The Two Of Us by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

September 24, 2013

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The Two of Us, released in 1977 by the husband and wife duo of Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. was their second studio album.

The duo was at the height of their popularity. Their first album, I Hope We Get to Love in Time, was certified gold for sales and received a Grammy Award. A single from the album, “You Don’t Have to Be a Star,” topped the Billboard Hot 100. This led to a 1977 CBS summer variety series appropriately called The Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Show. Their follow-up album, The Two of Us, has now been re-issued by Real Gone Music in an expanded version.

The couple will always be associated with The 5th Dimension, for whom they were the lead singers on many of their hits. Songs such as “Up, Up and Away,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” were some of the best and most successful songs of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Two of Us may not have the highs of their debut but is consistently good as it presents their brand of smooth pop and R&B well. Their voices are a good example of opposites attracting, as McCoo’s is just about pure pop, while Davis’ has a soulful feel to it. Together they play off of one another to create a sound somewhat different sound from that of The 5th Dimension.

They are a little better when in an upbeat mode. “Look What You’ve Done to My Heart” and “My Very Special Feeling” have some pep and allow their voices to intertwine and shine. Ballads such as “Wonderful,” “My Reason to Be Is You,” and the title track put the focus more on their individual voices.

The four bonus tracks were all part of single releases and never included on any album until now. The songs “I’m So Glad I Found You” and “There’s Got to Be a Happy Ending” were alternate B-sides to the single “I Hope We Get to Love in Time” and are interesting for their autobiographical nature. The final two tracks, “Three Steps from True Love” and “Light a Candle,” formed a rare Davis solo single and are different from the rest of the album in that his voice has a gritty nature, which is more apparent when not surrounded by other voices.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. continue to perform and tour together and The Two of Us remains emblematic of their style and sound. They did not change pop music but their brand of smooth pop and soul made it a bit more enjoyable.


George Thorogood and the Destroyers (CD Reissue) by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

September 23, 2013

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If you want some in-your-face hard rock/blues, then this reissue of George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ first album is for you. He had recorded a number of songs during 1974 but they were not released until 1979, after he had become commercially successful, so this self-titled album, released in 1977, was his official debut. The 2013 reissue has a new, remastered sound via Rounder Records.

The album consists of eight classic blues covers and two original compositions. Thorogood will never be mistaken for a traditional blues artist. He has a rock and roll heart and brings it to the music. He is also the type of guitar player that you will either like or hate. He is not a great or sophisticated technician but gets by on energy and passion. Think of him and his backing musicians as an excellent bar band that made good. The music may not be the way Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, or Elmore James intended but it is raucous and always fun.

While he has added and subtracted some additional musicians along the way, drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Bill Blough back him on the album, with only a second guitarist in places, and they remain with him today.

He is an artist who gained and has retained much of his popularity by constantly touring. In 1980 he embarked on a 50/50 tour, which meant performing in all 50 states in 50 days.

He is usually at his best when playing up-tempo and at times frenetic rock and blues. Earl Hooker’s “You Got to Lose,” Elmore James’ “Madison Blues,” and especially Bo Diddley’s “Ride on Josephine” all benefit from this approach. That is followed by the John Lee Hooker story song “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” which still receives radio airplay today.

Less successful are his slower tunes, which tend to expose his limitations. Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” sounds forced and the Elmore James tune, “Can’t Stop Lovin’” never attains the energy level of the faster tracks.

His own compositions tend to be replicas of his blues covers. While not original in concept or execution, “Homesick Boy” and “Delaware Slide” present Thorogood for what he is, which is a competent, spirited, and at times forceful rock and blues guitarist.

George Thorogood and The Destroyers did not change the course of American blues or rock and roll but it made them a bit more enjoyable. It is an album for the beer hall or smoky night club.


Mulligan Meets Monk by Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan

September 23, 2013

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Pianist Thelonious Monk and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan came together in 1957 to record Mulligan Meets Monk. That album has now been reissued as a part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Throughout jazz history, musicians have constantly played with one another in the studio and on stage. What was unique about the Monk-Mulligan union was how different they were in temperament, cultural background, and approach to music. The result may not have been one of the best jazz albums ever produced but it certainly was one of the more interesting.

Monk was one of the signature musicians and pianists in jazz history. His use of dissonant notes and odd rhythms helped him build the structures of his compositions. He was most comfortable alone or in a small group setting. He always had a mysterious quality about him and is considered one of the leading proponents of the bebop movement.

Mulligan was more melodic and was very comfortable in larger groups and even orchestral settings. He was associated with the cool jazz movement and during the mid-1950s was at the height of his popularity. What they had in common was a genuine friendship, plus the talent as two of the better musicians in jazz history. This allowed them to overcome the musical tensions that permeate some of the tracks. There are four alternate takes that were not a part of the original album.

“Straight No Chaser” is a classic Thelonious Monk composition. The bonus track is take one and finds Mulligan very tentative as he explores the composition but there is no Monk solo whatsoever. It is take three that was originally issued and at a minute and a half longer, it contains a Monk solo that plays off Mulligan’s. Similarly, the first two takes of “I Mean You” are somewhat frenetic and rushed. The fourth released take is more leisurely as they trade relaxed solos.

Throughout the album it is usually Mulligan who tries to adjust and allow Monk room to play. Many times the tension is in the waiting for Monk to jump in at the right time. The music was recorded as a quartet with bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson, which was also in Monk’s comfort zone.

