1970s editions of Gay News in a web-readable format
Author: Denis Lemon
1945-1994. Denis was one of the founders of Gay News and was perhaps most famous for being sued by Mary Whitehouse when, as editor, he published a poem in 1976 by James Kirkup that she felt was 'blasphemous'. He was fined £500 and sentenced to 9 months in prison suspended for 8 months. The Court of Appeal later quashed the sentence. He died of complications from AIDS in 1994 and was survived by his partner Nick Purshouse.
The Fourth Angel is the latest novel by John Rechy, who rose to stardom in gay cultural circles with his first book, City Of Night.
The latter, although weak on literary style, proved itself to be a masterpiece of its kind, as well as a valid study of one of society’s phenomena. City Of Night was concerned with the life and times of a male prostitute in the United States, and the emptiness and despairing dilemma of the central character is graphically described in a way that has never before been so direct and realistic. It is an important book, that deserves to be read by all gays.
Since the publication of that book, Rechy has produced four other novels, the most significant being This Day’s Death, with the most recent being this newly published work.
This time the plot evolves around four teenagers, three boys and a girl, all of whom are aged sixteen. Drug taking is an integral part of the story, and a reader’s response very much depends on his/her individual reaction to ‘pot’ and other ‘dope’. The four kids are bored and disillusioned, and are all very much casualties of modern urban civilisation. One of them, Jerry, the ‘fourth angel’, is still very much affected by the recent death of his mother. The ‘mother fixation’ is a recurring theme in most of Rechy’s work, it usually being an important factor in the story. Those familiar with his other novels will no doubt have drawn their own conclusions as to why this is.
As is also usual in Rechy’s writings, homosexuals have a prominent role to play in the story, although the anal rape scene in this book cannot be described as being primarily gay. But the way in which gayness is treated is relevant to the misguided way societies generally react towards the subject.
The Fourth Angel is a short book, consisting of only 158 pages, but it succeeds in making its point on most of the levels it tries to encompass. A disturbing, slightly despairing tale but honest in its approach, leaving the reader in no doubt that while Rechy does not place blame on anyone or anything, it is clear that, in his opinion American society has much to answer for.
TCHAIKOVSKY.Directed by Igor Talankin. Music arranged and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin. Starring Innokenti Smoktunovsky as ‘Tchaikovsky’. Narrated by Laurence Harvey. Distributed by MGM-EMI. Cert ‘U’ Showing at the Odeon, Haymarket, London.
Unlike Ken Russell’sThe Music Lovers, the Russian filmTchaikovskyisn’t going to upset anybody, especially people like Mary Whitehouse, Ross McWhirter and David Holbrook, who like the films they see to be completely innocent and without a trace of the realities that exist in the actual world we live in.
Mosfilm studios is rumoured to have made Tchaikovsky because of the treatment of their greatest composers and national heroes received from Mr Russell. What we see in Britain is a considerably shortened version of what was originally a film that ran for just over four hours. Our version is just under two.
The Russians spared no expense in making this epic, but managed to exclude every reference to Tchaikovsky’s real life from the script. What we are left with is a rather naive and sensitive heterosexual character, who has an unhealthy amount of love and devotion for his mother. So everything that embarrassed the Russians when Mr Russell put a little reality into his character is omitted. Really, it’s so whiter than white, it surprised me that it wasn’t Walt Disney production.
Technically the film is superb. The camera work is copied from successful American and European movies that have been developed in the last five years and is extremely well done, but it doesn’t help one not notice the wooden performances from the actors. The music is really beautiful though, and the stereo sound at the Odeon, Haymarket, is excellent. It’s a pity that the film is drastically cut, because we are only treated to small fragments of some of the composer’s finest music. The ballet scenes are given slightly more time, and subsequently they are some of the most enjoyable moments in the film. Highlights from the soundtrack are available on a two-record set issued by Phillips Records, (Cat No 6641048).
Amazed by their childishness, one wonders who the Russians think they are kidding. Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, undoubtably a fairly unhappy one, but whether this was due to his sexuality is debatable. What is obvious, is that his gayness was very much the basis of his inspiration for many of his greatest works. Personally, I would say it was the major influence on his Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. But that’s debatable too.
It’s a shame to see such a fantastic composer, whose genius in many respects will never be equalled, given such a reactionary whitewashing. As a result, the only people likely to be attracted to this film are the most ardent admirers of Tchaikovsky’s music.
Incidentally, on the night I saw Tchaikovsky, the whole of the audience was highly amused at a line from Laurence Harvey’s narration. It was when the composer had moved to Moscow and was “befriended by Nikolay Rubinstein, a great pianist and a gay companion.” And that truly is the only reference to one of the most important aspects of Tchaikovsky’s personality. Maybe that’s even too much for ‘clean-up’ Mary. Better watch out MGM-EMI.
GARDEN PARTY – Rick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band – MCA MDKS 8009
If you fondly remember the string of fine pop songs Rick Nelson put into the charts a few years back, you owe it to yourself, and him, to take a listen to his new album, Garden Party. Even if Rick’s initial successes were slightly before your time, still have a listen, you won’t be disappointed.
Not that I wish to compare Rick’s recent work with his earlier career, that would be unfair and unkind. He has changed quite a lot since the days of Hello Marylou and Never Be Anybody Else But You, and all for the better, but still retaining the charm and sensitivity of those past recordings.
Today Rick Nelson is experimenting with many different styles and the lyrics of his songs are far more mature than they used to be. Also, he is lucky to have such a remarkable backing group, the very talented Stone Canyon Band.
The title track of the album, Garden Party, has recently given Rick his biggest hit single in a long while, justifiably so, as it is an exceptionally good song, with a fine melody and lyrics that rise above the usual banality of hit parade material. The rest of the cuts on the record, although varying in the areas of music they derive their inspiration from, nearly all equal the stature of the previously mentioned song.
