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In the middle of the road: Part 4

November 1st, 2007 4 comments

And more songs from the middle of the road, West Coast, yacht club and so on. Hold on before cutting your AOR Mix CD-R — the final installment of the series (for the time being) will run next week.

Average White Band – Atlantic Avenue.mp3
It has always tickled me that the Average White Band is known by the acronym AWB, which it shares with the South African white supremacist Nazi movement, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging — which doubtlessly would not approve of the band’s multi-racialism or black music influence. “Atlantic Avenue”, from 1979’s excellent Feel No Fret, is a great driving song (preferable over a member of the racist AWB), with its fantastic bassline, horn section, percussions and whistles. The vocals are great for singing along, especially the ad libbed “Oh-ooh-woah-oh-woh-woh-wouooh” before the backing singers repeat the sing title in falsetto.

Michael McDonald – I Keep Forgetting.mp3
Jens Lekman might remember Warren G and the sweet summer of 1993 (though I think it was in ’94); I remember Michael McDonald and the slightly crappy summer of 1982. Warren G and Nate Dogg pulled a masterstroke by sampling “I Keep Forgetting” on their “Regulate”, but the McDonald song remains superior, thanks to the man’s distinctive voice. The song is a cover of a Leiber & Stoller R&B composition, but McDonald very much makes it his own. The highpoint is his impassioned interpretation of the line “everytime you’re near”, which to me sounds influenced by the vocal stylings of the Four Tops’ Levy Stubbs.

Bob Seger – Against The Wind.mp3
Bob is one of the AOR gods, and “Against The Wind” shows why. The lovely keyboard solo at 2:45 with those great guitar chords, the lyrics about lost time…it’s quite perfect. And that line, “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” is simply fantastic. To me, this song is a companion piece to Springsteen’s “The River”.

Dan Fogelberg – Longer.mp3
Every AOR collection needs a couple of ballads. It might be Loggins & Messina’s “Danny’s Song” (perhaps next week). Or it could be “Longer” by the man with the rock ‘n rollest of names (there must be colleges where “fogelberging” was a euphemism for acts possibly banned in 23 states). Oh, but “Longer” is a very pretty song, with the little horn solo (is it a flugelhorn?) and the promise of everlasting love. Awwww!

Kansas – Carry On Wayward Son.mp3
I’ll be honest, I have no idea what the good gentlemen of Kansas looked like back in their day, but I should be very disappointed should I find out that there was even just a hint of hirsute deficiency. This is hair rock v1.0 — and much better than the coked up gimps in spandex tights who peddled their comedian music in v2.0 (yes, New Jersey hairspray goon, I mean you). “Carry On Wayward Son” has it all: the West Coast country-rock, the CocRock which anticipated the advent of Journey and Boston, folkish harmonies, the prog guitar solo which just demands that the listener go seriously crazy on that air guitar’s sorry ass…

America – Lonely People.mp3
America’s SoCal country rock is essential for the road (or the yacht, if one seeks to perpetuate the useless cliché). “Lonely People” has that wonderful moment just before the harmonica solo kicks as one the Americans issues the instruction: “Hit it”. I’ve uploaded it before. If you missed it the first time around, there’s more America here.

Linda Ronstadt – It’s So Easy.mp3
The queen of AOR returns with an upbeat country-rock number to offset the heaviness of our possibly very hirsute friends from Kansas. Ronstadt succeeded in translating her country roots into rock (as did the likes of the Eagles and Gram Parsons), thus helping diminish the stereotypes of country being by definition uncool — a definition informed by the caricature of yee-hawing good ole boys who bang their big-haired cousins on pooltables and cry when their doggy gone died. For that, thank you, Ms Ronstadt. Trivia fact: with “It’s So Easy” and “Blue Bayou”, Ronstadt was the first artist since the Beatles to have two simultaneous US top 5 hits.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way.mp3
The song for when “Longer” has run its course and you want to go folgelberging elsewhere. Apparently written by Lindsey Buckingham to Stevie Nicks (whom I’d have joyfully fogelberged back in the day) as a break-up song. His guitar solo and the harmonies are quite brilliant. The whole Rumours album is brilliant, in fact.

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In the middle of the road: Part 3

October 26th, 2007 3 comments

And more music from the middle of the road, the yacht club, the West Coast, the adult-orientated radio. More music to play while driving with the warm win in your hair.

Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper.mp3
Ah, that guitar riff. And the great drums in the outro! I imagine that this song would be one of the few in this series to unanimously pass the Taste Police test (perhaps because the Pixies ripped off the riff?). You can bet that this track will feature in many Halloween collections next week, which will be a spectacular piece of point-missing, akin to those clowns who play James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” at weddings because the title says “You’re beautiful” and the bride is, you know, beautiful. “The Reaper” is about love transcending death. And, FFS, it is not about suicide.

