Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez

July 23, 2010

Joan Baez was a seminal figure during the early ’60s folk revival movement in the United States. She burst upon the national scene as a result of her performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. Her first three albums, Joan Baez, Joan Baez Vol. 2, and Joan Baez In Concert all received gold record awards for sales.

She would help introduce Bob Dylan to the world through the interpretation of many of his songs. She performed at Woodstock and is still active over a half century into her career.

Today she is also known for her relentless social activism. She has constantly crisscrossed the nation in support of civil rights, her anti-war beliefs, and environmental issues.

Her ’60s material revolved around traditional folk songs. As the ’70s progressed her sound became slicker and more polished. What did remain was one of the purest voices in music. Her angelic and clear soprano vocals remained a formidable instrument.

The mid to late ’70s would find her releasing a series of excellent and well received albums. The live From Every Stage, Gulf Winds, Blowin’ Away, and Honest Lullaby all had strong points as they fused pop and folk music. None of these releases would be as good as the 1975 album which preceded them.

Diamonds & Rust is not only the best album in her vast catalogue but remains one of the better folk-oriented releases of the decade. Its beauty and intimacy makes it an album I still play with a degree of regularity.

Joan Baez was mainly an interpreter of other artists’ compositions but here she stepped forward and wrote four of the tracks herself. Her title track is practically worth the price of the album alone. It revolves around a phone call from an old lover which takes her ten years back in time. Her poignant imagery is so clear I can virtually see her cold breath hanging in the air.

There are a number of other delights to be found here. Her take of Jackson Browne’s “Fountain Of Sorrow” is impeccable. She mimics Dylan perfectly on “Simple Twist Of Fate.” Her own compositions, “Children and All That Jazz” and “Winds Of Old Days,” continue to demonstrate just how good a songwriter she can be when she puts her mind to it. She reaches back in time for a wonderful medley of “ I Dream Of Jeannie/Danny Boy.” She even manages to pull off the Allman Brothers tune “Blue Sky.”

Diamonds & Rust is an album of depth and conviction. It was a rare release where she took a break from her political agenda and the results were some of the best of her career. To understand Joan Baez, any of her early albums will do. To appreciate Joan Baez, this is the place to start.

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L.A. Woman by The Doors

July 23, 2010

The Doors released their sixth studio album during April of 1971. Less than three months later Jim Morrison was dead bringing to a close one of the most powerful and creative careers in the history of American rock ‘n’ roll. The remaining members would carry on for a spell, but the band would be a shell of its former self.

L.A. Woman builds upon the foundation established by Morrison Hotel. It may be a little slicker and polished in places but the quality is about the same which is consistently excellent. It also has an ominous and moody feeling which dominates the release. The album would be a commercial and critical success. It would become their best selling album since their debut.Rolling Stone Magazine would rank it among their 500 greatest albums of all time.

The album produced two hit singles which perfectly summed up both sides of The Doors. “Love Her Madly” has a nice melodic flavor centered around Manzarek’s keyboards. According to Robbie Kriegerr, “Riders On The Storm” was the last song Jim Morrison recorded. If that is true, he went out on a high note as it was issued as a single after his death. The album cut clocked in at just over seven minutes and takes the listener on a journey, complete with sound effects, through the darker side of The Doors music. The song entered The Grammy Hall Of Fame during 2009.

“The Changling” was a good album opener as Morrison just howls. “Been Down So Long” contains some nice slide guitar by Krieger and the addition of an in studio bass player gives the track a full sound. “L’America” may not totally fit in with the rest of the music as it has a more psychedelic feel but it does have a nice spooky sound. It was nice to hear The Doors interpret John Lee Hooker’s blues classic “Crawling Country Snake” “Hyacinth House” was one of the saddest tracks Jim Morrison and The Doors would record.

The title track, at just about eight minutes, was one of those grand opus’ The Doors were so good at producing. It was a total group effort as the instrumentals by Krieger, Manzarek, and Desmore are all excellent. Morrison’s lyrics make sense as he takes you along for a wild ride after dark.

“L.A. Woman” was the final chapter of Jim Morrison’s recording career. It began with “Break On Through” and several years later ended with “Riders On The Storm.” In between those two tracks resides one of the best catalogues in American rock.

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Ballads Of The Green Berets by Sgt. Barry Sadler

July 23, 2010

A couple of days ago I reviewed Eve Of Destruction by Barry McGuire which was one of the great protest songs and albums of the sixties. I feel it only fair that the other side of the issue be presented which brings us to S Sgt. Barry Sadler and his Ballads Of The Green Berets.

