Monday, January 07, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me! (1977 Playlist)

Back in August I gave myself a birthday present: 26 songs from my birth year*, one for each letter of the alphabet, only one of which I'd heard before that month, and they all had to be good or at least indelible in some way. They also had to be streamable -- I wanted to hear them. Turns out I didn't find a Q or an X (I can't do Rush's "Xanadu" every year), so I supplemented with some others and wound up with 27. They make for a pretty good playlist -- so here's the list with Youtube links, rescued from my Facebook page.

*The Year of Impact Rule applies.

1977 IN NIGERIAN POP: "Arabade" by Sir Victor Uwaifo and the Titibitis. This is probably a minor work (reminds me of Sly's "Dance to the Music") but I dig the rhythm, horns, and brutal shrieking keyboard layered on top of each other -- plus, it's hard to resist a song where the singer tells you, "The song goes like this." First big hit was in 1965, and Ronnie Graham sez: "By the 1980s Victor had established his own TV studio with his weekly half-hour show going out to all corners of Nigeria."

1977 IN LATIN DISCO: "Black Pot" by Santa Esmerelda. This is the B-side of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -- which you know, you've seen Kill Bill! -- and it chronicles Leroy Gomez's swirling mystical trip into a "land of make believe". The swirls are portrayed by Gomez's sax and somebody else's electric guitar darting around a bunch of horns.

1977 IN SHOCK ROCK: "Child Eaters" by Rubber City Rebels. This song is about exactly what you think it's about, though it's very tastefully done. Before the Black Keys were born, Akron had these guys and the Bizarros, who I'll get to later. "Child Eaters" stands in the proud pro-cannibalism tradition of the Buoys' "Timothy", and its fake Brit accent and creepy spoken interlude foreshadow Kix's "Yeah Yeah Yeah".

1977 IN GLAM METAL: "Delirious" by Heavy Metal Kids. This performance kicked off an episode of the German TV show DISCO, which started airing in 1971, which should give some idea of the omnivorous reach and breadth of the term "disco". (Wiki assures us, "The name of the show was devised before disco as a musical style existed.") Other performers on this particular episode included:
* Howard Carpendale - Nimm den nächsten Zug
* Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Anything that's Rock 'n' Roll
* Bonnie Tyler - Heaven
* Peter Maffay - Andy, Träume sterben jung
* Graham Bonnet - It's all over now Baby Blue
* Didi Zill - Rock 'n' Roll made in Germany
* Uriah Heep - Lady in black

1977 IN POMP ROCK: "Down To You" by the Strapps. I guess it's pomp rock, because it seems to fall halfway between glam and prog -- keyboard solo that sounds like Keith Emerson with an editor, multiple instrumental textures but still concise, even at six and a half minutes, and very very loud. (Martin Popoff says, "The new sound is unlike any other act I can think of," and then he lists, like, six other bands.)

1977 IN NAZARETH: "Expect No Mercy" by Nazareth. I wonder if Paul Ryan rocks out to this when he formulates budget proposals OH SNAP

‎1977 IN VINTAGE COUNTRY DISCO: "The Feelin's Right" by Narvel Felts. This #19 hit from his album The Touch of Felts - eek! - floats and flutters with erotic expectation, and I hear more than a hint of anxiety too. Felts sounds thrilled by his own vibrato, even as it makes him nervous.

1977 IN GERMAN ITALO DISCO IF THAT'S A THING: "Get on the Funk Train" by Munich Machine. Basically this is a '77 Donna Summer album without Donna Summer -- Moroder & Bellotte produced, personnel looks the same, and the Midnite Ladies sing "Love to Love You Baby" twice. Not much singing on this song, though -- a 15 minute disco suite with three or four memorable themes, the precursor to Quad City DJs big hit and heir to... some old-timey song where people dance on trains, I guess. There must be at least one of those.

1977 IN LATIN FUNK: "Happy as a Fat Rat in a Cheese Factory" by Mongo Santamaria. If you liked that big Fania salsa compilation back in 2011, here's the least Fania-salsa-ish person on it. There's a wild guitar solo halfway through, harmonically and sonically at odds with the surrounding horns.

‎1977 IN COUNTRY WEEPERS: "If You See Me Getting Smaller" by Waylon Jennings. This is a beautiful Jimmy Webb song that I've posted before, although now it occurs to me that it might just be Waylon explaining the principle of linear perspective to an incredulous Willie Nelson.

1977 IN INEXPLICABLE CHART POP: "Jeans On" by David Dundas. Or should I say LORD David Dundas? Wiki sez #3 in England, #17 here, #1 in Germany, originally a jingle for Brutus Jeans, sampled by Fatboy Slim, and can't we all relate to its sentiment?

1977 IN EASY LISTENING: "Kyrila" by Demis Roussos. So the ex-singer of Greek prog band Aphrodite's Child records this song in German, and its parent EP scrapes the bottom of the British singles charts. And from Wiki I learn this: "In 1993, he released Insight to general acclaim, although his attempt at a rap song, 'Spleen', which appeared on the album, was generally seen as a regrettable idea."

1977 IN COUNTRYPOLITAN: "Love's Explosion" by Margo Smith. This has a big winding melody that allows her yodeler's voice to swoop all over the place, though there's no actual yodeling here. Produced by Norro Wilson, who -- fun fact! -- would also work on Kenny Chesney's early stuff.

1977 IN BRAZILIAN FUNK: "Melo de Lula" by Banda Uniao Black. Atmospheric!

‎1977 IN PUNK (oh yeah, that happened then): "No Heart" by the Vibrators. A poor millworker comes home every day to find his wife neglecting him for the TV. If this was Gene Watson, he'd turn to drink. But since the guy's a punk, he shoots her. (At least I think that's what happens.) (I can't believe I'd never heard these guys before.)

