RECORDS - 50th Anniversary Round Up Vol 2

January 1974

Neil Young’s doing okay. While all of his erstwhile wooden shipmates have blatantly squandered their claim to the point, becoming bland and faceless and not even good enough at being pathetic anymore to keep their popularity from slipping, Neil just keeps scrubbling along, and not only is he not losing any fans, but the further all of us knee-trot into the dozy bog of the ‘70s the more he stands revealed as an artist who was truly ahead of his time.
Way back in 1966 on the first Buffalo Springfield album he was already singing about fainting in the backs of ambulances, which meant that he not only foretold Bloodrock and “Sister Morphine” by half a decade, but in his very first album painted himself in a charismatically gelatinous condition which Lou Reed would not hit on for years.
Ever bucking the conventional wisdom of the day, there was never no peace ‘n’ love for anomically stalwart Neil: he let Mustapha Crosby preach panaceas, and in Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush went about the unpretty thankless business of dealing with the real reality of the situation: shootin’ your baby, drowning her in quicksand dunes, wrathing it up at dirty plugnosed cracker plantation owners’ racism as only a true Canadian can apprehend it.
Neil always was every bit as good at conveying wretchedness as Melanie -- they sang in the same raggedy whipped-whelp quaver, except his was pallid where hers was gritty. But he surely made up for that with his guitar solos, which ranked with the most tortured safaris into improvisational self-abuse in all of musical history. There were times when you thought that Neil was going to literally yank the strings out by their roots and chuck ‘em up like steel tripe on the label for your perusal, but he just kept twitching and tearing away at ‘em for upwards of eight and nine minutes because he always knew better than to go whole-hog theatrical and completely blow such a sustained display of broken crankcase stopstart self-dissipating energy. And besides, just when you got tired of hearing him tear at ‘em that way he’d treat you to the rusty trademark off-key BRAAANNGGG chord that Neil’s never lost.
Good times were had by hosts, and even the progressive declension of talent and subject worthy of it which ravaged Sixties songsters these last few years failed to dim Nils’ -- I mean Neil’s -- wick. In the more recent phases of its maturity his compositional modi took on a breathtaking simplicity, a diagnostic location of genuine puerility in the most seemingly commonplace, even trite lines, as in “Heart of Gold’”s chorus and audacious rhyming of “I been to Hollywood/ I been to Redwood.”
Time Fades Away, far from legitimizing any cheap jokes at the expense of its title, proves simply that Neil is as adept as ever at providing the kind of aversion therapy that he’s just gotten better at all these years. His songs were always mostly despairing, gnarly and clinically passive, but this ‘un, recorded in concert before packed collegian houses round the land, makes a quantum leap in terms of the Young aesthetic by shifting the passivity from the subject matter to the actual physical execution of the lyrics, which in turn brings the listener into an even more intense and finally non-vicarious involvement with Young despair.
Instrumentally it’s no more plodding than any of its predecessors, nor are the vocals a whit more ragged, because Young’s solo albums have been so sloppy that no live performance could surpass them unless he resorted to playing guitar with his toenails. Neil’s jean-patch messiness is what makes him so real. Supplementing, of course, the studied torments of his words: “Fourteen junkies too weak to work/ One sells diamonds for what they’re worth/ Down on Pain Street, desperation lurks...”
He’s also up to more of his recent rhyming flourishes, as when he matches “school” with “golden rule.” That’s in a song called “Don’t Be Denied,” which is more or less his autobiography from infancy to the breakup of the Buffalo Springfield, and asserts that all that glitters isn’t gold in exactly those words like “Mr. Soul” never had to do.
The real cooker is all eight minutes of “Last Dance,” with Neil and the boys chopping at their frets and doing bondage numbers on their wrists and throats with their bass strings every inch of the way, all of which is merely garnish to the most advanced (in terms of his development) lyrics of the album: “You wake up in the mornin’/ And the sun’s comin’ up/ It’s been up for hours and hours and hours/ And hours and hours and hours/ It’s been up for hours and hours and hours/ And you light up the stove, and the coffee cup it’s hot/ And the orange juice is cold cold cold ... Monday Morning/ Wake up wake up wake up wake up/ It’s time to go to work/ You can live your life/ Making it happen/ Working on your own time/ Laid back and laughin’/ Oh no.”
I don’t care what happened last year; America’s gonna have to go some to top that one.