There were hundreds of anti-war protest songs created during the sixties and many went on to fame and fortune. Pro Vietnam war songs were few and far in between. Rarer still was the commercially successful patriotic song. Barry Sadler’s “Ballad Of The Green Berets” was the most successful song of this type as it topped The American singles charts for five weeks during 1966. The album of the same name would be one of the fastest selling in the RCA label’s history at the time reaching the million mark within the first month of its release.

Barry Sadler was a Green Beret who was wounded in Vietnam. While he was a limited vocalist, his songs of the war resonated within The United States. They initiated a pride for the men and women serving in the armed services. His appearance on The Ed Sullivan show was watched by millions of Americans.

Ballads Of The Green Berets is an album frozen in time as it reflects an era. It received a lot of criticism from the left at the time but today has settled into a well respected and poignant artifact of its time period.

The memorable title song of sacrifice and passing the torch to his son is still an effective listen. “Letter From Vietnam,” “Badge Of Courage,” “Trooper’s Lament,” and “I’m Watching The Raindrops Fall” all continue his story telling style. His “Salute To The Nurses” was a rare acknowledgment of the women who were serving in the war. He even exhibits some humor with his amusing “Garet Trooper.” CD reissues include his only other top thirty single, “The A-Team” which fits in well.

Sadler quickly disappeared from the music scene. He achieved some success with his series of Casca books about an immortal soldier. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter during the seventies. During 1988, while in Guatemala City, he was shot in the head under circumstances which have never been fully explained. He would never recover from this attack and would die about a year later at the age of 48.

Barry Sadler’s legacy is creating one the most popular patriotic albums in music history. It may seem dated today but during the mid-sixties it spoke to a large segment of America’s population.

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Ooby Dooby 45 by Roy Orbison

July 22, 2010

“Ooby Dooby” was Roy Orbison’s only chart hit for the Sun Label. It reached number 59 during the summer of 1959. It was actually a re-recording of the song which was originally released by him in 1956 on the Je-Wel label which is an extremely rare 45.

Orbison was still basically a rockabilly singer at this point in his career. The voice is instantly recognizable but his sound is still in its developmental stage.

There is always something nice and comforting about these old Sun 45’s. The label was a training ground for such artists as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It was also the beginning of Roy Orbison’s career which would lead to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Baby Talk 45 by Jan & Dean

July 20, 2010

Jan & Dean are best remembered today for their series of surf and car hits issued during the early and mid sixties. Songs such as “Surf City,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Honolulu Lulu,” “Sidewalk Surfin'” and “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” received massive radio airplay and sold millions of copies.

The duo had a series of pre-surf hits during 1959 and 1960. The first two featured Arnie Ginsburg. In 1959 Jan & Arnie released “Baby Talk” on the Dore label. It would quickly be changed to Jan & Dean. The Arnie version is very rare and worth hundreds of dollars.

“Baby Talk” became a big hit and reaching number ten on the American singles charts.

The song is somewhere between doo-wop and a novelty song. It remains a catchy, if simplistic, memory from the late fifties.

Jan Berry would go on to become a producer who could mold his and Dean’s voice into a virtual choir. “Baby Talk” remains his somwhat forgotten training ground.

Talk To Me Baby 45 by Annette

July 20, 2010

Annette Funnicello was a big teen star in 1960. Her time on The Mickey Mouse Club had made her a heart throb to a generation of baby boom boys. Beginning in 1963 she would go on to star in a series of BEACH PARTY movies.

Paul Anka was likewise a huge star. His 1959 hit “Lonely Boy” had topped the American singles charts for 4 weeks. “Put Your head On My Shoulder” (released 1959) and “Puppy Love” (released 1960) had both reached number two.

I seem to remember that they dated for a very short time but no matter. He wrote the song “Talk To Me Baby for Annette. So what happened when these two superstars of the late fifties worked together? Not much as the song stalled at number 92.

We are left with this old picture sleeve with the young Annette and Anka appearing intently into music history.

Help Me Rhonda 45 by The Beach Boys

July 20, 2010

Al Jardine’s finest hour.

The Beach Boys had 59 songs reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE top 100 singles charts but only four reached number one.

“Help Me Rhonda” reached the top spot for two weeks during April of 1965. It was originally issued in a far different form on their BEACH BOYS TODAY album. The single version was re-recorded with classic Beach Boys soaring harmonies. It remains one of the signature Beach Boys releases and one of the few to feature Al Jardines lead vocal.

Morrison Hotel by The Doors

July 19, 2010

“I woke up this morning and got myself a beer,” and with those lyrics, The Doors were off and running with one of the best albums of their career.

The Doors released their fifth studio album during February of 1970. Morrison Hotel and the album which followed, L. A. Woman, would be the culmination of their career.

Robbie Krieger was the primary creative force behind their last album,The Soft Parade, but now Jim Morrison stepped to the forefront again. His fusion of a blues/hard rock sound with his poetry opened a new chapter in the band’s career. The album was a critical and commercial success. Despite not containing any huge hit singles, it still reached number four on the American charts.

This is an album that just makes sense and hangs together well. I was working for my college radio station when it was released and remember many of the songs being in heavy rotation. My personal copy received a lot of play on my turn table at the time, and I still give it a spin every now and then. Forty years has not lessened the enjoyment or impact of this release.

“Roadhouse Blues” is the first track and sets the tone for the album. It is straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. Lonnie Mack was the bassist but also played the sophisticated lead guitar runs even though he was unaccredited in the album notes. The final track, “Maggie M’Gill,” is a fine blues rocker and is a nice bookend for the album. There was also a lot of good material in between these two rocking tracks.

I don’t know why “Waiting For The Sun” was left off the prior album of the same name, but this slowing building track is excellent. “Peace Frog” with its social commentary and wah-wah guitar intro is one of the classics in the Doors’ catalogue. It also segues into “Blue Sunday,” which is a nice change of pace.

There are a number of other very good to excellent tracks. “Queen Of The Highway” was a rocking tribute to girlfriend Pamela Courson. “Indian Summer” has a simplistic beauty. “Ship Of Fools” has a wonderful soulful vocal by Morrison. “You Make Me Real” may be filler but it is superior filler.

Morrison Hotel is raunchy, energetic, and explosive. It is bar band music at its best. It remains a superior testament to one of rock’s enduring bands.

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Eve Of Destruction by Barry McGuire

July 19, 2010

Barry McGuire has served in The United States Navy, worked as a fisherman, a pipe fitter, was a part of the successful folk group, The New Christy Minstrels, and has been a noted and successful contemporary Christian singer for over three decades. Despite all of these varied experiences, he remains known for his only top forty hit which reached the number one position on The American singles charts 45 years ago.

P.F. Sloan wrote “Eve Of Destruction” with The Byrds in mind. After they and The Turtles turned the song down, he went into the studio with some noted session musicians including drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Larry Knetchel, and himself on lead guitar. Barry McGuire was co-opted to provide the vocal. They did a trial run-through where he provided a gruff vocal intending to come back the next day to provide a more polished take. Sloan decided to release the rough version and it would go on to sell in excess of a million copies.

This tale of the apocalypse struck a resonant chord during the summer of 1965. Such lines as; “you’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’” struck a resonant chord with the burgeoning protest movement. It also spawned a series of patriotic rebuttals. “Dawn Of Correction” by The Spokesmen was a direct response, but it would be Barry Sadler’s “Ballad Of The Green Berets” which would be the ultimate musical retort to the protest movement in The United States.

Barry McGuire and P.F. Sloan quickly assembled an album to cash in on the single’s name and popularity. It was comprised of folk songs, Dylan tunes, and some original compositions. It would be moderately successful reaching number 37 on the Billboard Magazine album charts.

The album was a hit or miss affair, which was typical of many releases of this type at the time. His interpretation of the traditional folk tune “Sloop John B.” and We Five’s “You Were On My Mind” are competent. He should have stayed away from Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” and “Baby Blue.” The odd surprise of the album was an emotional and haunting version of the Broadway song “Try To Remember.” The good and the bad all revolved around the title tune which could not be duplicated.

Eve Of Destruction, the album and the single, remains a statement of the times. The CD reissue is still available and provides an interesting if not essential listen. Barry McGuire is still out on the road singing his Christian music and “Eve Of Destruction.”

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Dance Dance Dance 45 by The Beach Boys

July 15, 2010

The Beach Boys catalogue is so extensice and excellent that songs such as “Dance Dance Dance” are many times overlooked.

It had an odd journey to number eight on the United States singles charts. It reached number one in a number of cities such as Providence, Rhode Island, near which I was growing up in late 1964, but did not make the top ten in many parts of the country.

The song featured typical Beach Boys harmonies built around upbeat, up-tempo music. Brian Wilson has begin to experiemnt in the studio so listen for the saxophoones, accordian, and Carl Wilson’s 12 string guitar.

It is not a Beach Boys song that is mentioned very often today but is still a good listen almost fifty years later. The picture sleeve is also somewhat rare.