6/29/2007

 

Audio Flashback: 1975

I got in trouble for posting my Get Out columns here on my blog on Fridays, a day before they hit the actual newspaper. Apparently they think if my articles leak early, nobody will buy the paper on Saturday, since that's all they really want a copy for anyway (AS IF). Fair enough, I can wait until Saturday mornings to post them here. Meanwhile, I had a new idea to fill the space on Fridays from now on. I'll pick a random year and highlight a couple of albums that came out that year that I love and discuss them a bit as well as post some songs using my totally neato imeem music player thingie. I'm pretty sure every year has had it's great moments in popular music. Let's go right for the meat of the matter and start with the wonderful, woozy mid-70's. David Bowie: Young Americans This is a bit of a transitional album for Mr. Jones, released after the glittery death of the Ziggy Stardust persona and before the art-cocaine madness of the Berlin era albums. Remarkably, it was the album that finally broke Bowie into the big BIG time in the US, with the title track and the John Lennon collaboration "Fame" becoming colossal hits. White boy soul was literally invented on this album and tracks like "Fascination" and "Right" predict the disco craze that would soon take over the world. David's voice is different here than on previous albums, deeper and careening melodramatically from high to low like an art-damaged lounge singer. He swoops and soars impressively on his heartbreaking cover of The Beatles' "Across the Universe", which I always thought was such an unusual choice for this album. Somehow, it fits. The presence of a very young Luther Vandross and a set of soul-sister backup singers injects some real fever into the recordings, making this one of Bowie's most "human" sounding records. The recent deluxe anniversary edition adds two brilliant studio outtakes to the original 8 tracks, as well as the disco-fried and very rare single "John I'm Only Dancing (Again)"


Kraftwerk: Radio-Activity Their previous album Autobahn was the one that perked up ears around the world with it's exclusive use of primitive synthesizers and Teutonic Beach Boys schtick. However, Radioactivity is the record that would serve as the brittle blueprint for the rest of their groundbreaking catalog of electronic pop. This album has a spooky, otherworldly quality with it's beeping geiger counters, hissing radio signals, reverberating synth effects and tinny machine percussion. Like all Kraftwerk albums, it has a theme and here it's "the miracle of radio". 1975 seems a little late to be tripping out about such notions, which lends the album a weird retro-futuristic quality, like some fusty artifact discovered in your crazy great-uncle's workshop. Florian, Ralf, Karl, and Wolfgang lay down some darned chilly soundscapes here with electronic music machines that were barely just invented - I can only imagine how foreign and freaky this music must have sounded to people when it came out. Even all these years later, it has still been known to cause extreme reactions.


Abba: Abba When this album came out, Abba were huge all over the globe, everywhere except the US, where this album reached a meager #174 on the Billboard charts. It saw the Swedish foursome making a blatant attempt to harden up their sound, and while Abba is not exactly known for it's hard rocking, tracks like "Hey, Hey Helen" and "Rock Me" are at least as hardcore as say, Elton John was at this point. "Mamma Mia" and "SOS" are now classics, although most people never make it beyond those songs' presence on Abba Gold. Out of all of the original albums, this has the most variety; they try out reggae on "Tropical Loveland" and torch polka on "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do". Bjorn and Benny had already perfected their full-to-the-brim, high-gloss production methods and Anni-Frid and Agnetha harmonize like only they can, creating that unmistakable, irreproducible Abba sound we love so much. The CD reissue includes THE most insane Abba recording ever, "Medley: Pick a Bale of Cotton/On Top of Old Smokey/Midnight Special". It's never been explained to me why Abba would stitch together a slavery-era relic, a children's standard, and a current pop hit, but if anybody ever accused Abba of being humorless, this proves them way wrong. Aw, Lawdy!

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