Creative blasts from the past      

By John Cody

CD REVIEWS

Dan Peek: All Things Are Possible, Home Sweet Home, 1979.
Dan Peek: Doer of the Word, Home Sweet Home, 1984.
America: Highway, Rhino, 2000.

AS AN ORIGINAL member of the multi-platinum selling folk/rock act America, Dan Peek hit the big time early. The trio scored a number one single (Horse With No Name) and album their first time out. At the time of recording all three members were still in their teens. The sudden success affected each member – Peek the most profoundly – and after eight albums, he exited in 1977 for a career in Christian music.

Highway comprises three discs jammed with hits, album tracks and rarities. Peek’s material is well represented, including the original version of Lonely People which he redid for the Christian market in 1986 Todays the Day, Everyone I Meet Is From California, Dont Cross That River, and more. Outtakes include Satan, a Peek original from 1970. The song might sound like treatise on evil, but its merely another forgettable pop song, which explains why it wasnt released when first recorded.Well packaged, with generous samplings of photos and annotation, its the typical first-rate package Rhino is known for.

The title track from Peeks solo debut, All Things Are Possible (1978), held the #1 position on Christian radio for thirteen weeks. It could pass for an America performance, and was far and away the best thing on the album. The rest of the material paled in comparison. Lyrics like “If your heart is broken and you think it wont mend / Give your heart to Jesus and Hell be your friend,” and “Youre my savior since you saved me,” were remarkably trite. Peeks heart was in the right place, but it hardly stands up to earlier efforts.

After a stellar career with America that included recording four albums with legendary Beatles producer George Martin, Peek brought Chris Christian on board, and the difference is obvious. Reverb-washed keyboards and Syndrums, which were a trend for about 18 months, enable the astute listener to date the disc — whereas anyone else will simply wonder: why the silly sounds? After Doer of the Word, Peek released two more albums and dropped out of sight. Today he lives in the Caribbean and maintains a fascinating website full of interesting bits, including a lengthy online history of his days with America.

Mark Heard: Millennium Archives, Home Sweet Home, 2000.

Arguably one of the most influential artists to come out of CCM, Mark Heard produced a body of work ahead of the competition — but lost on an audience that placed little value on originality. In an era where the majority of releases were embarrassingly trite, Heard dealt with real life issues.

All his original albums are worth having. Stop the Dominoes, Victims of the Age, Eye Of the Storm, Ashes and Light, Mosaics, Acoustic, The Greatest Hits of Mark Heard have all been reissued by Home Sweet Home.

While its nice to see his early catalogue officially released on CD, the packaging is shoddy, with minimal information, and an insult to his legacy. Heards work was reissued a few years back by the fans, with two albums per disc, lyrics and full packaging, and royalties going to Heards widow. That was a labour of love; whereas these discs come across as nothing more than a chance to make a few quick bucks for the record company.

On the Millennium the only disc with liner notes Chris Christian points out Heard was “the most unsuccessful artist on the Home Sweet Home roster.” That never stopped the label from milking him, offering three best of collections from the five initial releases. BCCN spoke with Heards manager, Dan Russell, a few years back; he made it clear that Heard had never received a royalty payment for any of these albums. Christian has vowed to make sure Janet Heard will see something from these new reissues. Heres hoping he delivers on that promise.

All the above discs are available through Home Sweet Home Records.

Bryan MacLean: Candys Waltz, Sundazed, 2000.
Love: Forever Changes, Rhino, 2001.

Bryan MacLean was right hand man to Arthur Lee in the legendary mid-60s L.A. group Love. Outside of a couple of almost hits (My Little Red Book, 7 & 7 Is) they made nary a dent on the national charts. A refusal to tour and sundry bad habits ensured they would miss out on any significant fame or fortune. But they were local heroes in L.A. One of the areas most influential bands, they paved the way for what was to come soon after, notably the Doors.

Formed in 1965, the original band imploded three years later, soon after Forever Changes, their third album, was released. MacLeans total writing credit during his tenure was a mere four songs, but they were amongst the best. Three — Alone Again Or, Orange Skies and Softly To Me — ended up on Revisited, the groups first anthology; and all four appear on Love Story, an excellent double disc set Rhino released a few years back.

Considered one of the all-time great rock albums, Forever Changes gets a deluxe reissue treatment, with cleaned-up sound, bonus tracks and essays on the album. Making little impact when it was first released in 1967, the album peaked at #154 on the Billboard sales charts. But history has been kind.

