John Martyn (1971 – 1975) So Far So Good (LP) Island Records 9484 (1977)

John Martyn

So Far So Good 

Island Records 9484

**** recommended

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Coming out of the innovative folk from the British Isles in the late 60s, this Scottish musician was perhaps the first white artist to sign with independent label Island Records.  This 1977 anthology houses cuts from the previous Island albums (1971 – 1975) and concludes with a rocking live cut from Martyn’s self-released classic Live at Leeds (1975).  Other than the instrumental “Glistening Glyndebourne,” the album features vocal cuts by Martyn.  Likely bassist Danny Thompson (Pentangle) plays on all the dates, two from 1975 also featuring guitarist Paul Kossoff.

This collection provides an excellent overview of the Island years and showcases Martyn’s skills as a songwriter and a guitarist. The cuts are all teasers, informing the listeners of the quality of this artist’s work, and likely causing most to seek out each and every one of these Martyn albums from Island Records.

— winch (author of

LINK TO SELLERS

so far so good LP

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Elliott Murphy (1976) Night Lights (LP) RCA (APL1-1318)

Elliott Murphy

 Night Lights 

1976

RCA (APL1-1318)

Produced by Steve Katz

*** noteworthy

This third long-player by Murphy is produced by Steve Katz (fresh from producing a string of Reed albums) and features Doug Yule (Velvet Underground), Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers) and Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), and on one cut a 4th-grade chorus.  It sounds very much like the arty side of mid 70s New York–perhaps a bit too much for many listeners–and appears to be heavily influenced by English artists such as Ian Hunter and David Bowie and especially by fellow East Coasters Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed.

Reportedly Murphy’s earlier albums show more of a Dylan influence, but the imprint still remains here, becoming clear on “Lady Stiletto” (which sounds like it must be about Patti Smith). While this album sounds more arty and urban than the following three artists, you can sense a connection with Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Waits, and Murphy perhaps helps shed some light on a bridge between Dylan and those three artists.

It’s easy to see why some were looking at Waits, Springsteen or Murphy as sort of the new Dylan. And these three clearly had more than that in common.  Their music was informed by American folk but clearly urban.  Each had released two albums that were praised by critics but ignored by the masses, and by 1976, all three had recently recorded a third album.  It’s also easy to see why Bruce and Tom eventually found much more success.


It’s also easy to see why folks today focus on other music from this specific time and place.

While Murphy picks some great influences, so many others from this setting were focused on creating something new–a brand-new sound rising from the corpses of the past. Most bands looked back to pre-Sgt. Pepper 1960s but also looked to create something all their own. And unlike Murphy, most were not introspective and arty.

In 1976, the Ramones released their first album, the Dictators had done that the year before, the Talking Heads were getting ready for 1977, Patti Smith was spitting about a “Piss Factory,” Blondie were doing their thing, and bands such as Suicide were clearly taking the past and making something new.
Of course, there was much more.
Finally in 1976, the parts of the world interested in the underground got a taste of what was going down on the east Coast when both the CBGB and At the Rat compilations were released. While the bands from these albums have been mostly ignored, many were clearly creating a sound that would influence every aspect of punk/independent/underground music.  And that music influenced everything else.


On the other hand, one can’t help but focus more at what was going down elsewhere on the east coast at this time, but his album by Murphy certainly has its moments, even if those moments often sound stolen.  You have to appreciate that he doesn’t hide his influences, with for example, vocal elements on “Lookin’ For A Hero” clearly coming from Velvet Underground (who had borrowed those elements themselves).
Likely folks will find this set fairly enjoyable or fairly annoying.

— winch: author of

 

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Shirley & Company (1975) Shame Shame Shame (LP) Vibration VI-128

Shirley & Company
Shame Shame Shame
Vibration VI-128
1975
Produced & Engineered by Sylvia

Recommended ****


The title track for this album wasn’t the first disco single, but it has a bit more bite than what we consider the other early entries in the disco category.  The New Orleans influence that shows on the vocal cut becomes especially clear on the instrumental version, with the horns helping punch the message home.  In fact, with the sax offering the voices, the sound echos back over the first half of the 20th century, from New Orleans and up to Memphis, branching out the sound to the big cities of the East Coast, and in the other direction reaching into those dinky studios of the black independent labels in the City of Angels, and the dim-lit bars of those seedy ghettos, the man with the horn sliding down the bar on his back with his sax shinning above him like a beacon. That sax blowing with the glow-in-the-dark paint job twirls the sound around the room until twenty years later, the squares of twirling come from the mirror ball.  Disco might have turned into something else once white folks discovered that it brought the people out of their shells and the cash dollars out of their pockets, but in the beginning disco was just an extension of all that had come before, dance music for down-and-out black folks, good-time music for trying times, and this single helps bridge the old good-time N’Orleans sound to the dance floors of the mid 70s.

This album also shows black gals from the 50s taking their rightful places in the music world, a realization of both the women’s lib and black-power movements.  Shirley Goodman had been part of the New Orleans duo Shirley & Lee, the pair hitting it big while they were still in their teens and releasing hits from the early 50s to the early 60s.  Meanwhile Sylvia Robinson had started recording as Little Sylvia when she was fourteen in 1950 and had been half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia, best known for their 1957 hit “Love is Strange” but recording into the mid 60s.

Shirley’s comeback is limited to this 1975 album, but Sylvia had been busy and successful for years, formed All Platinum Records in 1968 and offshoot Vibration Records soon after, returning her name to the top of the soul charts with the Vibration imprint’s first single: the 1973 waterbed-soul classic “Pillow Talk.”

While black business owners had changed music forever with their independent labels in the 40s and early 50s, it was an equal accomplishment to run a successful independent record company in the mid 70s, a time when the major labels successfully stomped most attempts at independence.  Here we see Sylvia helping to create the disco genre, and a few years later she’d help form Sugar Hill, the label perhaps most responsible for introducing rap to the world.

All this work of Sylvia deserves notice as an extension of the efforts of the black labels of decades earlier, ones that had been soon forgotten when independent labels run by white owners (Chess, Sun, and Atlantic) got most of the credit.  While many think of the punk movement as introducing independent music to the masses, black artists had been doing this for decades.  Sylvia deserves credit for bringing this practice to the public’s eye in the 70s, including with this hit record in 1975.

Because the set offers so many styles, it’s easy to miss the fact that this created a blueprint for many disco albums that followed.  One simply has to look at some of the highlights to recognize this fact.  “I Gotta Get Next To You” clearly helps bridge the waterbed soul of the early 70s to the numbers we’d soon hear offered by the stars of disco.  The number is grounded in the music of Issac Hayes but also foreshadows the music to come.  Sylvia’s “Cry Cry Cry,” stirs the waterbed soul of Al Green into a Caribbean rhythm, the instrumental version taking the mix into a island-flavored dance groove.  You can almost see the skirts swaying and taste the sweet syrup from the tall cool glass in her hand.  On cuts such as this, it’s interesting to hear Caribbean elements dominating the sound, as these island ingredients were important to the development of most American dance music.  While many of the elements here had fused in New Orleans many decades before, it’s interesting to hear these elements so clearly defined at this point before they’d all fuse once again to create the new sounds of the 1970s.  While the set offers variety, the feel-good vibe established on “Shame Shame Shame” at the beginning certainly runs through the entire album.  Some cuts are clearly stronger than others, but the stand-out cuts make this a recommended listen, essential for fans of disco.

Sylvia is the dominant songwriter of this set, but others contribute material: Donnie Elbert (one of the artists from All Platinum) contributes “Another Tear Will Fall,” and Ray, Goodman & Brown (aka the Moments) offer “I Gotta Get Next To You.”  Shirley and vocalist Jesus Alvarez also show up on several song credits.

— winch

Camel (1975) The Snow Goose (LP) Janus 7016

Camel
The Snow Goose
Janus 7016 (USA)
1975
noteworthy ***

UK prog outfit’s third album, an instrumental set based on a children’s book.  It sounded like an awful idea (and of course it’s only for fans of head-rock), but it ended up being Camel’s best album, and other than Bo Hannson’s take on Lord of the Rings, this is probably the most successful example of a progressive-rock outfit taking on a piece of literature.  In fact, this set might have been inspired by Hannson’s work as the two offerings have some things in common.
   
 This Camel album and Bo’s Lord of the Rings are both all instrumental, and both sets effectively capture the elements of a story with low-key instrumentation rather than going over the top for the sake of showing off.  Also, both are clearly English, focusing on a classical/rock sound, and it’s always nice to hear English outfits take a break from playing American R&B, West Indies music or Eastern-flavored junk, and focus on sounds closer to home.  It often comes across sounding less forced and more natural.
At times, the Pink Floyd influence becomes quite clear, specifically Floyd’s more reflective moments of the early 70s (Meddle & Atom Heart Mother).  At one point, they even lift part of “the Albatross,” but ultimately, this is its own bird, essential listening for fans of head rock.
— winch

Bob Dylan & the Band (1967) The Basement Tapes (LP) Columbia 33682 (1975)

Bob Dylan & the Band
The Basement Tapes
Columbia (33682)
Recorded 1967
Released 1975
Producers: Dylan & the Band
Rating: *** (Noteworthy)

Recorded 1967, released July 1975, reached #7 (#8 in the UK)

 


While considered a classic, even a masterpiece, this should have been distilled down to a two-sider–one side featuring cuts by the Band, the flipside with cuts by Dylan.  As it sits, this has too many annoying Dylan cuts.

— winch

Roxy Music: Siren (LP) 1975

Roxy Music
Siren
Atco 127 
1975
released October 1975 (US & UK), reached #50 (#4 in UK)
recommended ****

While Eno likely deserves more credit than given, considering he produced the essential albums by Devo and the Talking Heads, Roxy Music was able to stay strong after Eno split, something that even Eno himself admits.  Meanwhile, Ferry had already launched his solo career, but that doesn’t seem to distract his attention from this set.

 

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While many artists of the late ’70s foreshadow the ’80s (with of course, the previously mentioned Eno playing a big part), Roxy Music was creating the ’80s in the early ’70s.  This album, perhaps more than the previous albums, reveals this fact.

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While they’d been huge in their homeland since the beginning (with all five albums reaching the top 10), by this time, they had found an audience in the states.  This is also the time they decided it was time to call it quits.  Their last single (“Love is the Drug” from this set) was their first US hit.


— winch

http://www.eight-track.com

 

 

Roy Ayers Ubiquity (1975) A Tear to a Smile / Mystic Voyage

Roy Ayers Ubiquity
A Tear to a Smile

Polydor 6046
Produced by Roy Ayers
Arranged by William Allen

Noteworthy ***
1975

Most jazz/funk albums from this era ended up sounding forced and uninspired, commercial music patched together to make some bucks.  In contrast, this album sounds like Ayers was doing exactly what he wanted to do, and like he was doing it for all the right reasons.  The time and passion put into this clearly comes through the music.  Several cuts seem designed to go with the rhythm of the waves in a waterbed, and even much of the social-themed material has a sensual vibe.  While it’s a snap to spot influences, the music is completely Ayers.  The beginning and conclusion are especially strong, essential moments for fans of this group.  The lineup included Edwin Birdsong & Debbie Darby (vocals), Bernard Purdy (drums), and William Allen (bass, arp).  Allen and Ayers contribute most of the compositions.  
Roy Ayers Ubiquity
Mystic Voyage

Polydor 6057
Produced & Arranged by Roy Ayers

Recommended ****
1975

Ayers retains the Ubiquity moniker but pulls in quite a different line-up from A Tear to a Smile released earlier this same year.  The sounds of the albums are similar in many ways, both offering a variety of sounds and tempos, from full-fledged funk to jazz-influenced reflective numbers, but each album has its own sound.  This offers the reflection of the instrumental title track but has much more focus on the heavy thumping of the dancefloor funk. The changes in sound likely had a lot to do with the departure of William Allen, the bassist of the previous album who also arranged and wrote the majority of the cuts on that set.  While the funk of the previous seemed focused on the waterbed, this features plenty of numbers designed for the club.  If side one doesn’t grab you from the get-go, just flip her over.  If you have any doubts about Ayers delivering the funk, the proof comes to knock you out with the one-two punch of “Funky Motion” and “Spirit of the Doo Do.”  Both 1975 sets are recommended listens for fans of funk, but this one is essential for folks looking to get the party started.  This lineup included Calvin Brown (guitar), Chano O’Ferral (congas & bongos), and newcomers Byron Miller (bass), Chicas (vocals), and Ricky Lawson (drums).  Oddly the album doesn’t mention song credits.

— winch

(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

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