As with all the releases in the series, the sound has been remastered and is excellent considering the state of recording equipment in 1957. The original liner notes and an extended essay of the music are also included.

Mulligan Meets Monk was a leap of faith for the two musicians and remains so for the listener. It is not the best music they ever recorded but it is guaranteed to keep your attention.


Get A Job 45 by The Silhouettes

September 22, 2013

“Get A Job” by The Silhouettes is one of those songs that will always be associated with 1950s rock and roll.

The Silhouettes were a Philadelphia Do-wop group originally formed as the Gospel Tornadoes. They consisted of lead singer William Horton, tenor Richard Lewis, baritone Earl Beal, and bass Raymond Edwards.

“Get A Job” reached number two on Best Sellers In Stores Chart and number three on Most Played By DJ’s Chart. But on Feb. 24, 1958, it topped the Hot 100 for a two week run. It has since been a staple of oldies radio.


Made In California by The Beach Boys

September 21, 2013

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It has been quite a busy couple of years for the Beach Boys. There was a new studio album, a successful 50th anniversary tour, and a live CD and DVD chronicling that tour. Now they have dropped the big one. MADE IN CALIFORNIA is six CD’s, 174 songs, and 473 minutes of music that includes 60 previously unreleased tracks. Everything comes in a high school type year book and also features recollections from the band members, classic artwork, archival photos, and inscriptions from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks. It is musical nirvana for any fan of the band.

The sound of the set is phenomenal and brings many of the older tracks into the 21st century. While some of the material is limited by their original recording process, overall the clarity does not get much better.

The first four plus discs are in chronological order. This means that rarities and unreleased tracks are mixed in with many of their well-known hits. An example of this release is the first disc, which begins with a home recording of “Surfin,’” followed by “Surfin’’ with session introduction, a demo of “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” and the original mono long version of “Surfin’ Safari.” And so begins the journey of The Beach Boys, which continues with almost eight hours of music.

Some of the highlights include Dennis Wilson’s lead vocal on a live “Help Me Rhonda,” a true stereo version of “Do It Again,” a Blondie Chaplin vocal on “Wild Honey,” plus the previously unreleased “Goin’ To The Beach,” “California Feelin,’” “Soul Searchin,’” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and “You’re Still A Mystery To Me.”

The live tracks run the gamut from all periods of their career. Live performances making their debut are “Runway” (1965), “Friends” (1968), “Little Bird” (1968), “Sail On Sailor” with the lead vocal by Carl Wilson (1995), and acoustic versions of “This Whole World” and “Slip On Through (1993). Of particular note is the re-discovery of the 1964 BBC live in the studio sessions, which include “Wendy,” “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” and “Hushabye.”

MADE IN CALIFORNIA is a rare big set that is worth the price. It traces the journey of The Beach Boys through a half century of their career and is a journey worth taking with them. It is an essential listening experience not only for fans of the band but for anyone still seeking the eternal summer.


Hits Back by The Clash

September 18, 2013

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Joe Strummer may be long gone but The Clash live on, or more appropriately put, rage on. That said, A lot of Clash has just been released. There is a five studio album set on vinyl and CD, a massive 12-disc box set, which gathers together all of the bands studio work, three discs of demos, all non-album singles and B sides, rarities, and a DVD of videos, and the two-disc Hits Back, which is also available on colored vinyl. It is a virtual cornucopia love feast for any hard core fan of the band.

If you would like an introduction or taste of their music, then Hits Back is the place to start. It features 32 of the bands well-known tracks. The track list is sequenced according to their legendary Brixton Fairdeal show from 1982. While this sequencing may appeal to Clash aficionados, for the uninitiated, it will not matter. In fact, while the track list may work on stage, in this format there is a dis-connect as the songs tend to jump to different periods of their career.

What we are left with is the individual tracks that stand on their own and that they do well. The music of The Clash may be dated a bit, as it was a reaction to the disco era and instrumental excess of the time, but it also remains some of the most passionate and powerful of its era. The 32 tracks are a fitting tribute to that legacy.

The Clash caught the first wave of the punk movement but they had the ability to move their sound more toward the mainstream while retaining punk’s energy and anti-establishment elements. “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” “Rock The Casbah,” and “Train In Vain” all became hits in the United States. They were just the tip of the iceberg however, as “Police On My Back,” “Bankrobber,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “Ghetto Defendant,” and “Armagideon Time” were quick shots of anger directed at the world around them. It was rock music that opened up new avenues outside the accepted norms and changed the course of rock music.

The sound has been remastered and there is a short but informative booklet that contains a history of the band.

Hits Back may not have the consistently of their studio albums but is a fine introduction to their music. And remember to play it loud.


Gettin’ Together/Real Girl 45 by Tommy James and The Shondells

September 12, 2013

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It is hard to believe that it has been almost 50 years since Tommy James and The Shondells had their series of hit singles during the mid-1960s. “Gettin’ Together” is a many times forgotten release. Released during the late summer of 1967, it reached number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Their sound was beginning to change from the simple pop of “Hanky Panky” and “Say I Am.” 1967 would also produce such hits as “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mirage” setting the stage for 1968s and 1969s “Crimson & Clover,” “Mony Mony,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

Their career would begin to wind down as the decade ended. They were one of those bands who made the bad decision of turning down an invitation to play at Woodstock.