Garden Party could well be the album that reestablishes Rick Nelson’s popularity, and secures his prospects for a long rewarding career. If he keeps on producing well balanced offerings like this, I can’t see how fate can treat him otherwise. Incidentally, take a look at the cover photograph. Rick must be one of the most glamourous 32½-year-olds around.
Fantasy Records seem to be changing distributors frequently in this country as of late. They have now settled with EMI and the first album released by them is Creedence Gold, a sort of Greatest Hits collection, but not quite. The eight tracks on the record are a mixture of hit singles and album tracks. They are described on the cover as being all from the group’s records that have grossed ‘sales of $1 million and each has sold over a million units, an unprecedented achievement’. Right on chaps, shame the band has broken up though.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music needs no introduction, the way they have dominated the singles and albums charts since 1968 says it all. Creedence Gold contains such tracks as Proud Mary, Bad Moon Rising and the extended version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Judging from the selection included it looks as if Creedence Gold will be the first in a series of similar volumes.
A good collection to replace battered and worn out singles, but if you have any of their previous albums you’re liable to find that you are duplicating cuts you already have.
Even though Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favourites is the second album of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen to be released in this country, the Commander and his band are probably new to most of you. Their first album, Lost In The Ozone, was less than successful, as often happens with a group’s first record and subsequently received little attention, even from those heavily into new developments in American rock music. But Hot Licks etc is an altogether far more exciting and enjoyable record.
In California, Commander Cody and his LPA are something of a legend. They have been playing small clubs and bars for many years, building up a strong repuation, although they never found time or thought it necessary to record until last year. Their music is an amalgamation of ‘redneck’ country and western rock ’n’ roll, with a little bit of soul thrown in for good measure. And throughout the twelve tracks, including songs with titles such as Truck Stop Rock, Mama Hated Diesels and It Should’ve Been Me, the band display a sly sense of humour, that sometimes is near to parodying the types of music they are playing. Also on the album are versions of rock classics like Rip It Up and Tutti Frutti, which showcase the other side of their musical roots.
As the song titles suggest, the theme of most of their material is the world of American long distance truck drivers, and the folklore that has built up around them. These men cover vast distances in their enormous ‘rigs’ and they seem to have taken the place of horse riding cowboys in the hearts of many Americans. But as I said before, Commander Cody instils a sense of humour into the way he relates their exploits and mythology.
The combining of styles on Hot Licks etc results in some very fine music that is also a lot of fun to listen to.
With the record companies swamping the market with a never ending torrent of ‘product’, it’s so easy for some of the better albums to get lost and unnoticed in the vast tide of new releases. Add to this the fact that only a percentage of them ever get anywhere hear the amount of promotion the need/deserve and you’ll soon realise how crazy the whole situation is.
Being responsible for the popular music selection of this paper, I get sent a fair number of review copies of albums, a proportion of which are so bad or boringly mediocre that they spend only a very short time on my turntable. I try to be as impartial about my assessments as possible, but sometimes I make hasty judgements and dismiss an album because it doesn’t immediately turn me on. And sometimes I make a mistake and nearly miss out on hearing something very special.
Such an album is Can’t Buy A Thrill, the first release by an American group called Steely Dan.
My first impression of their music was ‘it’s OK’ but nothing really struck me as being particularly different or original. But over the last two weeks I’ve found that instead of it gathering dust on my ‘rejected’ pile, it’s been finding its way back to my stereo more and more frequently. Until it is my choice in between every other record I play.
I won’t go into a detailed description of Steely Dan’s sound, it’s enough to say that it is a combination of all the good things that have happened in pop/rock music in recent years, as well as having the collective originality of the six musicians who comprise the group.
The first track on side one, Do It Again, as a single has just zoomed into the American top ten, so there is a possibility that it will receive adequate airplays in this country. But don’t count on it.
Get out and hear the album for yourselves and maybe you, like me, will find that you have discovered one of the most exciting new rock bands around. The colourful cover has a rather amazing photograph of a line of ‘street ladies’ incorporated into its design, making it difficult to miss at your local record shop.
The latest addition to outrageous rock are an American group known as Silverhead. They are a sort of son/daughter of Alice Cooper, with a passing resemblance to Grand Funk Railroad, and a little touch of the David Bowies’ here and there.
Whilst not wishing to be too unkind, their first album is a pretentiously irritating mess. It rambles on for nearly forty-three minutes, and the only way you can be sure a song has finished and is not the same number all the way through, is because of the few seconds silence in between tracks. Musically they produce nothing that one has not heard a hundred times before, and the vocals of Michael Des Barres become tedious after the first couple of songs.
The only interesting and exceptional things about Silverhead’s album are the photographs on the double cover, especially those on the inner sleeve. All the group appear to be into make-up and super-camp in a big way, which makes me think that I may possibly form another opinion about them if I had the opportunity to see a live performance of theirs. Until such time my thoughts on Silverhead are more or less completely negative. Substitute the word atrocious instead of outrageous in the first sentence of this review.
Barnstorm is the first solo outing of Joe Walsh since he split from the James Gang, the group he was the founder member of. Whilst with them, his lead guitar work was very much responsible for the success they enjoyed, but Walsh was seemingly unsatisfied with the direction the James Gang was taking.
I found the James Gang’s first album to be the most pleasing, and Barnstorm seems to be an extension of that earlier work. That’s not to say the overall sound is familiar, just that Walsh’s guitar carries on from where it previously left off.
Walsh’s impressive guitar playing is very much postpsychedelic in its origins, and his distinctive style sets him apart from the many other guitarists who have emerged since the ‘acid rock’ peaks reached in 1967.
On this album he demonstrates the way he can produce both a soaring and expansive sound on his instrument, as well as showing professional control during the record’s quieter moments. Despite the excellent production of Bill Szymczyk (I dare you to pronounce his surname), my only reservations about the record are that the sound becomes a little cluttered at times, but these excesses should disappear in subsequent releases.
