It’s considered one of Frank Zappa’s most cherished albums, and now for those of you who have been trying to hunt down an older copy of it but have been unable to locate it, good luck my friend. Apostrophe (‘) will be reissued on vinyl by
USM on October 20th. Originally released 40 years ago, this is the album where Zappa is joined by the likes of George Duke, Jack Bruce, Ruth Underwood, Ian Underwood, Sugar Cane Harris, Jean-Luc Ponty, Ray Collins, Napoleon Murphy Brock, and many more. The album features such greats as “Cosmik Debris”, “Excentrifugal Forz”, the awesome title track, and the mega popular means of advice called “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”. No word yet on who is remastering this new pressing but as soon as I find out, I’ll let everyone know.
35 years after the release of Chicago 13, the public tends to look at the album differently than it originally did, but not in a wide sense. Fans of Chicago can be very divided over their friendliness towards the group, with fans loving the Terry Kath era, fans that don’t mind the pop craft that they engaged in in the second half of the 1970’s, and those who are not afraid to embrace the lush pop that lead them to radio and many hits throughout the 1980’s. Yet if there’s still an album that continues to make people question its existence, it’s Chicago 13.
The band had replaced original guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath with Don “Donnie” Dacus, who seemed to look and embrace the feel of other pop stars of the era like Rex Smith and Leif Garrett. He had long blonde hair, so there were some who saw his youth and looks as something that was different from what Chicago had intended. Nonetheless, the man could sing and he could play a damn good guitar, and no one said anything when their 12th album, Hot Streets, gave the world hit songs like “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”. It was just new Chicago music, and by that point, original bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera was becoming the band’s primary face.
What made Chicago 13 different was that Columbia Records decided to give the band a chance to film music videos for the songs, or what were called “promotional film clips” back then. There was no music video cable networks in 1979, so the only way you could see these film clips were on public access, in between movies on HBO (maybe), or at record stores which made a special section which involved nothing but a TV with the videos running continuously. Well, at least that’s how music videos were presented in the late 70’s in the U.S,. as England were utilizing music videos as part of a promotional tool for artists, songs, and albums. Here in the U.S., it was extra, if not strange, but Columbia Records were making an effort. The videos made were for the songs “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away”, and “Street Player”, and while the video seemed to get limited exposure on TV, it seemed people were not impressed by what the videos showed. “Must Have Been Crazy” showed the group jokingly lounge at home while a black cat caused terror wherever it walked. “Run Away” involved a master reel of tape going around Los Angeles as the band were practicing at a venue, while “Street Player” showed the inevitable performance. The videos showed a sense of humor that people didn’t expect from them, and perhaps it was way too strange for those who just played “Another Rainy Day In New York City” or “If You Leave Me Now” in front of their couches and fantasized all day.
“Must Have Been Crazy” was Chicago 13 first single but fans didn’t seem to take to it, or more specifically, hearing Dacus take a lead vocal. Chicago were known not only for Cetera, but also pianist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and guitarist Kath before he died in 1977. So who was this blonde guy singing… a Chicago song? People didn’t like the mood, or it didn’t catch on, or radio programmers felt it sounded different than what was going on the radio at the time, which was a whole lotta disco, or at least the last end of disco’s fame and (mis)fortune. Cetera did do background vocals in the song and could be heard in the last minute, but that was not enough. It also had a pleasant guitar solo from Dacus too so if radio tried to push it while a video made tried to let people know who Dacus was, it failed.
“Run Away”, written by trombonist James Pankow, was a great song too, complete with a wicked solo from Dacus that now reminds me slightly of Toto’s Steve Lukather or Journey’s Neal Schon, as he plays throughout and including the fade. But since radio didn’t take to “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away” didn’t have a chance.
