Superhits of the Early Seventies (and Pass the Sausage)

pic01591

Every year I get together with five or six of my high school buddies – as well as assorted spousal units and special guests – for a party at my friend’s alpaca farm just outside of a small town in southern Ohio.  Now this town is a good three-plus hours away from our alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron.  In fact, it’s a good distance from just about everything.  One of the running jokes on the morning after the party involves asking for the Sunday Times and a cup of Starbucks joe (although I’ve been told the frozen breakfast burritos at the mini mart are actually quite good).

But our relative isolation allows us to reflect, in a somewhat impaired manner, on all things Seventies.  And for me, of course, it’s all about the music – which is why I’m in charge of coming up with a five-hour playlist that draws from that awkward era between the hippies and the punks.

Several of the activities don’t require musical accompaniment.  There’s the shooting competition led by Officer Tony.  And then there’s the obligatory golf-like event organized by Fern, the honorary Mayor of Batavia.

Makin sausageBut the main event of the weekend focuses on the making of sausage, using a century-old stuffer and several miles of entrails.  Over the years, this has become a highly synchronized activity involving wine, accompanying dishes, exotic spices, Seventies music and near-constant bitching from all of us about how much ground red pepper to put into the pork.  This bitching dissipates somewhat as the evening progresses – which is why we need special containers, originally designed for the nuclear industry, to hold the late-night sausage (note to self: rephrase that before posting).

Dazed and confused…

I thought that coming up with a playlist for this event would be fairly easy.  After all, I burned through what seemed like several thousand dollars in my youth buying albums by the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers Band, J.J. Cale, Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Steve Miller Band (before he was the Joker), Fleetwood Mac (before they were a joke), Savoy Brown, and so on.  Now I could’ve referenced other Seventies acts like prog-rockers Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the ubiquitous city/state bands like Chicago, Boston, Kansas, Duluth, whatever… but I hate that shit – and unlike most other DJs, I don’t take requests.

Dark SideI also could’ve mentioned the most iconic album (and image) of our high school years, “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. But that’s like saying the baseball game kicked off with the Star Spangled Banner.  It’s safe to say that no other generation has had such an omnipresent soundtrack.  Of course, this was back before the music industry was such a fragmented mess, when it was possible for huge masses of people to share the same musical tastes and sources.  I heard “Dark Side” so many times during the Seventies, both intentionally and otherwise, that I’m not sure I can work up a visceral reaction to it today.  I won’t question that it’s one of the most important musical achievements of the 20th Century.  Just don’t play it for me, ever again.

ZepA lot of stuff I grooved on in the Seventies sounds pretty lame today.  I’ll start with the musical moment that defined every young man who came of age in that era – the arrival of Led Zeppelin’s first album in 1969.  How can that be, you ask?  Well, first, Led Zeppelin may have landed in ’69, but they rocked every high school kid in America in the early Seventies, period end of story.  And second, this is my blog, so I’ll pretend it was released a year later to make my point.  And that point is… oh yeah, lameness.

There are many moments of great power and majesty in Led Zep’s first – which completely altered my reality when Brother James’ friend Bill Austin first brought it over to the house, holding it carefully like the small explosive it was – but this next little number ain’t one of them… You Shook Me/Led Zeppelin

Everything up to that point actually works pretty well, but I just can’t get beyond Robert Plant yelping like some crazed, rabid blues hound in heat.  I’m reminded of a capsule review I once read about “Apocalypse Now” – two hours of great drama, leading up to a cameo by Don Rickles.

TajA lot of other stuff on my playlist holds up much better.  And, once again, I’ll cheat a little – by picking an album that was recorded in late ’68.  I really don’t consider Taj Mahal’s “The Natch’l Blues” part of the Sixties anyway… it’s not the least bit psychedelic or mind-expanding, and the lyrics are fairly straightforward (except for something about painting a mailbox blue).  “The Natch’l Blues” is a rootsy collection of mostly blues-based songs – eight originals and four covers, and only one extended jam.  Taj is a triple threat with his gritty voice and perfect touch on harp and national steel.  But the album’s secret weapon may be guitarist Jesse Ed Davis – an American Indian from Oklahoma with an endless supply of slippery, soulful licks.  I’ve listened to this album regularly since it showed up on my radar screen in the early Seventies… hard to believe it was recorded more than 40 years ago. Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue/Taj Mahal

LiveAnother notable album from that era is “Live!” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, recorded on July 18, 1975, at the Lyceum Ballroom in London.  This was Marley’s third tour of England, and you can tell by the crowd response that he’d become a major phenomenon.  One of the great pleasures of the album is hearing this steady roar in the background – the same sound you typically hear at World Cup Soccer matches… in other words, the sound of many delirious people shouting and singing at the same time.  And, unlike some other live albums, it seems like the crowd’s quasi-religious fervor was more than warranted.  It may be one of Marley’s best performances, live or studio, and certainly better than some of the slick recordings he made late in his career.  Here’s the raucous opening to Lively Up Yourself… Lively Up Yourself/Bob Marley

TrafficI also have a weak spot for Steve Winwood and his band Traffic.  Winwood started his career (and might be ending it) as kind of a slavish interpreter of American soul.  Not to take away from tunes like Gimme Some Lovin’ and Roll With It, but I like the fact that in most of his work with Traffic, Winwood isn’t afraid to sound, well, British.  To my ears, early-Seventies classics like “John Barleycorn Must Die” and “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” sound very organic – what you’d expect when three hugely talented Brits hide out in a countryside cottage, experiment with god knows what and explore their own roots for a change.  It’s really genre-bending at its best – not quite jazz, not quite blues or folk, and certainly not sea chanteys… just an oddly familiar-sounding mix of influences that these guys seemed incapable of screwing up.  Here’s part of an extended jam that closes out “Low Spark”… Rainmaker/Traffic

None of the tunes on these albums would ever show up on a “Classic Rock” playlist.  But I’ll spare you from my usual rant about this dreadful format (if it were a form of torture, I’d cave right away).