Barnstorm is very much music for 1973, from a musician whose playing is never less than stimulating.
Alex Harvey is yet another singer/songwriter, this time emerging from the South of America. His initial push came after other artists had achieved considerable success through recording his songs, the most notable being Reuben James and Tell It All Brothers.
We now have the chance of hearing Alex Harvey in person with the release of his first album, and I’m happy to say that it is well worth hearing. Harvey’s voice, which at times reminds me of a restrained Joe Cocker, is not particularly strong, but he delivers the vocals to the best of his ability.
It is the songs though that hold one’s attention, not his voice. Of the ten compositions included, nine are written by Harvey, and all display a considerable depth of feeling and a straightforward awareness of life. A few of the songs are strongly religious, and on these, Harvey incorporates a gospel sound.
Producing credits go to Kenny Rogers and Michael Sunday, and they are to be congratulated for the results they get, as are the musicians who accompany Harvey. The arrangements too are exactly in keeping with the rest of the production.
A fine example of the worth of the album is the opening track, To Make My Life Beautiful. Listen to the sound created between and underlying the song’s verses. Bet you’ve never heard anything quite like it before.
Asylum records, in the short time it has been in existence, has produced some of the best contemporary sounds currently available. The Eagles and Jo Jo Gunne received considerable acclaim last year, and the first album of the young singer/songwriter Jackson Browne was one of the best initial releases I’ve heard.
The second album of Batdorf & Rodney is on Asylum, and it is a great improvement on their first, released on another label. Their earlier effort suffered from a general lack of direction and control, faults that don’t appear on this recording. The mellow, joyful and beautifully delivered vocals of Mark Rodney combine well with the meaningful but never pretentious, lyrics of John Batdorf. The duo’s acoustic and electric guitar playing is at times stunning and throughout provides the perfect rhythmic accompaniment, expanding and illustrating the moods created by the songs stories and personal statements.
Of the nine compositions, including By Today, All I Need and Under Five are the most impressive, the rest being extremely listenable, but never quite reaching the heights achieved by those mentioned. The album as a complete entity though is a most invigorating experience, with Batdorf’s songwriting talents impressing from the first track to the last.
This collection of ten short stories were written by Roald Dahl after he had been transferred from active service in the RAF to the post of Assistant Air Attache in Washington in 1942. They originally appeared in a number of American magazines and later as a book, under the collective title of Over To You. This is the first time that they have been available in one edition in this country.
Dahl is probably best known for his two volumes of short stories that were published in the fifties, Someone Like You and Kiss Kiss. The central theme of these was a macabre one, with a controlled hysteria growing throughout them, till they eventually shocked the reader into the reality of the horrific conclusions. The spine-chilling effects they generally had, brought him much international acclaim. Since then he has written a number of children’s books.
I expected Over To You to consist of the type of tales I usually associate with Dahl, and was initially disappointed when I discovered that the book was subtitled ‘Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying’. But once I started reading them, I soon found that each was a form of nightmare, containing the twists and dark irony that make his other stories so surprising and readable.
Dahl’s successful style stems from his ability to draw the reader into the situations he is relating, making everything seem very real and plausible. This leaves one unprepared for the shocking revelations to come. His attention to detail and a fine use of dialogue also contributes to never allowing the stories to appear at all fantastic, despite the fact that they very often are. And as I said earlier it is only when one reaches the end that the reader realises how incredible the sequence of events has been.
The stories are all short and even a brief description of them may possibly spoil the enjoyment and iced thrills readers may derive from them. Suffice to say they are ideal for those who like their prose to be a little different.
No doubt about it, the Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las is one record that every lover of pop music should possess. And that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be a rock and roll intellectual to appreciate it. Amongst the twelve tracks included on the album are songs that are already legends in pop history, the best examples being Leader Of The Pack and Remember (Walking In The Sand). The former has just proved its worth for the second time by again making the top twenty, eight years after it originally appeared in the charts.
The main inspiration behind these recordings was Shadow Morton, who took the Shangri-Las up to the levels of success previously only reached by black vocal groups such as The Ronettes, The Crystals and The Chiffons. When Morton recorded these numbers it was still the single that was the backbone of the recording industry, whereas today it is the album. Subsequently it is unlikely that anyone will ever again reach the peaks of perfection Morton took the three minute single to. He made them within their own limitations, into a new art form, very much in keeping with the areas Andy Warhol has worked in.
The Shangri-La’s records were more than just songs — they were a form of theatre. A prominent feature of Morton’s production technique was the emphasis he placed on bringing out the tension and drama within the story-line of a song. This was achieved in a number of ways. To start with, there was always a strong melody and a well arranged two-part chorus. To this he would add sound effects, like the seagulls and rolling breakers on Remember or the thunder on Give Us Your Blessing, and because of the inventive way he utilised them, they would evoke a depth to the situation that is as near to theatre as can be. Also, by the use of monologues, which were pushed to the front of the recording, he helped involve the listener even further in the story. The result of this can be clearly seen on Leader Of The Pack, which also happens to be one of pop’s classic ‘death songs’.
Forgetting the technicalities and intricacies of the recordings, these tracks are as exciting and enjoyable as anything being produced today. Apart from the cuts already mentioned, other highlights of the album are Past, Present And Future, Out In The Streets, Give Him a Great Big Kiss and the absolutely incredible I Can Never Go Home Any More. Very reasonably priced at £1.35, I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
The record companies are certainly churning out some ‘class albums’ at present. In January the amazing first album of Bette Midler was issued. This month there are new releases from Ethel Merman and Laura Nyro. In March, Liza Minnelli’s Liza With A “Z” will be available, after the screening of her television spectacular, from which the recording comes. Even Mae West has an album scheduled, called Great Balls Of Fire. Also, in the first week of February, Barbra Streisand’s Live Concert At The Forum is being released.