As for “Street Player”, fans praise this song for its use as a primary sample in The Bucketheads’ “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)”. Released 15 years after the release of Chicago 13, The Bucketheads knew that the song and the album it came from were one of the band’s biggest failures, but the song was funky in its own right and managed to turn it around and bring it its rightful majestic power. “Street Player” was co-written by drummer Daniel Seraphine, detailing his life as a rough kid in Chicago who almost lived the life of a punk, had he not had music to turn his life around. Seraphine’s primary voice before the release of the song was his drums, playing amazingly in songs like “25 or 5 To 4″, “What’s This World Coming To” and of course their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man”, but this shined the spotlight on the drummer that most people tended to ignore, or at least not grab the light that Cetera, Lamm, Kath, Pankow, or the rest of the horn section had claimed over the years. The song also gave the spotlight for a solo to jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, identified by some of the man’s high pitched horn squeals to let everyone know he was in the studio. As Cetera sang “I’m a street player…and I’ll play you a song”, the band continued to play their disco groove, which got slightly Brazilian in feel, leading to two horn breaks in the second half. This then leads to another powerful guitar moment for Dacus, all before Cetera sings “street player, what you do, gotta make you groove” and the rest of the band are pumped in ecstasy, figuratively and literally. Ferguson comes back briefly before they all fade the song, running close to nine minutes. To be honest, it remains one of Chicago’s brightest moments and yet the band suffered in the same way The Rolling Stones did with “Miss You” and Kiss did with “I Was Made For Loving You”, in that once they were identified with something disco, they were dead. It would’ve been true had they not continued once the 1980’s started, but the bad luck streak told in the promotional film clips for Chicago 13 were essentially a bit of wishful thinking that, for a few years, they thought was a bit too close to home. Fortunately, Chicago were not ready for home base, at least not yet. Years later, when Chicago kicked Seraphine, one of the band’s founding members, out of the band, he had the last laugh when the “Street Player” sample helped him out significantly in the publishing department. Considering how many Chicago songs became hits, “Street Player” is the one that people know as a sample, even if they might not realize it is a Chicago song, primarily because of its no hit status.
The rest of Chicago 13 had some great material, and with wonderful production from Phil Ramone, who also worked on Hot Streets with the band, the band couldn’t do any harm to their career. Chicago were worthy in 1978 and with “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”, they were alive and they returned. Songs like “Mama Take” (Cetera) and “Paradise Alley” (Lamm) showed that the group’s pop and jazz ways were as powerful as ever. Even saxophonists Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane even had a joint composition on the album with “Window Dreamin'”, so it seemed the group were spirited and ready to end the 1970’s on a high note.
HBO did run a Chicago concert special in support of Chicago 13 and it was the perfect way for listeners to hear the classics from the group, along with a string of songs from the new album. One of the performances was another song written by Seraphine and David Wolinski, who also co-wrote “Street Player”. “Aloha Mama” hit me because here I am as a kid in Honolulu hearing one of my favorite bands sing one of my words. The song was built on a very nice jazzy groove, with a rhythm that is very funky, what would be called the Purdie Shuffle., in honor of Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. You may recognize the drum rhythm from Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” or partly used in Toto’s “Rosanna”. The band were not only in jazz mode, but vocalist Cetera also put himself in jazz costume as well, crediting himself in the song as P.C. Moblee. The harmonies were perfect, the feel of the song was great, it had the right to be a hit had it been released as a single but that was not to be.
Even longtime Chicago percussionist Laudir de Oliveira had his own song on the album, when he wrote “Life Is What It Is” with Marcos Valle. These days, we would call this type of laid back groove “yacht rock”, complete with added percussion from legendary musician Airto Moreira. The song is smooth, funky, exotic, and perfect to hear in any occasion. You could pop this song in a mix of songs by The Doobie Brothers, Pablo Cruise, and Kenny Loggins and no one would have said a thing. Cetera takes the lead with Dacus handling a few background harmonies and again, this song could have gained some AOL airplay had it been pushed in the right way.