February 1974

Alice musta been on dope to make such a messed-up album. That’s the best excuse I can think of (being drunk don’t count anymore), and he sure needs an excuse from somewhere, because this is just bad, and not even bad enough to be interesting. I don’t like it one little bit, as Gilbert O’Sullivan said, and I sure do wish Alice would get down, No I don’t, I’m lying, ‘cause I know better, at this point there’s no reason for Alice to work very hard at anything, and since there was never much substance there in the first place it’s no wonder this band is turning to powdered milk. After all, what else you gonna feed all those dead babies? This one sounds like it was recorded in about two days of one or two takes apiece for the most part; in other words it’s sloppy enough and rattles its raunch half-heartedly, and you’re supposed to think this “unslickness” means the boys have cut back the Belasco flash and REALLY GOT INTO IT THIS TIME, but of course that’s just another hype because in spite of some promising if hackneyed song vehicles they can’t at any point get excited enough to do more than run thru their instrumental and vocal paces. I mean it’s really dead in its own amiable way. It’s like watching the absolute worst of Saturday morning cartoons, which is where this group belongs now anyway. There isn’t much real violence or sex, no threats or urgency or humanity, but everybody knew that a long time ago. Although on second listen there may be the usual clumsy attempt at some kinda thematic contrivance: you know they always take this shit outa movies they happened to be watching on teevee lately. It’s On Tire Town this time, they’re all swabs on leave in the big city, where they whore and get whored, winos spit on them, it’s a great life.
  There’s also a teenage lament just to keep the iron of their original single hit
in the fire, but this time it’s tedious enough to be insulting to any true puke. I mean everything he does is pandering, that’s his biggest talent, and great panderers aren’t easy to find. But this is just limp -- imagine this old drunk whining cutely about how being 15 was such a drag he ran in his room and started tryin’ to play his guitar but his old man hollered, “Turn that damn thing down,” does anybody really give a shit? Does this song answer anybody’s frustrations the way “I’m 18 “did? Hell no, ‘cause any brat knows that he doesn’t mean it when he says, “Why don’t you get away?” His hostility’s as phony as everything else, he’s still just a nice guy. You can’t even get mad at him, because you know he can’t even do a good burlesque anymore, he’s not even good enough to be broken or dissipated or pathetic. He’s nothing but a piece of Kleenex.
 — Wally Cleaver

February 1974

Poor John. When the Beatles broke up he was the only one of the dissipated Fab Four who put in a bid to be taken seriously as an artist who still believed in demons and was committed to reflecting the vile humours on tap in today’s world. And yet look who’s taken the most post-splinter abuse of any of them. Sure, he and Yoko have just kept making asses of themselves, and sure, his politics are crackerjack box top level, but still and all you have got to give the man one thing. He’s among those increasingly rare pop squackers (Lou Reed’s another) who, no matter what else you might be able to say about ‘em, is at least SINCERE. John still believes, and is still placing himself in some measure on the line.
That is what in one simultaneity makes him both one of our supreme artists and the most fascinating (next to Lou) example of total idiocy alive. He places himself out there, makes himself vulnerable with each embarrassing song; in fact, it’s their very embarrassingness that makes them so relatable -- someone’s gotta live out the idiocy of these times, after all, and most of these asshole popstars are too busy working to assure that they won’t be one dollop less enviably elegant than last year. It takes real courage to be a douche.
We shouldn’t in all fairness expect John Lennon to have anything new to say at all, we should rather judge him on how well he acquits himself on the stale ground he’s apportioned to himself. Mind Games is the best album any of the Beatles have released this year, and even if that ain’t saying much it’s at least reassuring that we always knew John was holding on to some of his talent and he’s just committed enough to bring this admittedly sometimes wheezy nag in under the wire.
You’ll certainly miss Elephant’s Memory when confronted with this Nonentoid Names studio band (Spinozza, Kellner, etc.), but still they perform with adequate emotion, which should suffice and even breathe you clear should you happen to listen to this right after being subjected to Ringo’s Shinola session.
As to the actual songs, you shouldn’t mind asking at all. The title cut is probably the catchiest, a haunting ballad yawp of dilating grandeur, even if the lyrics are the usual muzzy manifestoons: “We’re playing those mind games together ... Sonic kinds druid dudes lifting the veil ... Playing the mind guerilla...”
Now, you may see these lyrics as nothing more than cosmo-rev gruel strung between Grand Funk and Donovan, final proof of the total naive banality of John Lennon’s vaunted pamphleteering. But that would be taking a shortsighted and entirely too supercilious view. This ain’t Franz Fanon, it’s the same fat limey who sang “Twist & Shout,” and through his successive solo albums John’s always incredibly gauche topical toons have been undergoing a purgative loosening-up, which has now reached its final stages and the pinnacle of eloquence here, where he throws all those trite slogans around like dice, or like he was P.F. Sloan insteada Phil Ochs, which obviously can only be healthy for all concerned.
I think he really realizes at this point what meaningless gibberish all this is, and as a result he’s having fun with it and so are we. How else would you explain the Eric Burdonlike douchebag brilliance of “Only people know just how to change the world/ A million heads are better than one, so come on, get it on!/Now we are hipper we been thru the trip ... Make no mistake it’s our future we’re making, bake the cake and eat it too!”
More than any of the Beatles, you always knew that John Lennon really wanted to rock ‘n’ roll, and he’s still kicking the wall in his stocking feet. The album’s best moments occur when he crunches all this crimenently nutopian catarrh up in one big churning jumble of lights-out rave, like “Meat City,” which sounds like Jefferson Airplane if somebody doused ‘em with gasoline and struck a light. The other half of the songs are all about how much he loves Yoko again, and it’s not only that you don’t believe him so readily this time due to rumor and such, it’s also that there’s only so many ways you can declare your fascination with some other creep before both of you become plain burlesque, and the best moments in the Yoko songs occur when he takes the noodle reins in hand and makes them both look even more ludicrous: “From Liverpool to Tokyo/What a way to go/ From distant lands one woman one man ... 3000 miles over the ocean ... The twain shall meet...” Ah, another Eric Burdon reference, all right!
This album is firm evidence that John Lennon’s career can only prosper. He’s run the Leftoid gauntlet, and now he can venture out into the world and start a whole new cycle. Like back when he did “Yer Blues” I said to myself, “Yep, one of these days John Lennon’s just gonna end up blowing his brains out,” but I don’t believe that anymore. Because free of the Beatles’ lead weight it’s John’s peculiar genius to always shove himself teethfirst straight into the thick of whatever fashionable mental muddle he next sets his sights on, and when he gets there he never stops thrashing till he’s made a complete spectacle of himself, at which point this folly has worn out its usefulness, so he dumps it and moves on to something else. Which is the mark of a truly great man and artist. Nobody else except Lou has stuck out his gauntlet the way John has, and I sometimes wonder if anybody else who claimed to shake the planet in his time will still be doing it as tirelessly as he has for years since. He’s got the dignity of the most profound fools who ever lived.

