Listen to this track by East Village ’60s scenester and folk and folk-rock interpreter Karen Dalton. It’s “In My Own Dream”, a track as taken from her second, and last, album In My Own Time released in 1971.
That album title was apparently very apt for Dalton, who was never comfortable in a studio setting. In some ways, she was the polar opposite of all those artists who are creatures of the studio, trying to perfect a recording for posterity. Dalton wasn’t about posterity. She was about the performance in the moment, never to be repeated again. This proved to be pretty trying in the studio when she came to record, a place where multiple takes in order to find “the one” is the common goal.
But, what was clear was the power of her voice, a favourite on the scene when she traveled north from the sepia dust of Oklahoma, eventually to New York City like so many others. Where others were students of American folk traditions, reproducing their studied interpretations on the stages of Cafe Wha?, Gerde’s Folk City, The Gaslight, and many others, Dalton brought only her voice, her 12-string guitar, and her banjo. And that was more than enough. She was the real thing. No study necessary. Continue reading
Listen to this track by Mancunian post-punk trendsetters Joy Division. It’s “Transmission”, a single released in October of 1979 between their two sole albums as a seven inch on the Factory label. By the next year in December, it would be re-released as a twelve inch single, later to be celebrated in cover versions by bands from Low to Smashing Pumpkins, to Hot Chip.
By this time, the band had morphed from what they would describe themselves as an “undistinguished punk band” called Warsaw into one that would write a template for bands up until the present day. This would be a highlight in a small but vital body of work, cut short by the death of lead singer and lyricist Ian Curtis, himself something of an iconic figure for post-punk influenced acts, and certainly for frontmen looking beyond the standard shrill-voiced golden god variety.
Actually, this band would provide an example to succeeding ones in many ways beyond even that. They broke the rules of being a rock band. But more importantly, they wrote their own. Continue reading
Listen to this track by former Roxy Music member, producer, and ambient art rock forseer Brian Eno. It’s “St. Elmo’s Fire”, a song as featured on his landmark 1975 album Another Green World.
When not playing the songs on the album completely by himself, he is joined by some luminary musicians from the prog and art rock camp, including Robert Fripp (who plays the squiggly guitar break on this tune), John Cale, and Phil Collins of Genesis, one of the many bands to which Eno would lend his sought-after production skills.
Eno’s feel for texture in the producer’s seat would also inform this record, which was looked upon as a crossroads album away from rock songs, albeit ones with unexpected angles, and into a more experimental space where minimalist mood pieces were more central. This song is one of five out of fourteen that contains lyrics, for instance.
There is a lot of talk about experimentation when artists put out records that diverge from the pop song plot. But, the question in this case is, was the experiment a success? Continue reading
Listen to this track by former member of pub rockers The Motors and power pop proponent in his own right Bram Tchiakovsky, also the name of the band. It’s “Girl Of My Dreams”, a minor hit as featured on his 1979 solo album Strange Man, Changed Man.
The track scored attention on both sides of the Atlantic, with a sort of stylistic reversal at work. By that I mean that Bram Tchaikovsky was a British musician, playing American-style power pop, a style which had been influenced in turn by British musicians in the ’60s.
Influences in rock music had become pretty permeable by the end of the Seventies in that way, with an incredible and seemingly simultaneous shift back to the musical basics on both sides of the pond that made rock music so vital in the first place; hooks, lyrics that spoke to the experiences of an audience, and a simple is best approach to everything, from solos, to arrangements, to production.
All of that can be found here in this unassuming pop song. So where did it come from? Continue reading
Listen to this track by former Fairport Convention front and paragon of British folk-rock Sandy Denny. It’s “It’ll Take A Long Time”, the opening track to her 1972 album, Sandy, her second solo album.
This record would feature a few of her former bandmates in the Fairports and in Denny’s follow-up band Fotheringay, including her soon-to-be husband Trevor Lucas in the production chair, violinist Dave Swarbrick, and Richard Thompson (who you can hear very prominently on this track) on guitar. All of the mojo that everyone brought to those classic Fairports records of the late 1960s can be found here. Further still, we get Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel, adding mellifluous texture to this song in particular, and Allen Toussaint who served as an horn arranger elsewhere on the album. That’s quite a supporting cast!
But, no one outdoes Sandy Denny herself on this record which is quoted in many places as being her solo masterpiece. This is particularly true on this song, which has always been one of my favourites. Beyond Denny’s undeniable voice that seems to hold an ocean of feeling under each note as she sings it , there is a lot going on thematically in this song that reveals another of her skill sets.
Listen to this track by Bahamian soul-funkateers and pan-cultural stew-stirrers The Beginning Of The End. It’s their big international hit named after their hometown, “Funky Nassau” as taken from the 1971 album of the same name, Funky Nassau. The record came out on Alston Records, which was a subsidiary of a major label responsible for some of the greatest R&B ever laid down on wax – Atlantic.
The band is made up of the three Munnings brothers; Raphael “Ray” on organ and lead vocals, Roy on guitar, and Frank on drums. The line-up was filled out by Livingston Colebrook on second guitar, and Fred Henfield on bass, and with even more Munnings relatives on horns.
The result was a unit tight enough to reproduce the vital alchemy it takes to pull a tune like this off; a seamless groove with enough muscle to stand up to being taken apart, with each player getting a solo spot. And then, the whole thing comes back together again, as if to prove how durable that groove really is, as if for sheer, joyous, summery bravado.
But, how did Nassau get so funky anyway? Continue reading
Listen to this track by smooth pop-soul crooner with the sonorous baritone voice, Brook Benton. It’s “Rainy Night In Georgia”, his biggest hit and something of a return to the top ten for a stretch of time after his prime period from the early 1960s. It appears on the album Brook Benton Today, released in 1970.
The song was written by Tony Joe White in 1962 around the time that Brook Benton was having his greatest successes as a songwriter and singer with material of his own. The song is taken from White’s time as a truck driver for the highway department in the titular state, often finding himself working alone on lonely nights in the days before he found success as a songwriter and performer.
By the time Brook Benton recorded the song, he’d not had a hit for some time. But this one would take him to the top ten on both the pop charts as well as the R&B charts, and become one of his best-known songs.
This could be because of the supreme gravitas of what Benton brings to his performance with a signature baritone voice that blurs the lines between pop and soul. The emotional depth in his voice brings this song to life, suggesting a whole novel’s worth of drama underneath a nocturnal landscape of desolation, and raw human loneliness. And with that, it becomes something more than just a tale of one man’s lonely journey, and approaches something more universal. Continue reading