This record is particularly interesting and very enjoyable for a variety of reasons. It is over fourteen months since her last album was released, and it’s a recording of the first live concert she has given in six years. Judging from the audience’s reaction, it is about time she started appearing more frequently on stage, not forgetting a few concerts In this country as well. The Forum concert happened in April of last year, and was a fund raising benefit for Senator George McGovern, who, as we all now know, later failed in his attempt for the presidency of the USA.
McGovern may have not made the White House, but Barbra undoubtedly succeeded in giving a great performance. Over half of the songs included have never been available on record by her before. Amongst these are a version of Didn’t We and melodies of Sing/Make Your Own Kind Of Music and Sweet Inspiration/Where you Lead. Of the songs we have previously been able to hear are On A Clear Day, Stoney End, and Happy Days Are Here Again, which all come over sounding remarkably fresh and exciting, especially the classic Streisand number People, which closed the show. Despite the familiarity of these songs, Barbra seems to put a more immediate, a more mature meaning into the lyrics, which fitted in well with the reasons for the concert. Her in-between-songs chats with the audience were very revealing, notably her progressive ideas on the legalisation of ’pot’.
It is hardly surprising that Live Concert At The Forum is high in the American album charts. The whole 45 minute recording is a very special kind of entertainment, from one of the few performers who justifiably deserve to be called a ’star’.
Life Goes On is the second album by Paul Williams, who seems determined to establish himself as a performer, as well as one of the most gifted songwriters around. William’s songs have given a large number of artists hit records, in particular The Carpenters, who shot up the charts when they recorded his We’ve Only just Begun.
His first release didn’t fare too well, as it suffered from most of the mistakes, namely over-indulgence, which usually effect the initial recording of songwriters turned performers. But his recent BBC2 In Concert appearance was a perfect showcase for his talents and has generally strengthened his reputation with his obvious ability to convey his own material as well as the others who use it. And Life Goes On is further proof that he now has everything very much together.
Paul has a warm, almost fragile voice, that at first reminds one of Nilsson, although repeated listenings soon obscure this similarity. And with his songs he diplays his mastery at writing romantic, yet never slushy, lyrics, as this album amply demonstrates.
During the last few years, a number of very talented singer/songwriters have emerged, such as Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro and Nilsson. Paul Williams justifiably is part of this growing number of lyricist/performers who between them are very much responsible for the improvements and developments in popular music. A nice new label for their music could be superpop.
The Stylistics seem to be every reviewer’s favourite group to put down, judging from the amount of bad press given to Stylistics 2. They have been accused of singing watered down soul music to attract a wider, less demanding audience, whilst others have said that they are just imitating Motown’s super-group, The Temptations.
Utter rubbish. The Stylistics have an extremely original style all of their own. An enormous amount of effort has gone into their harmony work which is amongst the most pleasing I’ve heard. The lead singer has a very distinctive voice, with a remarkable range. His phrasing is particularly good, as is the rest of the groups’. Also the type of soul music they are into is not meant to be of the ‘heavy’ variety. They’re into melodic, very rhythmic music that is a joy to hear when it is as good as this.
Included are their two latest hits, Peek-A-Boo and I’m Stone In Love With You, the latter being destined to be popular for some time to come. Their version of Carole King’s It’s Too Late is particularly memorable, as is the seven minute Child Of The Night.
Responsible for the outstanding production, orchestration and arrangements is Thom Bell, who’s almost symphonic use of strings fits in well with the group’s singing and the various moods the lyrics create.
In conclusion, Stylistics 2 is a fine example of one direction contemporary soul music is taking, without the pretentions many groups fall foul of.
SWING – The San Remo Strings — Tamla Motown STML 11216.
The San Remo Strings first attracted attention in this country when Festival Time became a much sought after single in the north of England. Subsequently it became a firm favourite in discotheques up there and eventually in clubs throughout the country.
I found Festival Time an interesting diversion from what one usually expects from Tamla Motown, and the follow-up, I’m Satisfied, was no less satisfying. Now Motown have released a whole album of the violin playing of the San Remo Strings, called Swing. And I’m afraid that this is where I lose interest. Whilst the occasional string arrangement of a Tamla classic is a worthwhile experiment, a collection of fourteen tracks isn’t, especially when some of them are only uninspired, wooden versions of ‘standards’ such as Ol’ Man River or Blueberry Hill.
Taken as a complete entity, as I think an album should be judged, Swing is little more than musak, of the type you can expect to find in any railway station, supermarket or bar. Save your money and wait until the new Gladys Knight & The Pips album is released.
One of the most important songwriting/production partnerships in contemporary commercial soul music is the teaming of the talents of Ken Gamble and Leon Huff. And their current, seemingly infallible formula for creating hit after hit isn’t something new. They have been responsible for a vast number of successful records during recent years.
Based in Philadelphia, Gamble and Huff are currently attempting to show the music scene, if not the world, the power and originality of vocal groups and musicians working and living in that city. And without a doubt, they are certainly proving their point, as each artist or group under their direction rockets up the album and singles chart.
Last year, the O’Jays scored an enormous hit with Back Stabbers. That cut was one of the best soul numbers to be issued in 1972, and it is bound to become an all-time soul classic. The strength behind the song was the inspired arrangements and production of Gamble and Huff.
During the last month, three albums by their artists have been released, each of them including at least one track that has either been or is a hit single. The first is 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. Me and Mrs Jones, a track taken from it, is at present in the top tens of both the UK and the States.
And the rest of the songs are all up to the standard of that number. Billy Paul has, like all Gamble and Huff artists, a very distinctive style. Add to this the adventurous arrangements and the amount of depth Paul puts into the lyrics, and you end up with a most inspired and stunning record. His version of Elton John’s Your Song is considered to be the best since the original was recorded.