10 CC
March 1974

Dear Kids,
I am fine. How are you? I hope you are fine. I am. They treat me good here. They say in a few weeks I might be allowed to use sharp things again. Until then, please excuse my writing this review in crayon. My doctor is really nice. He says that rock made me crazy. It made me deaf. It gave me rashes. It even used to drive me to perversion. I used to wait in the dark void of my home until I knew that no one was around. Then, secretly, I would rub my Joni Mitchell records against piles of Black Oak Arkansas albums ... just to see if they’d scream. There were other rites too repulsive to mention. Like listening to Carole King while almost fully awake and enjoying her! Thinking about Donovan in my spare time. Memorizing the lyrics to John Denver songs. Thank God the good nuns found me when they did. Around here they say it was one too many Tommy James singles that drove Charlie Manson into playing “You Bet Your Life” in earnest.
When the ambulance arrived I was sprawled on the living-room floor mumbling lewd remarks about Jerry Garcia and listening to the premiere album by an English group called 10 CC. The record is what did it. It’s probably the first rock elpee DESIGNED to make you Crazy by people who are ALREADY on their way to the laughing academy. Picture, if you will, me coming home (after picking up a new Bible and a box of Milk Duds) and innocently placing the record on my placid stereo turntable ... allowing the needle to drop into place and waiting ... WAITING FOR THE SOUNDS OF SWEET, LOVELY, DELIGHTFUL ROCK AND ROLL! Without warning, the tune “Rubber Bullets” came bounding at my ears. It sounded like the Beach Boys. It was mellow. Safe. Soft rock. And the lyrics? Why surely they’d be Beach Boys lyrics.
“I went to a party at the local county jail/All the cons were dancing and the band began to wail/ But the guys were indiscreet/ They were brawling in the street/ At the local dance at the local county jail.”
What? WHAAT?!
“Load up, load up, load up with rubber bullets/ I love to hear those convicts squeal/ It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real.”
I began to sweat. My ears. This couldn’t be right. I mean, the musicianship was too good, with moog and mellotrons zinging in the background and the vocal harmonies flawless. Those lyrics ... it had to be me. I listened to the next cut, a cabaret affair entitled “The Hospital Song.” “I’ve been out for hours/ When I come to I’ll wet my bed.”
“Jesus God,” I moaned as I suddenly realized the direction the song was taking. THE WHOLE: TUNE WAS ABOUT PISSING IN BED PANS! I was shaking. This wasn’t fair. The music was too good for the lyrics to be so off the wall. It was too incongruous a combination. I wasn’t used to subtle satire. I was used to slapstick like Slade and Uriah Heep. Unnerved, I listened to 10 CC take a swipe at the spiritualist groupies (“Ships Don’t Disappear in the Night”) via a chorus of “Poltergeists can be nice/ Better be nice to Vincent Price.” Awww, come on. My ears flared in pseudo-intellectual outrage as the British foursome delicately dismembered the Charles Atlas American dream: “Hands like hams/ Knees like trees ... /A girl on each shoulder/ And one in his pants.”
I tried to take my paralyzed mind off the sounds that filled the room. I tried thinking about Sonny and Cher ... Carly and James ... Kris and Rita ... Sacco and Vanzetti! It was no use. Then ... THEN the group launched into a fifties revival offering, “Oh Donna.”
“Oh Donna/ You make me stand up/ You make me sit down Donna/ Sit down Donna/ Sit down/ You make me stand up.” MY GOD! THIS WAS JUST AN INANE AS THE REAL THING!!!
They say by the time they got me to the home, my nose hairs had turned grey and I showed a marked affinity for any sentence with the word “Marat/Sade” in it. Oh God! When I think about how close I came ... Promise me one thing kids. Keep on listening to Frank Zappa. Listen to Purple. Neil Young. Bette Midler, Tull. ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU USE YOUR MIND!
I tell you, after being conditioned by rock not to use it for such a long time ... it’s scary when a record comes along that relies on your intellect to put lyrical pieces together. 10 CC is, dare I say it ... intelligent parody!!
THERE! THERE! NOW I’VE SAID IT!! Are you satisfied? You’ve got your review! Nurse. NURSE!! I’m ringing my buzzer, nurse. (They’re never around when you need them.) Nurse! Nur ... WHEN I COME TO I’LL WET MY BED, NURSE!!

