Archive for March 2013

Still sounds like the first time

March 31, 2013

The other night, I played an LP I’ve had since 1977. Save for a little noise on the lead-in groove, the sound remains almost pristine. It’s “Foreigner,” that group’s debut record from that year.

Yeah, maybe Foreigner became mainstream arena rockers, but that record sounded great when it hit Top 40 radio otherwise full of mush in early 1977. It sounded solid and muscular because it crashed a chart populated at the top by Hall and Oates, 10cc, Abba, Barbra Streisand, David Soul, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Glen Campbell and Kansas.

That great sound was the result of an inspired teaming: Two veteran Brits — guitarist Mick Jones (who’d played with Spooky Tooth and the Leslie West Band and had backed Peter Frampton and George Harrison) and the versatile Ian McDonald (who’d been in the first incarnation of King Crimson in the late ’60s) — with New York singer Lou Gramm.

Boston seemingly had kicked open the door a year earlier, and Foreigner followed it through. In fact, Foreigner’s debut record arrived just as the enduring power — or at least the radio presence — of Boston’s debut record had peaked and was starting to fade.

Mark E., a friend of the blog who has long worked in radio, raves about “Foreigner.”

“Not only did the hits from the album sound great, so did album cuts like ‘I Need You,’ ‘At War With The World’ and ‘The Damage is Done.’

So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, materializing through the sweet blue haze of time, is a side with a couple of those cuts.

foreignerlp

“Long, Long Way From Home,” Woman Oh Woman,” “At War With the World,” “Fool For You Anyway” and “I Need You,” Foreigner, from “Foreigner,” 1977. This is Side 2. It runs 20:04. It’s also available digitally.

What followed from Foreigner, though popular, never seemed as fresh as that first record. This is the only Foreigner record I’ve kept.

One side, one song

March 12, 2013

There are few things more quintessentially ’70s than an album side with one song on it.

One band that leaps to mind for doing so is Rare Earth. They did it three times in five years. “Get Ready” was that song twice, on the 1969 LP of the same name and on “Rare Earth In Concert,” the 1971 live LP. Both times, it was Side 2.

Tonight on The Midnight Tracker, we have the third one.

Almost 40 years ago, in April 1973, Rare Earth released “Ma.”

Critics and fans loved the record because Motown legend Norman Whitfield’s influence was all over it. He produced it and wrote or co-wrote with Barrett Strong all five of its cuts.

Yet Rare Earth lead singer and drummer Peter Rivera doesn’t share that enthusiasm. He saw Whitfield’s involvement as the beginning of the end for the band. In a fine interview with music writer Ray Shasho last fall, Rivera explained why:

“When (the) ‘Willie Remembers’ (LP) came out (in 1972), it didn’t get any promotion at all, and that’s when they said the only way to save a dying ship was to bring Norman Whitfield in.

“Motown thought the only redemption to our career was Norman Whitfield because he had, ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,’ ‘Ball Of Confusion,’ ‘Just My Imagination’ and he was Norman Whitfield of Motown. Norman was a great guy, a great producer, and rest his soul, but the political side of it back then was … they just didn’t trust anybody except in their own stable of people. So Norman came in and we did the ‘Ma’ album. I always called it the Norman Whitfield album played by Rare Earth. And you didn’t get the essence of Rare Earth. As a result, ‘Ma’ got just a little bit of attention but nothing serious, and we didn’t have the hits, so things just started getting worse. So after ‘Ma’ came out that was pretty much it. man.”

Later in the interview, Rivera added this:

“I think where Motown made a mistake, was when they panicked and they brought in Norman Whitfield, and once you’re not selling records with the company, it’s like nobody wants you anymore. And then we were having internal problems with jealousy and there were drugs involved and stuff like that, and everybody was acting crazy and it just kind of went away.”

“Ma” produced three singles — the title track, “Hum Along And Dance” and “Big John Is My Name,” but none broke the Top 100.

“Ma” the album-side-length title track features Rivera’s tremendous vocals and the muscular jamming we long ago came to expect from Rare Earth. But as always, you be the judge.

rareearthma

“Ma,” Rare Earth, from “Ma,” 1973. This is Side 1. It runs 16:42. The CD is still in print, but this cut isn’t available digitally.

Peter Rivera is billed on the LP under his real name, Peter Hoorelbeke.