Primarily acoustic-based, there are few electric guitars. Instead, copious use of strings and brass give the disc a unique sound that was foreboding and fresh at the same time. Lees vision was quirky in the extreme. Acid-drenched, rather than a mirror of the hippie dream, there was a dark undercurrent throughout. Lee had become obsessed with his own demise, and believed these songs to be his farewell to the world. Such an environment should have made for a disaster, yet what ended up on tape is one of the finest releases of the decade. Well worth checking out.

MacLean left the group soon after Forever Changes. Eventually embracing Christianity, he made occasional appearances at local coffee houses. The CD jacket has a handbill from The Daisy, located in Beverly Hills; the list of talent over the course of a month includes Keith Green, Larry Norman and MacLean. In 1976 he appeared on the Barry McGuire television soundtrack album Anyone But Jesus, offering his testimony and performing the first song he wrote as a Christian, Blessed Salvation. In the early 80s he formed the Bryan MacLean Band, performing in L.A. MacLean wrote Dont Toss Us Away which his sister, Maria McKee, sang with her group Lone Justice; it was later to become a top five country hit for Patty Loveless. McLeans first solo release, ifyoubelivin, was issued in 1997. The disc was a revelation. Billed as the lost Love album, it made a solid case for MacLean as one of the true unsung heroes of rock n roll.

Like ifyoubelivin, this second collection contains songs written during his tenure with Love and soon after; it was recorded between 1971 and 1984. Featuring just guitar and voice, the vision is strong enough that other instruments are hardly missed.

Much of the writing is closer to a Broadway theatre sensibility than anything in rock music; Husband and Father is reminiscent of Soliloquy from Carousel. The disc ends with a 13-minute interview from 1998 that shows MacLean to be humble, with a self-deprecating sense of humour. MacLean died unexpectedly on Christmas day of that same year.

The Millennium: Magic Time, Sundazed, 2001.

Masterminded by Curt Boettcher, a mid-sixties wunderkind with his finger on the pulse of the L.A. studio scene, the Millennium had all the makings of something massive. Released in 1968, the sextets sole LP (Begin) was rife with six-part vocal harmonies and inventive arrangements. Imagine a melding of the Association and Beach Boys both of whom Boettcher worked with and add a tinge of psychedelia.

Containing all thats right in pop music, theres a knowing innocence — clearly brought about through copious doses of LSD — as evidenced by tracks like Karmic Dream Sequence #1, and The Island. Im Not Living Here features the timely line “on the shelf your mind had built for me” and ends with the ultimate insult: “I think youre a phony / why not take off your mask and face the games you play.”

Too sophisticated for AM radio and not heavy enough for the more adventurous FM deejays, the album met with overwhelming indifference. In an era where Big Brother and Blue Cheer were more popular than the Beach Boys, sales were dismal, and the disc vanished almost overnight.

That should have been the end of the story, but today long after the contemporaries are forgotten — the group is fondly remembered. Over the years the album has been released in a variety of packages, and now Sundazed offers the ultimate: a triple disc set. Recorded between 1965 and 1968, the set collects all of the Millennium tracks, along with material by The Ballroom, Boettchers previous group, as well as stray demos, alternate mixes and more. A treasure chest for those searching after obscure pop gems.

Cosmic Rough Riders: Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, Poptones, 2001.

Like a modern-day version of the Millennium, Scotlands Cosmic Rough Riders play pure pop, and in a better world they would rule the airwaves. Derivative in the best sense, the band brings together elements of Teenage Fanclub, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. Gorgeous melodies, stellar harmonies, hooks a-plenty and playing that always keeps the song first, the disc stands as one of the finest releases of the last year.

A tangible optimistic stance is evident throughout, starting with the opening track, Brothers Gather Round; a benediction of sorts, the short piece consists of two repeated lines: “Brothers gather round / well be harvesting the land.” Inspired by the film Witness, the band describe it as a “hippy Amish song.” Revolution (In The Summertime?) with the line “We dont need a revolution in the Summertime / We dont need a revolution anytime / What we need is someone to believe in / Like a God to fall out of the sky.” Glastonbury Revisited celebrates the festival with the couplet “Where have all the angels gone / now that all the acids done?”

Theres a clever sense of humor throughout with lines like “She fell in love with a cousin of my friend / Who said hed be there till the end / He was a lying hippie scum / A vegetarian, and you cant trust them” (Baby, Youre So Free).

The disc, which has received raves across the board in Britain, has yet to be released in North America.

