Gang Of Four, Is It Love (12′ Mix)

In my last post I wrote about a bop-fusion transitional album by Donald Byrd as a way to take a deep dive into the trumpeter’s career. Byrd’s 1970s crossover jazz-funk work was castigated at the time but is now celebrated by new generations raised on hip-hop and chill out music. Ironically, it is Byrd’s 1960s acoustic jazz recordings, once well-respected, that are now unfairly overlooked. To paraphrase Brian De Palma — you are criticized against the fashion of the day and fashions change.

The same thing has not happened with Gang Of Four’s later recordings. There doesn’t seem to be any critical contingent out there reevaluating the work Gang Of Four put out after their initial two albums. Even the band members themselves are helping to further the narrative that what happened after their second LP is some heretical action in line with Sting’s post Police work or Jim Jones murdering his followers (and if you read music critics its Sting who committed the more serious crimes against humanity).

Instead, people who weren’t even born when Gang Of Four coined an entire swath of Post-Punk with their 1979 debut seem to get angry that the band didn’t stylistically freeze in 1979. Don’t worry — if the band did stay the same the very same people would castigate them for being one-trick ponies.

1983’s Hard was Gang Of Four’s initial swansong. It’s not a great album by any stretch but its not bad and it even has a few solid tracks on it. The first single from it, “Is It Love,” is a flat-out masterpiece, a classic that merges the sonic and thematic Gang Of Four esthetic with Chic for a sophisticated bedroom disco sound that achieves something worthy of late period Roxy Music. While most 1980s extended singles are wastes of time a number stand very tall. The extended 12′ mix of the Is It Love single still belongs in elite company.

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Put This On Vinyl: Harold Budd, Avalon Sutra

Harold Budd was one of many musicians who were killed by Covid in 2020. I was a little surprised by the lack of attention Budd’s passing got in the media since he helped define what became known as ambient music. Perhaps this is because much of his recorded work, languorous improvised piano over slowly shifting electronic backings, has been much copied and emulated by others.

If I had to recommend one representative Harold Budd LP for everyone to get I would not be alone in selecting The Pearl, his 1983 collaboration with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. It is a sumptuous album, one that marries beauty with more than a touch of shimmering melancholy. The Pearl is one of the touchstone albums that offers an alternative view of the 1980s and yet it has not aged a day. But, I have that record and Budd has so many albums that are not on vinyl yet. Of these, my favorite is Avalon Sutra.

Avalon Sutra was released in 2005 on the samadhisound label when Harold Budd was having trouble getting a record label interested in putting it out. Samadhisound is run by Budd’s friend, and sometimes collaborator, David Sylvian. I believe it may be Harold Budd’s last recorded, non film score work. It is such a beautiful work.

Harold Budd was a classical composer who discovered he enjoyed improvising pieces of sparse piano music. While this style is lovely you may not need every single one of Budd’s ambient electro-acoustic albums in your life. One of the joys of Avalon Sutra, besides its shear beauty, is that it brings back in elements of Harold Budd’s impressionistic classical foundation without causing any tension with the electronic touches. Everything fits together seamlessly.

Budd does not develop the pieces on Avalon Sutra over an extended stretch the way a classical composer normally would. Instead, he wrote and recorded this as his final musical statement and the short, elegant pieces of music come off as quiet, though sometimes intensely emotional, scenes from a contemplative life well spent.

To me, the music on Avalon Sutra is about living in the moment even as you are connecting with memories as images, like a film projecting on the back of your brain. You may be looking at a bee landing on a flower and that brings up images of a loved one walking on a path, just ahead of you. The album sums up the slow, sensual joys of a life that will disappear in an instant. Rush out and do something very slow before its all over — bask in the sun like a seal out on a rock.

Listen to Avalon Sutra and see what memories, emotions, or images are brought up for you.

Samadhisound put this out on vinyl!!!

Rock Star Dogs: Peggy Lee

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When I was a kid I knew Peggy Lee as a weird old lady who would show up on TV or in the paper in a wig and giant sunglasses. Of course, she was once a young mother balancing raising a family (including this sunny collie), going on tour, appearing on radio shows, and knocking out hit records.

In the 1940s, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole helped establish Capitol Records, an artist run West Coast indie that would solidify into a major when they took a chance on a nosediving Frank Sinatra right before his career took off again. Nat, Peg, and Frank pretty much defined the classic Capitol sound. Peg’s music during the Eisenhower Era is great too but there is just something so hopeful and upbeat about her ’40s recordings. Maybe Peggy Lee actually was hopeful and upbeat during this period when she enjoyed a series of Top 10 hits on Capitol, including the unstoppable “It’s A Good Day.”

The fab guitar player in this clip is Peg’s husband, Dave Barbour, who played with everybody from Billie Holiday and Lester Young to Benny Goodman and Andre Previn. Barbour had a serious drinking problem and it ended up destroying his marriage to Ms. Lee and largely contributed to an early death. Peggy Lee had her own problems and after a breakdown she came back bigger than ever in the 1950s with a different persona. The new Peg was less the sunny girl next door and more of a cool, distant, finger-snapping minimalist that you can still hear in “Fever,” “Black Coffee” and so many other classics.

Forget all of that and go back to a time when America just won a world war and even jazz musicians were settling down, starting families, and swimming in the exact kind of work they were made to do — making music.

