investments he had made during the 1980s. In 1991, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?; by 1993, the profits of the double album, destined to the IRS, and the auction of Nelson’s assets cleared his debt. During the 1990s and 2000s, Nelson continued touring extensively, and released albums every year. Reviews ranged from positive to mixed. He explored genres such as reggae, blues, jazz, and folk. Nelson made his first movie appearance in the 1979 film The Electric Horseman, followed by other appearances in movies and on television.

Nelson is a major liberal activist and the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which is in favor of marijuana legalization. On the environmental front, Nelson owns the bio-diesel brand Willie Nelson Biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oil. Nelson is also the honorary chairman of the Advisory Board of the Texas Music Project, the official music charity of the state of Texas.

Album Recommendation: Easter ~ Patti Smith ~ 1978

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Patti Smith came back from the year-and-a-half break caused by her fall from a stage in January 1977 without having resolved the art-versus-commerce argument that had marred her second album, Radio Ethiopia. In fact, that argument was in some ways the theme of her third. Easter, produced by Bruce Springsteen associate Jimmy Iovine, was Smith’s most commercial-sounding effort yet and, due to the inclusion of Springsteen’s “Because the Night” (with Smith’s revised lyrics), a Top Ten hit, it became her biggest seller, staying in the charts more than five months and getting into the Top 20 LPs. But Smith hadn’t so much sold out as she had learned to use her poetic gifts within an album rock context. Certainly, a song that proclaimed, “Love is an angel disguised as lust/Here in our bed until the morning comes,” was pushing the limits of pop radio, and on “Babelogue,” Smith returned to her days of declaiming poetry on New York’s Lower East Side. That rant (significantly ending, “I have not sold my soul to God”) led into the provocative “Rock n Roll Nigger,” a charged rocker with a chorus that went, “Outside of society/Is where I want to be.” Smith made the theme from the ’60s British rock movie Privilege her own and even got into the U.K. charts with it. And on songs like “25th Floor,” Iovine, Smith, and her group were able to accommodate both the urge to rock out and the need to expound. So, Easter turned out to be the best compromise Smith achieved between her artistic and commercial aspirations.

Released this month in 1972! Just Another Band from L.A. ~ Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

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Just Another Band From L.A. was recorded live at the Pauley Pavillion, UCLA (Los Angeles), on August 7, 1971. Released in early 1972, it is the last album to document the Mothers of Invention lineup that included singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie). (The other bandmembers on this particular recording are: Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Don Preston, and Jim Pons.) A previous LP, Fillmore East, June 1971, focused on material related to life on the road that had to be dropped from the movie and album 200 Motels. This second live record presents different material, plus two old favorites completely rearranged for this version of the band: “Call Any Vegetable” and “Dog Breath.” Side one of the LP was entirely comprised of “Billy the Mountain,” a continuous 25-minute story-song. The piece, filled with silly (some would say childish) stage antics and simple rock riffs, foretells “The Adventures of Greggary Peccary” and follows a logic similar to the “Sofa” suite. But the inclusion in its plot of dozens of very space-and-time-specific references (to towns, TV personalities, government officials, and businesses) made it age very quickly. Fans of the Flo & Eddie period will love the improvised storyline developments. Others should approach with caution, even though this one has much better sound quality than Fillmore East, June 1971.