Merry Melodies

THE DEVINE MISS MBette Midler – Atlantic K40453

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.

ME AND THE FIRST LADY – George Jones & Tammy Wynette – Epic 65347

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.

ALBUM III – Loudon Wainwright III – CBS 65238

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.

VALERIE SIMPSONTamla Motown STML 11219
THELMA HOUSTONMowest MWS 7003

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.

PAINTED HEAD – Tim Hardin – CBS 65209

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.

LOGGINS AND MESSINACBA 65194

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 – Duane Allman — Capricorn K67502.

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.

Between The Grooves

ROCK AND ROLL QUEEN – Mott The Hoople – Island ILPS 9215

Following the success of Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes hit single and the critical acclaim they received for their first CBS album, Island Records have issued a record made up of tracks from the four albums they recorded whilst on that label. Now who said anything about recording companies cashing in?

It is understandable why Island have released this album though. Firstly, the Motts never sold that well in the past, and this is the way that the company can try to recoup some of its losses. Secondly, now that a lot more interest is being shown in the group, many people who have only recently turned on to them may want to hear their previous efforts.

Some of the tracks included on this album are Rock and Roll Queen, the old Kinks hit You Really Got Me and Keep a Knockin’, all of which were very popular at the Mott’s live gigs over the last few years. In fact some of the tracks here are from tapes made of live performances.

In comparison to the Mott’s CBS album, this record doesn’t come off that well. No David Bowie for one thing. But many of the tracks radiate an energetic raviness that makes it fun to listen to if you play it loud enough. Basically though, Rock and Roll Queen is for newly acquired fanatical converts and the group’s new legion of groupies.

SECOND TAKE – The Searchers – RCA SF 8298

Pye Records have in their catalogue a record titled A Golden Hour With The Searchers, which contains all the tracks they were well known for, including all their hit singles from the group’s mass popularity days.

This RCA album also contains their hits, such as Sugar and Spice, Needles and Pins, and Sweets for my Sweet. But the songs have been re-recorded. Unfortunately the lead singer of the days when the group first released these big sellers, Tony Jackson, left them many years ago, and his voice is at times sadly lacking from these new recordings.

The present Searchers do their best though. Some cuts don’t equal the originals, despite better recording facilities, whilst others gain considerably from being re-recorded.

Generally a pleasant enough album. But it is only likely to attract those who remember the Searchers from their golden past.

ALL TIME GREATEST HITS – Tony Bennett – CBS 68200 (2 record set)

If you are an admirer of the silky, romantic voice of Tony Bennett and you don’t possess many of these tracks on other albums, this double set is very good value.

Reasonably priced at £2.99, you get twenty of the numbers Tony is best known and loved for. Included are I Left My Heart In San Fransisco, I Wanna Be Around, The Shadow Of Your Smile, Stranger In Paradise, Who Can I Turn To and For Once In My Life. Also there is his version of (Where Do I Begin) Love Story.

The tracks cover the twenty odd years Tony has been recording, and are an interesting way of hearing an artist’s development.

As I said before, this is great value for the lover of well-sung and arranged sentimental music, from a singer who has proved his worth over the years.

THERE IS SOME FUN GOING FORWARD – Various Artists – Dandelion 2485021

John Peel’s Dandelion label is alive and well and is still producing sounds from the outer limits of rock/pop/folk/weird music. This 99p sampler displays some of the talents currently recording for Dandelion and is a delightful collection of oddities and goodies.

If you want to hear examples of the work of Tractor, Medicine Head, Coxhill-Bedford Duo and Bridget St John then this record is for you. Even if you think you can live without knowing the wonders performed by these artists, give them a listen. You may be pleasantly surprised/amazed.

ALREADY HERE – Redbone – Epic EPC 65072

After having a couple of albums released in this country, Redbone finally broke through with their smash hit single Witch Queen of New Orleans.

Since then though, they haven’t managed to produce anything as popular, and this album isn’t going to help matters. It contains all the time worn musical cliches, with very little else. The songs are weak and the music is much the same as what they have produced before. Even the Red Indian rhythms they incorporate into their sound do hot help the album out of the depths of mediocrity. Their version of the Coasters classic Poison Ivy makes one yearns to hear the original, whilst the extended track that follows it is just long and boring.

Production is good, but with uninspired arrangements, light weight material and poorly delivered vocals, the album stands no chance of attracting anyone’s attention except their staunchest fans.

THE BEST OF OTIS REDDING – Atlantic K60016 (2 record set)

This double set of Otis Redding’s finest recording; is a must for any collector of soul music. And if, like me, you have only battered singles, and worn-out mono albums of Otis, this collection of twenty-five tracks is essential.

Otis’s untimely death robbed soul music of one of its greatest performers. Not only did he lay down some of the best music in this field, but also through his work, with brass sections, changed the whole concept of soul music. His influence also did much for rock, for as a direct result of his pioneering with the use of horns, many of the ideas he developed in his music, helped expand the range of rock and roll generally.

Otis died in 1967, so ooviously these recordings date back well into the 60’s, but despite their age they still sound as exciting, moving and original as they did when first released. You will see by looking at the album’s sleeve that this set really does contain the Best Of Otis Redding.

BEDTIME STORY — Tammy Wynette — Epic EPC 66186

Although extremely popular in the States, Tammy Wynette has only recently gained a wider audience here. The inclusion of some of her biggest US hits, such as Divorce and Stand By Your Man, on the soundtrack of the film ‘Five Easy Pieces’, helped considerably in bringing her to the attention of the public.

Tammy Wynette is the archetypal white female country and western singer, and this new album of hers. Bedtime Story, very much shows why. Most of the songs are of the sad, tearful variety, with a few numbers in a happier vein included for a little light relief.