The second album is by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. Gamble and Huff have been working with this group for fifteen years, which is quite an achievement when one considers the average length of time a performing unit stays together. The Blue Notes are also in the singles charts with If You Don’t Know Me By Now. Previously they had a smash with I Miss You, and the full 8 minute, 31 second version of it is included on the album. As with Billy Paul’s record, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes are consistently good throughout theirs, offering the listener a fine collection of layered vocal harmonies, with the inventiveness of the arrangements making the whole venture more than just another soul album.
Not quite so exciting, although this depends on individual tastes, is the recent album of Archie Bell & The Drells, called Here I Go Again. Like Billy Paul and the Blue Notes, Archie Bell has already had a hit with the title track of his record, but, for me, very few of the other cuts come near to being as good. It is only the arrangements and production that catch one’s attention, most of the tracks being ideal for discotheques but possibly have little appeal beyond that.
What does distinguish these three albums from the many others being issued, is the fact that Gamble and Huff produce a sound that is very much their own. It is as different to Muscle Shoals as it is to Tamla Motown, and bears no relation either to the production techniques of Isaac Hayes or the funk of Curtis Mayfield. Also the lyrics show a maturity that is rarely present in this type of music. Time will tell if they can keep this incredibly successful output up, but whether or not they can, for now ‘The Sound Of Philadelphia’ is a most welcome addition to the world of popular music.
One of my all-time favourites on disc is Dion. And his new labum, Suite For Late Summer, comes as a welcome release in chilly/cold/wet January.
Dion has been recording for quite some time now. His career began in the early sixties when he recorded monster hits such as Runaround Sue and The Wanderer. Later, after a label change, he followed his earlier successes with Ruby Baby.
After a period of chart inactivity, he scored heavily with Abraham, Martin and John, one of the most meaningful songs of 1968. During the same period he made the charts again with one of the best versions of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The last two songs mentioned appeared on the very neglected and underestimated album simply called Dion. (London SHP 8390). Another outstanding track on that record was The Dolphins, a simple but very moving song, written by Fred Neill, the composer of Everybody’s Talkin’.
Since 1970, Dion has released four consistently good albums for Warner Bros Records, which are very often beautiful, both lyrically and musically. Suite For Late Summer is the latest and is no less satisfying than his previous work. Dion’s songs are extremely personal. They delicately convey the thoughts and experiences he has recently gone through. Sometimes they are obviously painful memories, at other times they describe his great joy at being alive and free. There is a genuine sensitivity about the lyrics that never allows them to become emotionally tearful or embarrassingly self-conscious.
Suite For Late Summer is a rewarding addition to my collection of Dion albums. If you bother to hear it for yourselves, you’ll find that it’s an indispensible record for those ‘quiet moments’ when something relaxing but stimulating is called for.
James Brown rarely makes an unexciting album. But sometimes they are a little uneven, perhaps a trifle pretentious, and usually contain a track or two that’s already appeared on at least one other recording of his.
Brown’s latest release, a double set, is slightly more uneven than usual. Maybe it’s because he’s attempting to include too many of his numerous styles, resulting in four sides of music that are never quite one thing or another. The cuts that do come off, like the title track Get On The Good Foot, contain all the raw energy and pure funk expected from James Brown. Others, such as The Whole World Needs Liberation and Funky Side Of Town, also allow Brown’s magic to work perfectly, but the drawn out Recitation By Hank Ballard seems no more than an extended space filler, that succeeds in being both boring and rather childish.
Of the new versions of previously recorded material, Cold Sweat and Please, Please, Please make it, whilst the rest are best forgotten. Dirty Harri on side four is an instrumental, and to hazard a guess, I’d say it was Brown playing electric organ.
Priced at £3.90, I feel that the sales of this double album will be restricted to only the most devoted of James Brown’s followers. Discotheques though would do well to pick up on the best of the material included.
Completing Colin Wilson’s ‘murder trilogy’ is Order Of Assassins. The earlier two works were An Encyclopedia of Murder and A Casebook Of Murder. This new volume examines ‘motiveless’ murder, as opposed to the ones committed for economic, passionate or some other definable reason.
Wilson convincingly argues that ‘murder committed for its own sake’ is very much a phenomenon related to the individual’s lack of self-fulfillment and to frustration due to low self-esteem, as well as the obvious tendencies to space-age living to take away any possible ‘adventure’ out of life. The author believes that the ‘will-drive’ is the most important potential force in a man or woman and when this is frustrated it deprives the individual of needed self-expansion and drive.
He notes too that psychotic violence is swiftly becoming one of the most terrifying problems of our age. As the people of the ‘developed’ countries progress from the basic problems of having to gather in the material necessities of life, this leaves the average person with more time to explore his or her own areas of existence and development. To some, the lack of material problems, the banality of urban living, the need to create — amongst other functions – helps decidedly to turn some individuals into walking death machines, capable of the most horrific and violent crimes imaginable.
Wilson also argues that to describe, or categorise, tha deeds of the ‘Moors’ killer, Ian Brady, the novels and ‘fantasies’ of de Sade, as well as the Manson ‘family’ slayings, as being just sadistic, or fulfilling a sexual perversion, is to miss the point. It is in fact all too easy to dismiss these crimes with these labels. The author insists that these fantasies and murders are the perpetrator’s attempts at self-assertation, due – as said earlier – to the frustration of the ‘will-drive’. Whereas an artist can satisfy his/her inbuilt creativity by painting, this new type of killer has no such outlet. He/she is aware of their own ability to create – to assert – but cannot find the medium through which to express the ‘will-drive’.
Throughout the book, Wilson illustrates his arguments and ideas with numerous examples of ‘motiveless’ murder, each adding to the pattern of events which leads him to suppose that this problem needs serious investigating and re-thinking before society can attempt to check the growth of the ‘new assassins’.
An example of what I understand Wilson to be getting at is possibly what the alleged killer of Sarah Gibson, who was murdered at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London, last July, wrote anonymously to the police. He said: “I found a strange sense of power in depriving a body of life”. Surely a sex-killer would have just gloated over the sexual outrages he committed on the lifeless body. It seems as if the real motive for the unnecessary killing by the alleged murderer David Froom, was an act of self-assertion — a destructive act of creation to satisfy an inner craving.
Order Of Assassins is a powerfully relevant book by one of the most important ‘thinkers’ writing today. Colin Wilson’s message is more than just a warning, for it is also an indictment of twentieth century life and its lack of creative evolution.
The answer is certainly not what happened to the corpse of the rooftop gunman in New Orleans recently. After killing the assassin with armour piercing bullets, the lifeless body was riddled with more shells of the type mentioned for another three or four minutes, till it resembled a refugee from a butcher’s shop rather than a dead human being. The question is, why did this 23-year-old man invite death and why did he decide to kill as many others as possible before he met what almost certainly was his inevitable fate? ‘Motiveless’ murder?
This collection of horror/ghost stories certainly lives up to its description on the book’s cover.
And as the sub-title states, all the contents are set in, or connected to, Ireland. Also the contributors are either Irish or writers inspired by the supernatural in the ‘Emerald Isle’.
The tales range from traditional winter’s night ghost stories, through to macabre haunting terror produced by the pen of a writer such as H. P. Lovecraft. Magic, mystery and folklore also turn up amongst the 317 pages of the book.
In all there are 22 short stories. Amongst the writers contributing, apart from the one already mentioned, are Daniel Defoe, Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, William Hope Hodgson, Lady Wilde. W. B. Yeats and Ray Bradbury.
The Wild Night Company is an extremely fine collection for the connoisseur of horror, fantasy and the supernatural.
FELLINI’S ROMA — Directed by Federico Fellini. Starring Peter Gonzales, Fiona Florence. Distributed by United Artists. Cert ‘X’
As with The Clowns, Fellini continues his mock documentary technique with his latest full length film, Fellini’s Roma. And as he did with 8½, he uses his extraordinary visionary and stylistic skills to replace what can only be called a fantastic travelogue.
Rome – the city of illusions is, when seen through Fellini’s eyes, both timeless and immediate. The scenes of his early childhood and his growing obsession with Rome open the film which moves on to his arrival in that city at the beginning of Italy’s involvement in World War 2. This is the Rome of Mussolini and the Fascists, but by using ingenious intercutting, makes one notice that the swaggering fascists are not so very different from the brutal, mindless police who set upon a crowd of hippies in modern-day Rome later on in the Film.
The intercutting of scenes from both the past and present is continuous throughout the movie, from Fellini’s first memories and reactions to the city, up to his impressions of encroaching technology and its destructive/horrific effects and impersonality. Fellini’s swirling series of memory images is more than just a’reconstruction of events. The people – the Romans – are shown as we possibly have never seen them before. At all times they are boisterous, alive people, displaying an openness and awareness that is only limited by the ever-dominating power and influence of the Roman church.
Fellini, as usual, displays his hilarious sense of humour to the utmost. The centrepiece of the film is the high society Ecclesiastical Fashion Show – a nostalgic fantasy of an old world-weary princess, who manically craves for the high protocol and exclusive glittering customs of the past. This spectacular sequence has to be seen to be believed. The models show off the latest creations for priests, nuns and the rest of the Roman Church’s hierarchy by walking, swaying, hopping, cycling, roller-skating, etc around a horseshoe shaped platform. The rest of the fashions and the opulent, magnificent final scene of this sequence are better left for movie-goers to discover for themselves.
Fellini also creates a traffic jam, which is equal to anything previously staged in either Jacques Tati’s Traffic or Godard’s Weekend.
Other sequences which immediately spring to the mind of this reviewer, who has had his senses battered and dazed in the way he comes to expect with a Fellini film, are the showing of subway excavators unearthing beautiful, ancient frescoes which soon evaporate through contact with air; the reconstuction of Roman music-hall, and the bizarre meetings of the sexes in both seedy and luxurious whore-houses. And the Romans’ passion for constantly eating is displayed as funny and very human.
Peter Gonzales excellently plays the part of the young Fellini when he first arrives in Rome. Whilst the music of Nino Rota, once again, provides the perfect accompaniment to the moods and events portrayed.
Fellini’s Roma is more than just an enjoyable and successful film – it is a statement of Super Realism*, “where beauty and ugliness exist as absolute forms, without flaws.” It is also a chance for audiences to share the expanding and perceptive visions of an artist, through a mosaic of memory, actuality and imagination.
* John Calendo, Andy Warhol’s Interview, November 1972.
THE BUBBLE — Written, directed and produced by Arch Oboler. Starring Michael Cole, Deborah Walley and Johnny Desmond. Distributed by LMG. Cert ‘A’.
Sometimes gimmicks work, sometimes they don’t. The idea of 3D seemed a perfect one in the fifties for halting the decline in cinema audiences. But, as cinema historians will remember, 3D was a dismal failure. The special glasses needed to be worn were a nuisance and the films that were only partly produced in the new ‘wonder’ process ruined the continuity of the whole film. And in general, apart from one or two notable exceptions, ie House Of Wax, the gimmick was little more than a lot of spectacular advance publicity.
Despite the past, at the beginning of 1973, along comes Space-Vision. And this time the gimmick is far more than just a novelty, for this newly developed technique really adds another dimension to popular cinema, without the amateurishness and limitations of the earlier process. The vehicle to introduce Space-Vision is a science fiction film called The Bubble.
The story tells of a young married couple, Catherine (Deborah Walley) and Mark (Michael Cole). At the beginning of the film they are aboard a small plane that lands in what they and their pilot Tony (Johnny Desmond) suppose is a small outlying landing strip. The wife is prematurely in labour, thus the necessity to reach a town and find medical aid. After touching down they discover that they have in fact, landed in a deserted street. Mike, the husband, soon notices the oddness of the nearby town’s inhabitants and the strangely miscellaneous architecture as he wanders around whilst his wife is giving birth to their first child in the local hospital. And a few days later, Mike and Catherine, along with their baby and the pilot, Tony, discover that the town and the surrounding area is covered by an impenetrable transparent bubble. To tell you more of the story would spoil the twists and turns of the plot as well as giving a way the final outcome, to any of you who may go along to see the film for yourselves.
The film, despite the somewhat vague storyline at times and the often wooden acting, has a number of simple social messages to put across, similar to Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And The Bubble, considering the entertainment level it is working on, is fairly successful and frequently becomes quite exciting.
But it is the Space-Vision technique that makes the whole production such good entertainment. It’s a must for kids of course, and will also give much pleasure to those who are not averse to honest to goodness fun. Some of the effects are a bit corny now and again, as they nearly all were with 3D, but more often than not they are deservedly successful and at times quite amazing.
Objects really do appear to leave the screen and come gliding out into the auditorium. The audience still has to wear special viewing glasses, this supposedly accounts for the rise in seat prices for this film. The glasses though are not uncomfortable to wear, as the 3D ones were, and they are easy to slip on top of an ordinary pair of spectacles. Incidentally the use of the added dimension is continuous throughout the show.
The Bubble is a fun film with a message if you care to notice it. The movie is also a valid attempt to bring excitement and adventure back to the cinema. I am looking forward to seeing more films using the Space-Vision process in the future.
In 1972 it was undoubtedly David Bowie who came in first as far as the superstar stakes were concerned. Quite justifiably too. But even before this year is a month old, it looks very much like a very talented lauy called Bette Midler is going to be the sensation of this year, If not for some time to come.
Rumours have been crossing the Atlantic from the States for the past few months about Miss Midler, or the Devine Miss M, as she is better known nowadays. After having a part in the Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof, for three years, Miss Midler, originally from Hawaii, decided it was time to begin a solo career. Word soon got around about her after the success of her unusual singing debut at mens saunas in New York.
To quote her from a recent article in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, “The boys from the baths were the ones to give me the initial push … and they are still the foundation of my career.”
After a few television appearances, and a concert at Carnegie Hall, there was no looking back for Miss M.
Britain’s first taste of her is the recently released album The Devine Miss M. And it’s really pleasing to find that all the rumours were true.
She does at times sound a little like Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Laura Nyro, Janis Joplin and Barbra Streisand. In fact Miss Streisand should watch out, she has some competition now. But it’s Bette Midler’s own talent that makes her so remarkable.
The opening track of the album is Bobby Freeman’s pop classic Do You Wanna Dance. And what a performance she gives. Taken at a slightly slower pace than usual, she oozes a silken sensuality that is enough to make you purr. The next cut is a version of the Dixie Cup’s 60’s hit Chapel Of Love. With this song she puts the word camp on a completely new and exciting level. The other rock and roll track included is Leader Of The Pack, which doesn’t work quite as well, although it would probably come over better at a live performance.
The Carpenters’ hit Superstar is also on side one. The song is about adolescent misery, so Miss M becomes a teenager, full of pain and teen tears.
The outstanding track of the first side though Is Am I Blue, a smokey torch song from the 1930’s. On this she excells herself, capturing the essence of the song completely. It is clear by now that what is so amazing about Miss M is the immense range of material she uses, and everything her tonsils touch turns to gold.
On side two, she increases this wide range by including John Prine’s Hello In There, a song of middle-aged loneliness and heartache. And it isn’t just camp this time, Miss M really does become a sad, ageing Middle American, living in an empty, despairing world. Two tracks later she is into Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, sounding, through multi-tracking, like the Andrews Sisters of the 1940’s.
Bette Midler’s first album is an unqualified success. From beginning to end the professionalism she possesses and the impact of her innumerable styles spells STAR all the way through. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we have a chance of seeing Bette Midler in person, becoming what must be the first genuine cabaret superstar rock music has produced.
On Me And The First Lady, one of the first ladies of American country and western music, Tammy Wynette, is joined by her husband George jones. And there’s no need for me to explain what the message of the record is. The album’s title and songs, like We Believe In Each Other, You And Me Together and A Perfect Match, make it all too obvious.
Each and every album Tammy releases is a must for my record collection, and this one is no exception. But I think I perhaps enjoy her recordings for the wrong reasons. The slightly whining love stories about ever so conventional relationships often have me shrieking with laughter. They really can be hilarious, despite the fact that in the southern states of America, her fans take Tammy’s lyrics very seriously. If any of you can remember the context in which her songs were used in the film Five Easy Pieces, you’ll know precisely what I’m getting at.
Subsequently I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Me And The First Lady to anyone with a liking for country music and a sense of humour.
CLEAR SPOT – Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band – Reprise K54007.
Of all the rock groups currently recording, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band are possibly the most esoteric.
To underestimate the Captain, one could say his vocals and lyrics are bizarre, whilst the Magic Band have a most original style of playing, quite unlike anybody else.
I find this new album a lot easier than usual to come to terms with, although I’ve been nothing but amazed and delighted with the Captain’s music since I discovered his first album, Safe As Milk, way back in 1968.
This is one rock band I’ve never been able to turn anyone on to. You either accept the Captain and his band completely, or think anyone who does, even to the point of just listening to them is utterly insane and beyond all hope.
It’s all a matter of taste you see. To those who are unaware of the Captain’s charms, and are willing to take the risk of being initiated into the strange and weird world of Beefheart music, have a listen to the first track on side one, Low Yo Yo Stuff.
You’ll either be completely converted, or will avoid his recordings like the plague in future.
As the title of this album suggests, this is the third recording to be released by Loudon Wainwright III. Like Captain Beefheart, Loudon’s songs and style are very much an acquired taste, although his new record is exceedingly more accessible than his previous two outings for Atlantic Records.
There is a direct honesty about his lyrics that is hard to ignore. It is up to the individual listener whether they find Loudon’s world as fascinating as I do.