Asia – In The Heat Of The Moment.mp3
A fine example of Cocaine Rock, presaging the advent of Big Hair Rock. “Heat Of The Moment” came out in 1982. It was like punk never happened as a supergroup of hoary ’70s rockers from groups punk was supposed to kill — Yes, ELP, King Crimson — set the scene for the success and/or survival of all those acts that would proceed to populate crappy soundtrack albums.

Alessi – All For A Reason.mp3
One of the great telephone songs. I never know whether to laugh or cry when the girl hangs up on this guy pleading at her with such sincerity, and he goes “hello?…hello?” Which person who has experienced the pain of lost love cannot empathise with our hero, even if he comes across like a bit of a stalker? Still, it is sweetly pathetic that he still blabbers on about his love when “Ann” clearly is not only uninterested in his shtick, but is also very rude about it (possibly due to the time of night the drunk fool is calling her). For goodness’ sake, Ann, dude just hit you with a line like “can’t you see I’m just a man in love and it’s driving me insane”, and you put the phone down on him? What luxury, and how harsh! The song itself is a lovely slice of ’70s AOR, and far superior to the twin brothers’ big hit, “Oh Lori”. I tend to sequence “All For A Reason” with that other great telephone song by England Dan & John Ford Coley.

Eddie Rabbitt – Suspicions.mp3
A smooth country-rock classic to be filed alongside Rupert Holmes’ “Him”. I can’t say I know much of Eddie Rabbitt’s music (other than “I Love A Rainy Night”), but this song is great. It has a flute in it, so it has to be. Tim McGraw covered “Suspicions” on his latest album, doing a fine job. Poor Eddie had a tough time of it when his career began declining. First his little son died, and in 1998 Ed followed, of lung cancer, at the age of 56.

Jim Messina – Love Is Here.mp3
In a classic episode of The Simpsons, Lisa makes friends with a girl who eclipses all of her prodigious talents. Friendship turns to rivalry as Lisa feels as though she is living in Alison’s shadow. In one sequence, Lisa imagines herself on stage at a concert of the second bananas in famous duos,. including Garfunkel, Oates and Jim Messina. Stupendously funny though the gag is, it’s a little unfair on poor Messina. His 1979 Oasis album is far superior to anything Kenny Loggins has done. “Love Is Here” is a joyous ode to, well, finding love, scored by a bouncy sound Boz Scaggs would kill for, and a fantastic duel between guitar and saxophone.

Bobby Caldwell – What You Won’t Do For Love.mp3
When “What You Won’t Do For Love” first appeared in 1978, promotion for the song would show Caldwell only in silhouette to obscure the man’s race — it was as though if it became known that the cat was white, black radio would not play this soul-rock number. Whatever the case, this is one catchy toe-tapper with a great keyboard-, sax- and basslines, judicious use of Stax style strings, and a brilliant delivery. The song has been frequently covered and sampled, sometimes to good effect (Natalie Cole & Peabo Bryson), sometimes competently (Go West), sometimes uselessly (Boyz II Men), and sometimes weirdly (sampled in 2 Pac’s “Do For Love”).

Toto – Georgy Porgy.mp3
And another funky kinda song which combines the best of soul and AOR. The female backing vocals are Cheryl Lynn’s (she of “Got To Be Real”, possibly the greatest disco song ever). Everything works in this song; it’s as tight as spray-on jeans. Bobby Kimball sounds like Boz Scaggs (on whose albums Paich, Hungate and Pocarco played), allowing Lynn to steal the show. Which she does, and then some. And the ending to the song is just fantastic.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain.mp3
Put-downs have rarely come as good as this. The double-edged insult of being told: “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you” is like a slap in the face followed by a backhander. Carly Simon has never let on who the song addresses. As a consequence, fingers of suspicion have pointed at anyone Carly had had affairs with before its release in 1972: Warren Beatty, Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson and Mick Jagger (who does backing vocals on the track). Personally, I picture Beatty sauntering on to the yacht. Of course, the song needn’t be about anyone in particular…

The Eagles – I Can’t Tell You Why.mp3
Here’s a group due some rehabilitation. The legacy of the bloated and overplayed “Hotel California” has soiled the Eagles’ whole career. “I Can’t Tell You Why”, from their final studio album before hell froze over, is a tender song about a relationship hanging by the thinnest thread of love. Don Felder’s guitar solo that plays out the song is utterly lovely.

Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
This song makes me laugh. To begin with, it is entirely unrepresentative of Nazareth’s hard rock sound. The man’s hammy vocals sound like he had lost a bet to sing this. The Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris version is, of course, infinitely better. But that isn’t the point: the Nazareth version is a whole lotta overwrought fun. It was also brilliantly placed in one of my favourite movies, Dazed And Confused.