This type of music is very much a matter of personal taste. So to those who are part of the growing number of devotees to C & W, Tammy’s singing is as good is ever, and there are some very fine snatches of steel guitar throughout the album.

PRIVATE PARTS – Peter Straker – RCA 8319

What may well prove to be one of the most important releases of 1972 is Private Parts by Peter Straker.

The term ‘concept album’ is an apt title to describe the record as a whole, for although the songs can be played separately they are all inter-related. The content of the album deals with, as the title suggests, the personal and intimate sides of life, and the awareness of someone coming to terms with their sexuality. Explicit references to bisexuality and impotence will add further to the controversy Private Parts is likely to cause. But the sincerity and openness with which the lyrics deal with these subjects can be seen as an example of the seriousness of the work.

Private Parts is not the sort of project you can classify or categorise. Musically the album draws from many styles, rock being the underlying factor, but the use of full scale orchestration takes it above the limits or classification of that genre.

The music and lyrics were written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley especially for Peter Straker, who they saw as the ideal choice for conveying the important relevance they feel the album will have. Ken and Alan who are highly professional and experienced writers in the pop world, have been responsible for a large number of hits. Recently Elvis Presley had considerable success with one of their songs. For them, Private Parts is a very personal statement and has been a venture they have been planning for some time.

Jamaican born Peter Straker had a much acclaimed starring part in the original London production of ‘Hair’. Since then he played one of the leading roles in the film ‘Boy Stroke Girl’, and earlier this year had a minor hit single. Peter incidentally will be performing the whole of the album live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 1st December. He will be accompanied by a forty piece orchestra and a choir.

Private Parts is much more than just another pop album. In a society where standards are continually changing and an individual’s morality depends more on that person’s insight, rather than accepted norms, the word content of this album becomes highly pertinent to those aware of the altering structures within their own lives. Peter Straker’s talents communicate the worth of the lyrics and in a world which often fears explicitness, it should not be difficult for many to realise the importance of this recording.

JOHN DAVID SOUTHER – Asylum SYL 9003

The newly formed American Asylum label has so far produced some of the best recordings of singer/songwriters and groups around at the moment. The most successful artists to date being Jackson Browne and The Eagles, John David Souther is the latest addition to this growing roster of extremely professional and developed performers.

Souther sings all his own material and plays guitar on most tracks. The songs and singing could be described as country/blues, with a fair amount of rock thrown in for good measure. That’s not really a classification, for attempted categorisation of the work of solo musician/composers is an injustice to the individuality of such artists.

Like the Jackson Browne album, this first album of Souther needs to be heard a number of times before its worth is apparent. That can be a disadvantage to an artist nowadays, particularly in an industry where new talents are having their records released fast and furiously by disc companies.

But if the initial attraction of Souther’s voice and gentle, thoughtful backing inspires you to buy the album, you will find that continued listenings will bring out the rewards.

TAKIN’ YOU THERE – Various Artists – Stax 2369008

Without a doubt the Stax Takin’ You There sampler is the best soul compilation album to come out this year. And priced as it is at 99p, it is also the best value.

Amongst the hit soul cuts included are Isaac Hayes Shaft, Frederick Knight’s I’ve Been Lonely For So Long, Jean Knight’s biggie from earlier this year, Mr Big Stuff, and the recent chart-buster In The Rain by The Dramatics. Other standouts are Rufus Thomas’s Funky Penguin. The Sould Children’s chart success Hearsay, the most underrated soul track of the year, I’ll Take You There by the Staple Singers and a funky reggae cut from William Bell titled Lonely For Your Love.

Of the other tracks Booker T & The MG’s Melting Pot, which opens side one, is guaranteed to get your feet tapping, if not dancing. Love Means by Carla Thomas is another great song, that should have received more attention than it did.

In all there are twelve excellent slices of contemporary soul. And at such a low selling price it is a must for collectors of good pop music and for the parties that’ll be happening in December and the New Year.

SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING — Mike Harrison — Island ILPS 9209

Smokestack Lightning is the second solo album of Mike Harrison, and is a vast improvement on his first.

Originally a founder member of Spooky Tooth — a sadly unerrated and missed, by some, rock group – Harrison should at long last get the recognition for the excellent rock and roll singer he is.

This album was recorded at the famous American Music Shoals Studios, and the use of that studio’s session musicians adds the sort of backing that is completely in sympathy with Harrison’s voice.

Side one contains four fairly lengthy tracks. The highlights being the old Fats Domino song What A Price and Joe Tex’s Wanna Be Free. But the outstanding cut of the album is the extended version of the classic blues number Smokestack Lightning.

Island Records (and Chris Blackwell’s) faith in Harrison has been instrumental in allowing him the chance of showing us what modern rocking and rolling is all about. They have been well repaid for their continued support of this fine, expanding talent.

RIVER DEEP MOUNTAIN HIGH – Ike & Tina Turner – A&M AMS 7039 (maxi-single)

Although I do not usually review singles, I think it is necessary to let you know that one of the all time classic pop cuts is available again. It is River Deep Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner. On the flip side are A Love Like Yours and Save The Last Dance For Me. No serious collector or lover of pop music should be without these tracks, especially the former. All three were produced by Phil Spector and all demonstrate the incredible ‘wall of sound’ that was so distinctive about the recordings he was involved in.

Ike and Tina Turner are still one of the most exciting acts around, but I doubt if they will ever equal the magnificence of River Deep and the other tracs recorded from their period of involvement with Phil Spector. It’s about time that the other Spector masterpieces of modern music were re-issued too.