Unlike the sparse backings of Loudon’s earlier albums, on many of the tracks included here, he is joined by a group called White Cloud, who do much to expand the overall sound. Perhaps the more rock orientated backings will help capture the attention of those who found his past work limited.
But in the end the attraction of Loudon Wainwright is his words, and if you can get into those you’ll join the growing number of people realising the amount of talent this man possesses.
The first album releases from Tamla Motown this year are very excellent recordings by two extremely talented ladies. One is Valerie Simpson, the other is from Thelma Houston. Both are second album releases from the two ladies concerned, and it is interesting to note that both Valerie and Thelma had their initial recordings sadly neglected by the record buying public, despite rave reviews from rock critics and journalists.
Valerie Simpson, with her partner, Nickolas Ashford, started working for Tamla Motown just over five years ago as songwriters, following the success of their song Let’s Go Get Stoned when recorded by Ray Charles. During this period, Valerie and Nick have shown themselves to be one of the strongest songwriting/production teams working at Motown, with a string of hits, far too numerous to mention, to their credit.
In 1971, Valerie cut Exposed, her first album as a solo artist, and as I said before it received much critical acclaim, but created little or no reaction from the public. The release of this new record, simply titled Valerie Simpson, should replace the past neglect with justified praise and recognition of her and Nick’s combined talents.
One label that is being bandied about at present to describe Valerie is ‘the black Carole King’. There arc occasional similarities, but it is unjust to let this phrase mean much more than a reviewers dilemma to find an easy category to put this artist in. Valerie’s music stands up in its own right as being both original and attractively commercial, with depths of feeling that many other performers of contemporary soul could well do with.
As an introduction to Valerie’s album, have a listen to Fix It Alright which opens side one. You won’t be disappointed.
Thelma Houston’s first album was called Sunflower, and all but one of the songs were written by one of the most important songwriters around – Jim Webb. The other track was an amazingly soulful version of the Jagger/Richard composition Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Like Valerie Simpson’s Exposed album, Sunflower too was overlooked by most people. It has been re-released recently on the Probe label, and hopefully more people will listen to it now than they did before.
This new release of Thelma’s is her first for Mowest and is going to do a lot to get her the recognition she too rightly deserves. Included are fourteen songs which gives the listener ample opportunity to discover the full range of Thelma’s ability. Whilst each track has something to recommend it, the standout cuts are No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever, Nothing Left To Give, And I thought You Loved Me and I Ain’t That Easy To Lose. Also included is a very moving version of Me and Bobby McGee.
Thelma has a naturally funky voice that can be both powerful and tender, depending on the material she is singing. And like Valerie Simpson, Thelma Houston looks as if she will become one of the big names of 1973.
Earlier in his career, Tim Hardin was responsible for some of the most beautiful and stimulating songs to come out of the late 1960s.
Since then Hardin has never repeated the peaks he reached with songs like Don’t Make Promises, Reason to Believe and If I Were A Carpenter. And sadly his new album Painted Head isn’t going to renew the mass popularity he once enjoyed.
To start with, none of the ten songs on the record have been written by Hardin. A bad mistake for he has always been at his best when singing his own material. The unexciting middle of the road arrangements don’t help matters much either, and the at times excessive use of electric instruments arc completely out of keeping with Hardin’s vocal delivery and the moods he tries to create. Also the delicate phrasing that made songs of his like Misty Roses and It’ll Never Happen Again so enchanting, is replaced by a slurred and often dreary style.
Painted Head is, I’m afraid, a totally disappointing album. Perhaps he’ll get it together for his next release.
In the States Ken Loggins and Jim Messina’s second album is high in the charts. And a single taken from it, Your Mamma Don’t Dance is one of the top selling singles. Judging from the amount of air-plays this song is receiving on Radio 1 and 2, it looks as if it’s going to repeat its success over here.
That song, I must admit, is particularly attractive, and is a welcome replacement for some of the shoddy, uninspired records currently highly placed in our hit parade. But the rest of the album, whilst recognising their sheer professionalism and Messina’s excellence as a record producer, leaves me somewhat unsatisfied.
Technique and style are not, for me, enough to keep my interest for more than a few tracks. After a while I start to listen for something new and original. And I don’t find it on this album. The position of Your Mama Don’t Dance in the charts will no doubt be the deciding factor as to whether the album is commercially successful. I just wish the rest of the material was of that standard.
An Anthology, a double album set, featuring the guitar work of the late Duane Allman is a fitting memorial to one of the very best rock guitarists to emerge in recent years. Motorbike riding Duane died in October 1971, from the injuries he received when he swerved to avoid a lorry. It was a great loss, for he was just beginning to realise his own potential. Also, at the time of his death, his group, the Allman Brothers Band, were being recognised everywhere as outstanding musicians, the success of the groups albums clarifying their rise to fame.
Previously, he had spent many years as a session musician, Duane being one of the few white blues guitarists who could hold his own in the company of black musicians. He also played with Eric Clapton’s Derek and The Dominoes group. His slide guitar playing with them met with much acclaim.
The first three sides of An Anthology are taken up with tracing Duane’s career up until the time of the Allman Brothers Band. Side one opens up with an example of his playing with an earlier group of his called Hourglass. There is also a track from the solo album he tried to make but later abandoned. But the most important material is his work with artists such as Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Boz Scaggs and Wilson Pickett. Duane’s guitar on Pickett’s version of Hey Jude was one of the turning points in his career, as was his opportunity to record with Clapton’s Derek and The Dominoes. His time with Clapton is represented by Layla, one of the greatest rock recordings ever.
Side four of the anthology is a selection of tracks from the three albums by the Allman Brothers Band. Included is the group’s theme tune, Statesboro Blues. The side ends with a soft, sensitive cut, Little Martha, showing a side of Duane’s playing rarely heard.
Duane Allman’s untimely death was a terrible tragedy. It also robbed the world of one of rock music’s geniuses. At least we can remember his artistry, especially his slide guitar work, through records such as this and the other recordings he made during his short career.