BOOK REVIEWS:

The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Volumes 1-10, Garland Publishing, 2000

This exhaustively comprehensive collection – taking in ten massive volumes – covers the globe. Averaging over 1,000 pages per book, the series explores indigenous music in social, historical and cultural contexts. Covering the impact of migration, politics, religion and mass media, each volume includes musical annotation, graphs, maps, photos, illustrations and bibliographies, creating as complete coverage as possible within the medium. In addition, each book comes with a CD offering audio samples of the music.

The influence of the Christian church is dealt with throughout the series. Volume One, on Africa, lists numerous references, ranging from the missionaries initial rejection of African music as pagan to their embracing and encouraging indigenous Africans to record, transcribe, and study traditional music in their areas — and the impact this has had on the culture, including popular African performers like Ebenezer Obey, who is described as a devout Christian.

The series is costly each volume retails at $250 US, making the Canadian price tag approximately $4000 for the entire package.

Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March: Echoes Of The Sixties, Billboard Books, 1999.
Wesley Hyatt: The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits, Billboard Books, 1999.
Wayne Jancik: The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, Billboard Books 1998.

Echoes includes up-to-date profiles on 38 musicians, all of whom experienced fame in the sixties. In many cases the stories are variations on one-time heavyweight players left with nothing once the spotlight fades. Gross mismanagement stories – with everyone but the artist getting paid – are abundant. The joke about yesterdays rock star pumping gas as soon as the hits fade is documented – with slight variation too many times.

Surprisingly, theres little bitterness. Nearly all interviewees look back with fondness at their years in the limelight. Older and wiser, most have retained their love of music as opposed to the music business – and continue playing outside of the spotlight. A great read for where-are-they-now fans as well as anyone under the impression that once the hits start, your life is set.

The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders profiles acts that managed to grab the golden ring once before dropping from of the charts. Hit being strictly defined by placement in the pop singles charts, some of the entries appear curious Jimi Hendrix, Patti Smith and Janis Joplin would hardly be considered flashes in the pans. Regardless, the stories are fascinating.

Number One Adult Contemporary Hits offers the story of every song that has topped the Adult Contemporary charts. In the wake of Elvis and Rock n Roll many radio stations looked for an alternative, attempting to stay current but quiet. Middle of the road, easy listening, pop standard . . . whatever name the format went under, it was music to relax by.

The stories behind the songs can be fascinating. The Singing Nun, who topped the charts in 1963 with Dominique, dropped out of the convent and ended her life by participating in a double suicide with her lesbian lover. Jerry Burgan, rhythm guitarist for We Five (You Were on My Mind) went on to became a pastor in San Francisco, working with those who fall through the cracks.

Who had the most number one hits? Elton John with 16. But Celine Dion has spent the most weeks at the peak position; as of the books cut-off date, she had logged 65 weeks at that top.

William McKeen, editor: Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay, Norton, 2000

Norton, renowned for its scholarly anthologies, tackles rock writing. At almost 700 pages, this is hands-down the single best collection of the genre, gathering together some of the finest, most passionate writings on the subject.

Sources include book excerpts, liner notes, speeches, song lyrics and more. The infamous John Lennon observation regarding the Beatles being more popular than Jesus is placed in context of the entire interview, rather than letting the single quote stand alone. Frank Zappas 1985 statement to the Senate Commerce Committee, concerning the labeling of music based on lyric content, makes clear just how out of touch the Washington Wives were.

The lengthy list of contributors is impressive, including writers such as Roddy Doyle, Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie, William Burroughs, Terry Southern, Tom Wolfe, Peter Guralnick; noted critics like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, Nick Tosches; and performers such as Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Pete Townsend. Some opinions are questionable, but nearly everything here makes for worthwhile reading.

Norman Lebrecht: The Complete Companion to 20th Century Music, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Lebrecht is known for his writings on classical music. As implied, the scope is mammoth, covering everything from Stravinsky to the Sex Pistols. While that may sound impressive, there are many questionable assertions. For instance, Lebrecht labels David Bowies music as rhythmic decadence, and goes on to tell us that Bowie quit live concerts in 1973 — when in actuality, the singer continues to perform today.

Equally frustrating is a propensity towards a National Enquirer mindset. Theres too much gossip, with sexual predilections and various scandals threatening to overshadow musical achievements.