June 1974

Right away I like this album. I like it because it’s Mott the Hoople, a band that could probably please me just by farting with the slightest degree of sincerity: After years of performing for an audience that almost seemed limited to those who already got their albums free, the situation is at last in the hands of the cash & carry crowd. Which is exactly where it should be. For the first time I don’t have to try and sell you on Mott the Hoople, and parties aren’t very much fun until somebody else shows up.
But this is also the first Mott album that they couldn’t make basically on their own time. It’s the first time that they’ve had to wrestle with the pressure of a demand for their product: recording deadlines, release dates that mechanically mesh with tour dates, having everybody from the janitor to the label president wondering where that next album is. Thinking three steps ahead of yourself is hard, a task made no easier when you’re also trying to work somebody new (guitarist Ariel Bender) into the present. Mott’s summation: crazed drive, riding the crests of energy waves. This might begin to explain why I get the feeling that The Hoople is the album where Mott’s stylization catches up with them. Nearly every song on it makes reference, if not to a specific song, then to a specific time period in the band’s multi-faced past. The crescendo effect on “Through the Looking Glass” is kissing-cousin close to “Hymn for the Dudes”; the piano/organ dominance of “Alice” seems to hark back to more Dylanesque days (and is a lyrical bedmate of Ian Hunter’s previous New York songs. “Angel of Eighth Avenue” and “Whizz Kid”); at first glance, “Trudi’s Song” seems like the ballad you’ll find once on every Mott album.
But this line of criticism holds water only for those who’ve been part of the battle long enough to be able to see the strategy. Which really only means that The Hoople is a summation of the last five years, one final glance back down the runway in recognition of the fact that they’ve taken past directions about as far as they could go. To the latecomers (i.e., the majority of the people who’ll buy this record) it’ll just seem like good music.
Even when you’ve accepted that, though, there are still songs that leap from the surroundings and take you by the throat. “Marionette” is yet another “stardom is pain” expostulation, but is certainly the best -- and hopefully the last -- word on the subject. You’ll be tempted to dub it “theatrical,” but it’s theatre like a horse stampede. It romps through its paces with both fists clenched -- “Don’t gamble with my life/Or you won’t live to do it twice” -- pushed till it dissolves, with some assistance from sax impresario Andrew Mackay (of the ever-popular and dangerous Roxy Music). But “Crash Street Kids” churns up the most maniacal electrothrust on the entire album, with Ariel Bender and drummer Buffin absolutely searing an intro that is nearly everything this or any other rock & roll band should be. I’m hoping it’s a harbinger of things to come.
Though the preoccupation of The Hoople is with themselves, in the midst of the mirror lies a pretty clear picture of English Rock, circa 1974. “Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” might sound like any other standard reenactment of past sweat ‘n’ glory, were it not for the band’s consistent personality imprint and a production that just gets better and better at giving an illusion of depth. “Pearl ‘n’ Roy” is infectious pub-stomp filtered through “See My Baby Jive” (with another tip o’ the hat to Mr. Mackay), but the definitive Anglopop knockout is “Roll Away the Stone.” Though it’s been slightly altered from its English hit version (Bender dubbed another guitar figure over Mick Ralphs’ original track, and for reasons known only to Ian Hunter the same was done with the girl’s voice in the bridge), but the effect is the same: You can dance to it, sing to it, or play imaginary SRO concerts to it. Knock yourself out; they do. The addition of Ariel Bender was an A-plus move, though undoubtedly more so than staunch Mick Ralphs fans will be able to admit at first. He’s undeniably an awkward guitarist, but his redemption lies in the fact that he’s not just playing a riff but straining for an idea. He may start out on wobbly legs, but he usually overtakes the idea just in time to make it work. He’ll probably come off even better given raunchier surroundings; his guitar has that crazed drive that should be riding the crest of wave after energy wave.
Even though there’s very little here that’s breathtakingly new, there’s even less that isn’t engaging enough to make that irrelevant. Once they’ve fully come to grips with their situation (as opposed to singing about coming to grips with it) -- and with the regenerative shot that Ariel Bender’s already beginning to provide -- you can bet that Mott the Hoople will give more heads the old 360-degree turnaround than even they’ve dreamed of. With the Hoople. They’ll have to settle for just being better than practically everybody else.

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