Sadly, Chicago 13 ended up being bad luck for the group. Music was great, singing was great, songwriting was up to par, and people were fed up with Chicago’s magical power. They were the kings of pop radio of the mid to late 70’s, they had enough. When the group followed it up with Chicago XIV, which brought the group to legendary producer Tom Dowd, it faired worse and they eventually left Columbia Records and moved to a new label. This would eventually lead to a new hit era for Chicago in the decade, and a style of music that didn’t please the earlier fans. It didn’t matter. Pop fans loved the new material and were pleased by the outcome. Chicago stayed on the charts, they sold millions of records, and that was that, even as they too would also bring in new vocalists (keyboardists Jason Scheff and Bill Champlin, the latter a founding member of Sons Of Champlin). Cetera eventually left, and Chicago moved on. However, the group became unfashionable in the 90’s and sales for new music started to drop a bit. Looking back, Chicago 13 was not a massive failure by any means, for it allowed the group to have ten more years of pop chart success, which meant hits. Sure, Chicago fans changed during this time but the album is feared because of that disco beast known as “Street Player”. They looked at the shining light from the 13th floor on the illustrated building with the Chicago logo on the cover and said “I’m not going there. Leave me out of that building now.” Guaranteed, those who discovered the album and found a liking to it all wanted to be on that building, realizing that if you don’t believe in superstitions, you can go further in life. The music on Chicago 13 definitely, in the words of “Street Player”, made you move and made you groove. On vinyl, it’s fairly easy to find at thrift stores because those who bought it have tossed it out, and covers with cut-out marks are plentiful but if you must, don’t ignore it. Play it and hear it from a band who did their best to survive in the game and while the public discarded it, they also did so without listening. It’s your time to listen.
Rhino Records have released three different Crosby, Stills & Nash box sets highlighting each member, as a group, with collaborations, and solo projects. Now there’s a fourth box set, but this time welcoming in Neil Young and highlighting the reunion tour they did in 1974. CSNY 1974 (Rhino) is a way to not only hear again the songs CSN and CSNY did as a group, but to also check out their solo material performed in a group setting. These include “Don’t Be Denied” (from Young’s great live album Time Fades Away), “Military Madness” (from Nash’s Songs For Beginners), “Almost Cut My Hair” (from Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name) and “Love The One You’re With” (from Stills’ debut solo album). Even if you know these songs in their original form or live recordings they may have done on their own tours, it’s nice to hear them in the CSNY setting, especially when the harmonies kick in.
Even if you’ve bought bootlegs or downloaded ROIO’s over the years, it’s nice to hear them nicely mixed, complete with in between dialogue that had often made those shows interesting to listen to along with the songs in question. Then there’s the guitar work from both Young and Stills, each with their own distinct way of playing but when they were together, it worked nicely. Despite the inner bickering they may have had with each other from time to time, CSNY 1974 shows that when it was possible, they were able to work together in beautiful harmony.
I had obtained the CD’s for both of these albums when they were reissued back then but hopefully the two albums will gain a wider audience once again, as they are worth exploring. To pre-order Morning OF The Earth, you may head here or for Crystal Voyager, you can go there. If this is anywhere near the quality of Japanese reissue of surf soundtrack albums over the year, it will be a keeper.
(SIDENOTE: When Disney Channel first began their cable broadcasts, Crystal Voyager was one of the first movies shown on a regular basis before they formed their own programming.)
The first album by Austin, Texas’ Casual Strangers (self-released) tends to make it sound grander than it really is, especially when it tries to push the experimental guide, which I don’t hear. What I do hear on this album is a powerful piece of durable rock with a bit of depth and magnitude that is regularly not found in what passes as pop rock these these, and I like it. The group are fronted by vocalist Katey Gunn, who enjoys decorating the songs with different textures, pulling the listener in and then going in for the kill at the right moments. The same can be said for guitarist Paul Wacklawsky, drummer Jake Mitchell, and bassist Jaylinn Davidson, who enjoy exploring the arrangements of the songs, equally balancing what Gunn does with definition and space. Waklawsky also takes the microphone a few times, and what you had expected for some elements suddenly changes. Some tracks sound like durable new wave while other moments sound like the progressive things that some bands of the 90’s enhanced and made it their thing, or part of a thing that made these alternative bands so great, as if they heard different things and wanted to expand on things to take it one step further. I hope Casual Strangers are able to take the casual strangers known as their fans to new places and worlds.
(The self-titled Casual Strangers’ album will be released on July 22nd.)