1977 IN TV SOUNDTRACKS: "O.K.?" by Julie Covington, Rula Lenska, Charlotte Cornwell and Sue Jones-Davies of ROCK FOLLIES OF '77. Plot summary: "Anna and Dee both write songs, but Dee's pop/rock song 'O.K.'" -- sort of a proto- "I Do Not Hook Up" -- "is chosen over Anna's more literary effort. Thus begins a growing rivalry between the two friends." Has anyone ever seen this show? The song's really good, and it hit #10 on the British chart.

1977 IN DOWNTOWN CLASSICAL: "Piano" by Morton Feldman. This might misstate their compositional strategies completely, but for me Feldman's music is like a slowed down, quieted down Cecil Taylor. Both are compelling for their harmonic language, which is dissonant but not haphazardly so (you hear things repeat and themes emerge), and for their rhythms, which are extremely precise but do their best to hide it. If Taylor's found ways to give improv the integrity of composition, Feldman developed techniques to give his composition the character of improv. Anyway, a palate cleanser. Part 2/3 is actually my favorite, but I'm sure you can find it if you're as compelled as I am.

1977 IN CHRISTIAN GUITAR HEROISM: "Rejoice" by Phil Keaggy. It's just an OK song until the extremely fluid guitar solo starts around 3 or 4 minutes. Mark Allan Powell calls him "probably the most versatile guitarist who has ever lived, having taken on a wide variety of styles, mastering them all, and putting his own identifying stamp on them. It is easy to imagine both Jimi Hendrix and Andre Segovia smiling down on him, nodding their heads in approval, albeit with reference to completely different projects."

1977 IN JAZZ: "Song of Songs" by Woody Shaw and Anthony Braxton. After a swoony introduction with Shaw's trumpet, Braxton's clarinet, Arthur Blythe's alto, and Muhal Richard Abrams's piano smearing all over the place, the band launches into a waltz full of fine solos and cheek. The interval between the third and the flat six features prominently; nice changes in the second half of the head. Cecil McBee's bass sometimes sounds like a foghorn.

1977 IN SOUTHERN METAL: "Shame" by Hydra. Speedy!

1977 IN SPACE DISCO: "Tango in Space" by Space
A French outfit headed by classical musician and early synth adopter Didier Marouani, Space got very popular in the USSR, in part because (according to this interview) the state TV channel would play stuff like the "Tango" underneath all their space footage. Space got to play Russia in the early '80s and did very well, and in 1992 (can this be true?) performed the first major concert in Red Square. "Tango" is not a tango at all, but one of those clean, sparse jams whose pleasure comes from hearing every instrument interact. You can practically see the different musical lines intertwining.

1977 IN REGULAR DISCO: "Tattoo Man" by Denise McCann. In the RS Record Guide, Dave Marsh gave this album one star and declared McCann "in no danger of being mistaken for Donna Summer" (who, let's face it, basically owned 1977 along with her producers). But this song is really good! It's a tightly wound portrait of a pimp, made scarier because it doesn't overstate its scariness. Horns, background singers, occasional synths, burbling beat, and and a great guitar riff -- it could be any high-flying minor key disco strut, until you notice that it can't escape the minor key. Whenever the "Tattoo Man!" chorus comes around, I expect it to resolve major, but it doesn't, and the mood of tension is inescapable until the fadeout, with McCann babbling "Gotta get away from the Tattoo Man" with increasing desperation.

1977 IN COUNTRY GOSPEL: "Uncloudy Day" by Willie Nelson. A #4 country hit, voice and guitar inhabiting the song like comfortable cotton, the opening guitar solo just a little bit off-kilter.

1977 IN CROSSOVER MINIMALISM: "Victor's Lament" by Philip Glass. Christgau gave the North Star album an A- and said Glass achieved his rhythms "through mechanical repetitions cunningly modified." Which you can hear here -- built over the same ostinato Sonny and Cher used in "The Beat Goes On", this is basically a rondo that keeps returning to the high keyboard theme after it modifies the midrange keyboard theme, I think just by adding a note each time and letting the rhythmic chips fall.

1977 IN POST-VELVETS PROTO-PUNK: "White Screen Movies" by the Bizarros. A raver, from their split album From Akron with the cannibalistic Rubber City Rebels (see above).

1977 IN EXPLICABLE CHART POP: "You've Got Me Runnin'" by Gene Cotton. Like a big shiny hug from your dentist.

1977 IN ZIGLIBITHY: "Zibote" by Ernesto Dje-Dje. From the Ivory Coast; Ronnie Graham says, "This is a Bete dance rhythm which [Dje-Dje] sought to modernise, thus demonstrating to fellow Ivorians that they should make increasing commercial use of their indigenous musical heritage. Ziglibithy was a highly rhythmic dance which Dje-Dje mastered completely. He would stop and dance sideways, shaking his shoulders to an irresistible sound which found appreciative audiences around the country."

The Accidental Evolution of Rock 'n' Roll, Chuck Eddy, Da Capo 1997.
The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Joel Whitburn, Billboard 2010.
British Hit Singles 8th Edition, Paul Gambaccini, Jonathan Rice, Tim Rice, Guinness 1991.
The Collector's Guide to Heavy Metal Volume 1: the Seventies, Martin Popoff, Collector's Guide 2003.
The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music, Ronnie Graham, Da Capo 1988.
Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, Mark Allan Powell, Hendrickson 2002.
Joel Whitburn's Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003, Joel Whitburn, Record Research 2004.

Plus Discogs, ILX, Wikipedia, and