Instead, I’ll use this opportunity to thank Mark, Francis, Sophie and Sadie for graciously welcoming the Mongol Horde from the North to their beautiful home in the country… by giving a shout-out to the Sausage Party regulars – wife Laura, Jim and Martha, Fern and Patty, Pat and Mary, Don and Donna, Tony, Mickey, and assorted hangers-on… and by leaving you with this quick list of a few other Superhits from the Early Seventies (or at least the version that would exist in a parallel universe).  I purposely left off my favorite funk and soul of the era – that’s a subject for another post.

A little gem from ZZ Top’s best album, “Tres Hombres” (released in 1973) – Low Rider meets the Texas Hill Country: Sheik/ZZ Top

Another great live album that I completely wore out, “The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East” (1971): Statesboro Blues/The Allman Brothers Band

I’m a proud veteran of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 concert at the Akron Rubber Bowl (yes, I was five years old), and this was the song of the summer: Tumbling Dice/The Rolling Stones

From Bonnie Raitt’s first, back in 1971 – still her bluesiest album: Finest Lovin’ Man/Bonnie Raitt

So much J.J. to choose from… Why not start at the beginning, “Naturally” (1971)? Crazy Mama/J.J. Cale

Before Rod became irrelevant, he fronted one of the great rock ‘n roll bands of all time… Also evidence that Ron Wood could play. Bad ‘N’ Ruin/Faces

Ry Cooder reinvents a song by zither-strumming evangelist Washington Phillips, from 1974’s “Paradise and Lunch”: Tattler/Ry Cooder

Still the greatest soundtrack album of all time – made even better with the “Deluxe Edition” treatment in 2003: The Harder They Come/Jimmy Cliff

On the video front, I’d love to post the party scene from the movie “Dazed and Confused.”  It’s almost as if the director, Richard Linklater, were a documentary filmmaker at half the parties I went to in high school.  Instead, I’ll offer this prime example of what ethnomusicologists have labeled “stoner rock,” featuring one of the great voices of the Seventies, Paul Rodgers.

8 thoughts on “Superhits of the Early Seventies (and Pass the Sausage)

  • Mary, 26 December 12:15 pm

    Awesome post, Tim. I’m still trying to absorb it all. I think I was trying to make it in the real world during those years. You know, Sears Roebuck’s receptionist and all. I can’t remember anything! Got married, too. Oh yeah. Remember that.

  • admin, 27 December 1:03 pm

    I was just trying to live the slacker lifestyle, until gainful employment got in the way.

  • Jack, 28 December 1:09 pm

    Thanks for filling me in, Tim. Like Mary, I missed the 70s. I went right from the 60s to the 80s.

  • Gary, 28 December 4:18 pm

    Nothing related to Springsteen? What about “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”? What else sounded like it in 1973? How about “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle”? Also 1973. Rosalita? Think about it in context to the time period. How about “Born to Run” in 1975 for God’s sake? To me that is still the most important album I’ve ever listened to. The first two albums were a jolt to the senses but had all the inconsistencies you’d expect of an artist still trying to figure it all out. Born to Run, however, was and remains one of the most consistently brilliant albums of all time. It hit on a lot of the same themes, actually, as pseudo-intellectual crap like Dark Side of the Moon did but you didn’t need a bong to get it. It captured the joy of music of the early ’60s but reflected the turbulence and isolation of the ’70s. Then there was Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978. Sure it was darker than Born to Run, but it had to be for many reasons. It reflected on the times, both larger and smaller. It, more than any other album, was where Springsteen really found his voice.

    Personally, I hated Pink Floyd. I might have gone for groups like Traffic I suppose, but my leanings have always been more pop-oriented. Maybe that’s because my older brother and sisters were far more into the Beach Boys and Motown than anything else. Even to this day two of my favorite songs are “When I Grow Up (to be a man)” and “Heat Wave”

  • admin, 28 December 5:59 pm

    Yeah, I should’ve mentioned Springsteen. Don’t think you’d like my usual take on The Boss, but I respect the guy. Hey, he won a damn Kennedy award!

    Also should’ve mentioned that whole L.A. singer/songwriter scene — Eagles, Dan Fogelberg, Jim Croce, Bread, America, Harry Chapin, Don McLean, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell… I include Steely Dan in that category. Most of that stuff bores the shit out of me. And I’d rather rip off my own head than hear “American Pie” again. Joni’s a heavyweight, though (I like “Hejira”… we used to call this real busy bass player “Jaco Pasteurized”).

    It’s easy to write about Speedy West and not start a fight. I knew I stepped into it with this one. Isn’t it against the law in Jersey to leave Springsteen out of the conversation?

  • Joscha, 30 December 10:00 am

    That’s unfair. Zeppelin are great! My first love! But ok, I see, if I had been around at the time (I’m 20), I might be fed up with them too.

  • Danny Horn, 31 December 7:34 am

    Bone, I love all the picks with most being my favs. The inclusion of Jesse Ed was my highlight . Bacon Fat was just too good to not list and Savoy Brown’s The Boogie set the mood for the night many nights. Thanks again great work.

  • admin, 31 December 9:25 am

    Ah yes, Bacon Fat… Exhibit A in the case of Jesse Ed Davis v. assorted wanker guitarists of the era. I don’t have to tell you who won that landmark decision. Thanks, Dan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *