In which Leonard Cohen weighs in on the stuff of love and confusion and those avalanches that sometimes cover one’s soul. We’ve all known them. In Philip Random’s case, there may well have been some LSD25 involved and yes, in fact, it eventually occurred to him that he hadn’t completely annihilated his ego, and that God Himself wasn’t singing to him from the far side of the room with a face as big as a fireplace. It was in fact a fireplace and a scratchy side of Leonard Cohen vinyl that someone had thoughtfully put on. And it was good.
The clichéd take on Cat Stevens is that he was a hippie singer songwriter type who lost his nut somewhere along the line and suddenly decided Allah was Great and death to the infidels (or whatever). Which is mostly wrong. And rather completely misses the point that, even with all the MOR hippie hits (most of which weren’t really that bad), he could still genuinely surprise on occasion. Case in point, Bitterblue, particularly the guitar bit near the beginning, when it suddenly kicks from standard strumming into an almost mystical overdrive. Allah be praised.
In which David Bowie, on the cusp of mega icon-dom himself, gives credit where it’s due, though apparently Andy Warhol didn’t much care for the song himself. Neither did Philip Random’s musician friend Tim, who took issue with the lyrics. “Trying a bit too hard, don’t you think? But man, that guitar riff’s a killer!”
Jim Morrison was already dead by the time the Doors released LA Woman (or he’d successfully disappeared, left it all behind). Either way, it’s exactly the kind of album every dead (or merely gone) poet-sexgod-asshole-brilliant rockstar should leave in his wake, loaded with grit, shadow, mystery, kickass music.
“Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) serves up some genuinely weird gumbo with one of those songs that sound exactly like what they’re about, not that I’m remotely clear what this is about. Except how could it not be about great primordial swamps, and heat, and weird stews laced with certain medicinal ingredients, which thus take one well beyond normal notions of space, time, meaning, unmeaning. From 1971’s The Sun Moon + Herbs, one of those albums that’s always existed way outside of time, both backward looking and still lightyears beyond any now that’s ever been. I’d call it beautiful but that would just confuse things.” (Philip Random)
Leon Russell, everybody’s favourite underappreciated genius of the past fifty years, takes Bob Dylan’s surrealized hymn to ongoing apocalypse and renders it soulfully, gospelly, funkily (almost) fun. So much so that Dylan would be following that road himself in a few years … but first he’d have to find himself some Jesus.
John Kongos, who isn’t known for much else, loops up some genuine African drumming (way before it was the thing to do) lays a groovy pop song on top and cracks the British Top 5 at a time (1971) when that was simply not an easy thing to do. Philip Random recalls first hearing it on his second trip to Britain. “Mid-90s. well on my way to getting drunk at a very old pub in Nottingham. My immediate thought was wow, somebody’s done a helluva job with that Happy Mondays song. Of course, I had it backwards.”
“Delaney and Bonnie (Bramlett) and Friends (Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Duane Allman, among others) cut loose with exactly the kind of raw, unpolished sort of stuff you needed after a decade like the 1960s – so many young minds burned, souls stretched thin. Not that I was on that particular track myself at the time. I wasn’t even twelve yet. But I’d get there eventually, crashlanding from my own weird and wild early adult adventures, and then somebody put on precisely the right album.” (Philip Random)
Wherein the Poppy Family prove that sometimes nothing’s darker than a light touch, nothing’s heavier than a deft piece of fluff. Oft heard in the pop radio mix of 1971-72, a time when the afterglow of the 1960s was still very much in shiny, happy evidence. But you know what they say about stuff that glows — it also casts shadows.