Journey – Wheel In The Sky.mp3
More CocRock! Released in 1978, “Wheel In The Sky” helped shape the template for all that rubbish radio rock of the ’80s, of which Journey and Steve Perry would become frequent perpetrators themselves. Oh, but what a great song this is.

In the middle of the road: Part 2

October 19th, 2007 7 comments

More music for long drives and such things.

Ace – How Long.mp3
I love the way this song begins. A bassline, then a discreet percussive beat, enter the guitar and launch straight into the chorus with its West Coast rock harmonies. Like Rupert Holmes in “Him”, the good woman at home has been cheating, and like Holmes, our man isn’t “as dumb as [he] seems”. He figured it out even without give-away cigarettes on the window sill. Except… “How Long” is actually about their former bassplayer who played with other bands, apparently. Maybe the callous-fingered cheat left his Marlboros on the wrong amplifier.

England Dan & John Ford Coley – I’d Really Like To See You Tonight.mp3
One of the definitive AOR driving tracks, thanks to its great chorus. It’s quite a sad song about a guy trying to hook up with an ex (or object of unrequited love, perhaps) whom he really misses. He just wants to meet her as a friend, and then proceeds to suggest a whole lot of romantic things to do. Sounds a bit pathetic, but it isn’t. England Dan (Seals) is the bother of Jim Seals in the next act.

Seals & Croft – Summer Breeze.mp3
Jim Seals and Dash Croft started their career as members of the Champs, a group that also included Glenn Campbell, and had a hit in 1958 with “Tequila” (yes, that “Tequila” song). By the time they recorded under their surnames Jim and Dash had dropped the faux-Latin novelty hits in favour of evocative country-rock. Fantastic as their original version of “Summer Breeze” is, the cover by the Isley Brothers a year later, with Ernie Isley’s superb guitar solo, is even better. Lyrics about metereological phenomena don’t get much better than this: “Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”

Rickie Lee Jones – Chuck E’s In Love.mp3
I think Rickie Lee Jones had one of the sexiest voices in pop, in a cute way. Rickie Lee Jones’ vocal performance, especially the way she toys with the vowels, is hugely appealing. I fall in love with her whenever I hear the “Look in the poolhall, is he there?” part. The lyrics of this song are quite wonderful, with that lovely denouement.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight.mp3
When singing along to this, can one do so without copying the singer’s accent? Uvraborday is executing rhythmic movements outdoors at night, apparently. Even the shortlived British outfit Toploader replicated the accent on their inferior cover version a few years ago. Unlike the cover, King Harvest’s 1973 version exudes joy and visions of a hippie party where nurborday’s wearing clothes.

Bob Seger – Night Moves.mp3
Poor man’s Springsteen, they called him. And, hey, he’s singing about riding in a ’60 Chevy. Seger has always been a bit underestimated. The man had some great tunes, especially his mid-tempo tracks and the occasional ballad. I can do without his rocking out stuff . “Night Moves” is a fine summer sex song, which really gets good when he goes all emotional with sexual nostalgia, then goes quietly reflective with just some soft acoustic guitar strumming, before the whole thing picks up to the great extended climax with the female backing singers urging the Night Moves and Bob riffing about memories and thunder and such things (yup, another metereological theme). Glorious.

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
A couple of years ago, Linda Ronstadt performed at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas when she praised Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. A shitstorm broke loose, with members of the audience exercising their right to free expression by booing the singer, throwing stuff at her and vandalising promotional material. Aladdin Hotel’s management then threw Ronstadt out of the hotel. Which isn’t very nice. She possibly sang “You’re No Good” at that concert (how’s that for a link?). It’s a very interesting song. Originally recorded by soul singer Betty Everett, it is heavily R&B-influenced (especially the backing vocals) yet still in the country-rock genre with guitars that sound like George Harrison’s on the White Album and Abbey Road, and strings which, during the long outro, borrow from Philly soul-disco. And it all comes together (geddit?) admirably.

Christopher Cross – Sailing.mp3
I suspect that having had a hit with the theme for the Dudley Moore rom-com Arthur killed Cross’ career. As fine a song as it was (it’s the one about the moon and New York City), it was hardly fashionable. Indeed, “Sailing” and the equally good “Ride Like The Wind” were not exactly hip either even when they came out. They were big hits, but they were not hip. I’m not sure whether the Taste Police would approve of “Sailing” even now. Well, it does have a great chorus, and the piano interlude at 2:44 is rather lovely. And, yes, the song actually is about sailing.

Boz Scaggs – Lowdown.mp3
A song to groove to. Try sitting still when “Lowdown” comes on, and try not to sing along when Scaggs goes “Low low low low loooow down” and then play the old air guitar with the solo that follows. A strange hybrid of a song that did well on pop, adult contemporary and black radio. The story goes that Scaggs declined to have “Lowdown” included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack: a triumph for artistic integrity, a Decca moment for Boz’s bank balance.