Shake Your Moneymaker (Def American) may have been the album that introduced the world to The Black Crowes, but the album I loved the most was their follow up, The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (Def American), primarily because of the first single and video for it. “Remedy” just hit me in the right way, as the song was a sheer rocker, Chris Robinson had the right attitude vocally, and the whole attitude of the band in the song and video just made it sound right for me, if “sounding right” can actually exist. It felt right to me, and the video was easy going, laid back, and just felt like a party video, or at least you’d wish to be in the room with these guys to watch and listen to them right out. The strut from Chris Robinson, barefoot and all, was awesome, and the man had a bit of swagger, however nerdy it might’ve seemed.
The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion also had great songs like “Sting Me” (the B-side to “Remedy”, along with the two videos that came along with it, “Thorn In My Pride” and the awesome “Sometimes Salvation”. In fact, I would’ve loved it if “Sometimes Salvation” and “Remedy” existed as the perfect A/B but by 1992, major record labels were no longer waiting around to release oldies-but-goodies singles, where they could put out back-to-back records. In fact, “Sometimes Salvation” was not released as a vinyl single in any country, which is mind blowing considering how great this song was and still is.
Years later, I realized “Remedy” sounds a bit like Chicago’s “Feeling Stronger Every Day”, at least the initial hook before Chris Robinson starts the vocals. I had wondered if I had liked “Remedy” because of the similarity to “Feeling Stronger Every Day” and decided that no, I love “Remedy” as is. I’m also glad that this is one of the Black Crowes songs that gets a lot of classic rock airplay today, twenty-two years after the fact.
Last week I posted a new edition to my dream jukebox but as I was reaching the last sentence, I began to question myself. Should the “Colour My World”/”I’m A Man” 45 by Chicago be in there, because I realized I had a slightly more powerful record, also by Chicago, in mind. I decided to leave it alone and post the article but when I did, I came up with the conclusion I may have been wrong with my initial decision.
As much as I like the softer, more delicate side of Chicago’s music, it was the rockers that always got to me first, and “25 Or 6 To 4″ is my all time favorite Chicago song. Say what you want about where Peter Cetera’s career went to in the 1980’s, but in 1970, he belted it out with passion and of course, his bass work was powerful and incredible. You can’t help but hear a song where I wondered “what are they talking about?” Is it about drugs? Is it about something else? Or is it some guy who is up at 3:35 in the morning, unable to finish a song and realized “maybe I should just write a song about how frustrated I am by not being able to complete this.” It made for a good story, whatever the story is. On top of that, you have the majestry of Terry Kath’s guitar work, and while the 45 single edit removes the part where he hits the wah-wah pedal for a wicked run towards the finish line, the single edit seems to shorten this song nice and promptly. The single edit does remove a verse, but my introduction to the song was through the edit and I was content until I bought my own copy of Chicago II and learned there was about 90 or more seconds extra.
This 45 too was part of Columbia’s Hall Of Fame series, offering two hit songs on the same record so the B-side had another song from Chicago II, “Make Me Smile”. It sounded funny to me, not as full as “25 Or 6 To 4″, and I would later learn that the original safety masters were destroyed so it sounded like someone used a cassette dub of a cassette dub of a cassette dub, where the quality sounded muffled. This was a mean rocker too, with Kath handling the lead vocal duty, and I would learn that this too was a short edit of the original song. I would also later learn that the single edit of “Make Me Smile” actually spliced a part of the original and “Now More Than Ever”, which then made me learn those were part of the mini-opera known as “Ballet For A Girl In Buchanon”. These two songs were the ones that made me want to know how much more music Chicago had made, outside of the popular songs I heard on the radio. The old Chicago was far better than the then-latest Chicago but I wanted to like them all. I’m glad I did.
Melvins fans have been excited by the material and live performances from Buzz Osborne as a solo artist, and now the full album will be out next week Tuesday via Ipecac Records called This Machine Kills Artists. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait seven days to hear it for King Buzzo is allowing the album to stream in full a week beforehand, and you can listen to it now by heading to DangerousMinds.net. There are sixteen songs on this beast, so have a listen and see what Osbourne has to offer.