“I’m twelve years old. It’s 1972 and there’s this band I keep hearing on the radio who can’t be the Beatles, because the Beatles broke up two years ago, but they sure sound like the Beatles. Bad-something. And then my friend Chris buys their latest single. It’s called Baby Blue, and it’s official. This band is called Badfinger. Maybe three years later, I’m finally buying albums on a regular basis, and one that I’m always looking for is Badfinger’s Straight Up (the one with Baby Blue on it). “Good luck finding that,” says a record store guy one day. “It’s impossible to find ever since Apple went under.” Which was not entirely accurate. I found Straight Up a few times over the years, used and stupidly expensive. Then finally, early-90s sometime, there it was at a flea market, cover a bit hacked but the vinyl itself looked okay. The weird thing is, the song that immediately grabbed then thirty-something me wasn’t Baby Blue, but Perfection. Solid sort of mid-tempo rock, with lyrics you actually heard: There’s no good revolution – just power changing hands – There is no straight solution – Except to understand. True enough and yet all too sad given the tragedies that tore Badfinger to pieces. All the more reason to keep playing the records, I guess.” (Philip Random)
Roberta Flack had a huge hit in 1972 with First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, a soft, deep, slow mover that was so good even twelve year old white bread suburban me couldn’t help but pay attention. Which is how I eventually ended up with Quiet Fire. Spotted maybe fifteen years later at a yard sale (hard to miss that hair on the cover). How could it not be worth twenty-five cents (or whatever)? But it wasn’t a slow mover that hooked me, it was lead-off track Go Up Moses, biblical, revolutionary and groovy, and co-written by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Pharaoh Must Go!” (Philip Random)
“My first encounter with Black Oak Arkansas came via late night TV when I was maybe fourteen. What struck me was A. the singer’s distinctly snarling vocals, and B. the band smashing all their gear at the end of the set. Imagine my surprise maybe twenty-five years later when I stumbled upon their first album and discovered they were actually a great, kick ass rawk band – working that zone where the redneck howl of Lynyrd Skynyrd met the deep, evil blues of Captain Beefheart, or perhaps Howling Wolf. And, it has to be said, David Lee Roth stole his entire look from Black Oak front man Jim Dandy.” (Philip Random)
War being one of those bands who sounded like no other, All Day Music (their second album without former front man Eric Burdon) being pumped full of the sort of grooves and melodies that could warm up any day. With Nappy Head a most effective re-purposing of the groove from big deal Burdon driven novelty hit Spill the Wine. The silly story gets dumped. The music truly breathes.
“In which T-Rex relax the groove a bit with an album cut that nevertheless sounds at least as big as its title. The album being Electric Warrior, and a gem it is from first note to final fade, cool and wild, and bubbling over with sensuous groove and delight. It even tastes good, I swear.” (Philip Random)
Ian and Sylvia being the Tysons (husband and wife) and that rarity among Canadian artists of their era – they made it before government-imposed radio play quotas became a thing. “Special thanks to my friend Andrew’s mom, because she was the only parent I knew who seemed to generally care about music, and thus had a few decent records. Nothing heavy mind you – just good solid easy-to-listen-to options like Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, Moody Blues, and more obscure stuff, which Andrew and I spent many hours exploring – both of us still young and fresh enough to dig something even if it wasn’t driven by heavy guitars and appeals to Satan.” (Philip Random)
If you were a little kid in the 1960s and early 1970s, your life was full of this kind of stuff. Various pop orchestras taking on the hits of the day, delivering mostly average versions. But every now and then, someone got it just right, like Roland Shaw, whose take on the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service theme is punchier, more revved up, better than the original in pretty much every way. The perfect soundtrack for bombing around on your banana bike, rooting out all the evil geniuses who were plotting world destruction from their suburban lairs two blocks over.
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.