Peter Frampton – Baby, I Love Your Way.mp3
In 1976/77, Frampton was one of the biggest stars in the world. A couple of years later, our curly-haired pal was as unfashionable as John Travolta. Unlike the cardinal in the “Church” of Scientology, Frampton never became cool again. Frampton Comes Alive (in its time the best-selling live album of all time) is better than collective memory suggests. Recorded in San Francisco, it captures a great atmosphere. It is strange that rational people will claim to hate this song when they secretly love it. A scene in Hi Fidelity captures that attitude nicely: John Cusack’s character — doubtlessly a high-ranking member of the Taste Police, a colonel probably — professes to despise the song, until he hears a girl he likes sing it. He then loves it. Just cut out the middlewoman, dude.

Little River Band – The Night Owls.mp3
Earlier I uploaded an incorrectly filenamed track under this title. The tune is in fact Pablo Cruise’s “Whatcha Gonna Do” (1977). I’ve uploaded the correct file now. So, to avoid confusion, if you DLed Little River Band – The Night Owls.mp3, change the file name to the Pablo Cruise song. The real “Night Owls” is filenamed Little River Band – The Night Owls (halfhearteddude.blogspot.com).mp3 Sorry about the confusion…
Pablo Cruise – Whatcha Gonna Do.mp3 (rename incorrectly slugged file)

In the middle of the road: Part 1

October 12th, 2007 3 comments

I suppose one might label the songs that will populate this series as “Guilty Pleasures”. I have used the term myself, but actually object to the notion that one should feel embarrassed about enjoying music, even if our friends from the Taste Police might not approve of it. Far better than conceding a “delicious embarrassment” at enjoying the mid-tempo sounds of Boston or the Doobie Brothers, one should acknowledge that this is damn good stuff best played on the long road with the windows down as the wind blows through one’s hair. Embarrassment is for losers.

Player – Baby Come Back.mp3
The song which inspired this series. The chorus is utter genius, and listen to the bassline and that distinctive guitar part. But the best moment comes at 2:35 when the backing singer hits the falsetto in echo of the vocalist’s “nothing left for me”.

Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love.mp3
This song was written by the Ronald Reagan endorsing whiner Neil Young. I don’t remember him singing it, but it probably sucks (you may have noted that I’m not a huge admirer of Mr Young). In the hands of Nicolette Larson, however, it is a wonderful cruising song (I’m talking automobiles here, folks). It has a flute in it, which is all I ask of a song. Hell, Boney M could have placed a flute in “Hooray! Hooray! It’s A Holi-Holiday”, and I’d be uploading the bastard in tribute as we speak. Happily, Boney M didn’t and I don’t. Instead, this slice of MOR heaven from 1978. Nicolette Larson never enjoyed a great career, and died on 1997 at the age of 45.

Boston – More Than A Feeling.mp3
That riff surely is one of the most famous in rock history (are that handclaps in the background?). Amazingly, this was recorded in a home studio. Brad Delp’s soaring vocals as he sings “I see my Mary-Ann walking away” just before the guitar solo, at 2:18, the “slipped away” line (3:30) and then the long note at the end are quite stunning. Sadly Delp died earlier this year.

Ambrosia – Biggest Part Of Me.mp3
One of my happy songs. It is also one hell of a great love song. Another track with great vocals, and excellent harmonising. In fact, when a capella outfit Take 6 covered “Biggest Part Of Me” (changing the lyrics to turn it into a gospel number), they lifted the harmonies almost faithfully from the original.

Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years.mp3
The earliest song in the series, from 1972, kicks off with a killer guitar solo, races through the first verse, and then rocks a glorious sing-along solo. The piano on the track is quite wonderful.

Rupert Holmes – Him.mp3
If any song in this series could justify the “Guilty Pleasure” label, it is this. The lyrics are remarkably poor (“three is one too many of us”), and that opening gambit about cigarette brands is hilariously bad — but, by Jove, this song insidiously lodges itself into the listener’s ear. By the time Rupert launches into the “ooooh-hooo-hooo”, one involuntarily hooooos along.

Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes.mp3
Michael McDonald is not exactly the poster boy for hipness, and that dreary “On My Own” hit with Patti LaBelle didn’t help to compensate for the man’s rock dad beard. But the dude can sing. On “What A Fool Believes”, with its driving keyboard hook, McDonald delivers a vocal masterclass.

Bill LaBounty – Livin’ It Up.mp3
A lost classic. Bill LaBounty’s1982 track bounces gently along to a catchy keyboard groove until that wonderful chorus comes in, and one simply has to sing along with it. The lyrics are pure pathos, but, hey, who has not put on a facade of happiness to mask a broken heart?

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