Donald Byrd, Kofi

Blue Note put out such a consistent slate of very-tasty-to-beyond-great albums that they often forgot about — or just decided it was not worth putting out — a surprising number of sessions they had in the can. These albums often were mixed, and had cover art, and liner notes all set to go — but they just stayed in the vaults. For a couple of years, starting in 1979 the label released a bunch of them as budget-priced LPs, tossing aside the planned 1960s covers for a boring, utterly generic, look that (maybe) was trying to ape what CTI and ECM were doing with their often wonderful LP sleeves:

Forget what anybody, especially jazz collectors, says about only being into music and not image. The music on all of these LPs is FANTASTIC, as good or sometimes even better than the official 1960s releases, and yet you can still pick them all up today for only a couple of bucks where even normal 1979 Blue Note reissues with the original artwork cost around $20 a piece, or more. Blue Note has since corrected their marketing error and has reissued many of these in their originally designed Blue Note sleeves.

With Donald Byrd‘s Kofi it looks like Blue Note put the album together later with tracks the trumpeter recorded over a year apart in the Decembers of 1969 and 1970. These sessions finally came out in 1995.

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Canine Covers: Talking Heads, Selections From Once In A Lifetime

Love this painting — the alternative dog painting by the same artist is way more violent and completely insane. I gotta put that up at some point.

Of any band out there the Talking Heads is the one I wish the most that I had seen live — their 1980 tour seems particularity amazing. “Born Under Punches” is one of my favorite songs — like “Houses In Motion” it was brought to further life in concert.

The Cure, Boys Don’t Cry

When you are talking about favorite records its not uncommon to hear “But, the original UK import version is way better!” This goes all the way back to Capitol desecrating every Beatles LP before Sgt Pepper so that Americans had completely different experiences of the albums than Brits did. Same thing happened to US Stones LPs before Satanic Request.

One time the suits “desecrated” the original U.K. release and came up with something way better for the American market was when they turned The Cure‘s 1979 debut album, Three Imaginary Boys, into 1980’s Boys Don’t Cry.

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Put This On Vinyl: Abbey Lincoln, You Gotta Pay The Band (Feat. Stan Getz)

Rock albums from the 1990s are getting re-released on vinyl at an epic pace but jazz LPs from the Clinton years are coming out at a much slower pace. One of my favorite vocal jazz albums that deserves to come out on vinyl is 1991’s You Gotta Pay The Band, which features Abbey Lincoln with a hand-picked group that includes pianist Hank Jones, bassist Charlie Haden, daughter Maxine Roach on viola, and Stan Getz as the featured soloist.

Abbey Lincoln came to fame in the 1950s as a singer of standards, was an early 1960s Black Power belter, and late ’60s Hollywood actress. Somewhere in between taking time out to raise a family and divorcing drummer Max Roach, Lincoln developed as a jazz singer-songwriter outside of the mainstream spotlight throughout the 1970s and ’80s. She was at her most popular, and at the height of her powers, during the 1990s with a major label behind her.

1991’s You Gotta Pay The Band was her second album for the reignited Verve label and showcases Abbey Lincoln as a master storyteller, songwriter, and an artist with a unique point of view. Hard-won wisdom and emotional insight light up such Abbey Lincoln originals as the title track, “Bird Alone,” and “You Made Me Funny.” But, Abbey’s reading of a lyric only deepened with the decades and she also scores with three distinguished, though less recorded, standards from the usual songwriting suspects. My favorite track on the album is her revival of the depression era stunner “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”

Verve, please put this one out on vinyl!

Joni Mitchell, Shine

I have a section on this site where I call out great albums that only came out on CD that need to be released on vinyl. I was going to include Joni Mitchell‘s final album, Shine, from 2007 on this list, but when I looked it up I discovered that it had just scored a brand new LP edition.

I picked it up immediately. Shine sounds fantastic on vinyl.

Like everybody growing up in the 1970s, I knew a few Joni Mitchell songs. “Help Me” and “Free Man In Paris” were much played on FM rock radio for a few years and “Big Yellow Taxi” was beloved by kids of my generation at levels that almost approached Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.”

By the time I was in my teen years the Joni Mitchell I read about in the press and saw on TV seemed somewhat bitter and unpleasant. Maybe I just always caught her on an off day but she didn’t match my adolescent energy level. It probably worked out better that her music started to come into my life in my 20s when I reached back to such late 1970s albums as The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira. I slowly worked backwards from there to discover wonders such as Blue and Court and Spark.

By 2007, I had no doubt that Mitchell was a brilliant, singular, singer-songwriter and was interested to hear her first album of original material in nearly a decade.

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Rock Star Dogs: Prince

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From Sinatra to Elvis there is something about a dog that centers, and calms, an iconic artist.

This snap of Prince with his pup catches the transcendent musician, performer, songwriter, and studio artist at the start of his career.

There was too much blazing talent inside Prince to capture all of his facets in just one performance so I have gone with two.

The first time I heard of Prince was when he made the cover of the New York Rocker. The first video here, from 1981, throws a hazy spotlight on a new artist sharing one of era’s best New Wave power pop anthems. The second video showcases Prince the tireless master showman with an unbreakable connection to a long history of American popular music and jazz.

Malcolm McLaren, Double Dutch

A little while back some record friends and I were waxing nostalgic for the rollerskating scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s that was depicted in movies and in music. I was more familiar with coastal So. Cal rollerskating, which is perfectly encapsulated in George Benson’s peerless video for the ultra suave “Give Me The Night” but out in New York City the had a grittier skating scene that I don’t remember seeing at the time, other than the weird rugby-jersey-and-overalls gang that haunted the subway station in The Warriors.

Sharing clips on the Black communal skating scene in 1970s NYC led my mind to drift over to thoughts of double dutching.

I first heard about double dutching in middle school when some new transplants from NYC showed up and started skipping some sweet rope out on the blacktop at lunch break. This is also where I learned of the concept of the block party from one girl, which sounded like the best thing ever during an era when age 12 meant trying to be 18 really bad and there were no parties to be had anywhere.

Snapping back to present day, I went to the shelves and pulled out the Malcolm McClaren 12′ single “Double Dutch,” which is a guaranteed inducer of pleasure.

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