Richard Crawford: Americas Musical Life A History, Norton, 2001

Crawford – a professor of music at the University of Michigan and former president of the American Musicological Society offers an overview of all significant forms that fall under the banner of American music. He includes minstrels, ragtime, country, rock, classical, jazz and more. Covering everything from colonial psalmody to rock stars, this is a fine single-volume introduction to the countrys numerous musical forms.

Brian Southhall: The A-Z of Record Labels, Sanctuary Publishing, 2000.

A straightforward list of more than 200 record labels, with brief biographies. This will bore the pants off 99.9 percent of the public, but hard-core collectors will devour every page.

Bill Harkleroad (with Billy James): Lunar Notes Zoot Horn Rollos Captain Beefheart Experience, SAF Publishing, 1998/2000.

Bill Harkleroad, under the nom de plume Zoot Horn Rollo, played guitar for Captain Beefhearts Magic Band during the Captains most fertile period — which lasted from the legendary Trout Mask Replica album in 1969, through to the end of that edition of the Magic Band five years later. His story which punctures myths and dispels many of the legends surrounding the group is fascinating. For fans of the Captain, an essential read.

Billy James: Necessity is . . . The Early Years of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, SAF Publishing, 2000.

As leader of the Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa brought a welcome breath of common sense to the counter-culture movement of the turbulent sixties. His refusal to buy into the naïve flower-power mindset was tolerated due to well-reasoned arguments — bolstered to a large degree by the groups bizarre appearance, which gave them the all-important credibility. During the Mothers first incarnation (1964-1970) the group produced music that challenged on a number of levels. The original band – an oddball troupe whose playing skills were equaled by their eccentricities – produced a number of vital albums, most of which remain unique and fresh-sounding four decades on.

This is the first book to concentrate solely on the early – and to many most interesting years of the band. Interviews with key players provide a view from the inside out, including details on the formative years, where are they now stories, and opportunities to air longstanding gripes and resentments over their Zappas cavalier treatment.

Gavin Baddeley: Lucifer Rising, Plexus, 1999.

Christians have long claimed that their faith is falsely portrayed by a hostile media. Baddeley an ordained Reverend with the Church of Satan – argues that Satanists suffer from similar misunderstandings. Chronicling a history of Satanism, he traces it from the Old Testament through to the present day. Asserting that the vast majority of books on the subject get it wrong, he divides the approaches into three basic groups: those written by Christians, which he says are “full of half-truths”; “true crime exposes,” which attempt to portray Satanism as an “international murder club”; and psuedo-authoritative tabloid-style accounts, which combine elements of the above to bolster sensationalistic claims. Lucifer Rising goes a long way to dispelling what many Satanists insist are misconceptions. Numerous interviews with key figures, including Anton LaVey and Kenneth Anger, add to the books credibility.

Organizations under the Satanic banner frequently contradict one another. Glen Danzig makes the point that Satanists come in all stripes, and – mirroring the interdenominational squabbles of the Christian church – various accounts throughout the book prove his point, with conflicting stances on most issues; some even argue about the very existence of Satan.

Norwegian Black Metal musician Count Grishnackh, who murdered a fellow Satanist shortly after being interviewed, claims the Bible “is the only book about Satan for real Satanists.” Regarding fundamentalist Christians, he declares “thats the only kind I respect.”

Brian J. Walls of California duo GGFH (Global Genocide Forget Heaven) disagrees. “I think Christianity has been responsible for many good things . . . Catholicism, despite all of its evils, is a lot better than fundamentalism . . . A lot of martyrs and saints were quite cool, trippy people.”

It also appears that Satanists can be duped as easily as their Christian counterparts: Bob Larson gets credited twice as a demon buster.

Theres plenty of fascinating trivia, including the fact that Tiny Tim (who was a serious Christian) was popular amongst many Satanists — some of whom believed his music held magical powers.

Chapters on Satanism in cinema, Heavy Metal and the Moral Majority, the Church of Satan, the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of the 1980s, the genesis of Black Metal, recent acts like Marilyn Manson and far more, makes for a well-researched treatise on a much confused subject.

Richie Underberger: Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers, Miller/Freeman, 2000.

Underberger profiles 19 acts from the sixties, including Michael Brown (Left Bank/Beckies), the Pretty Things, Fred Neil and Arthur Brown. For the most part each achieved varying degrees of commercial success, while working outside of the mainstream. The era was particularly fertile in terms of audience acceptance, with the public exposed to music that hardly fits into present-day program directors ideas of what is suitable for mass consumption. Some acts, like the Fugs and the Bonzo Dog Band, had it hard enough during a time when anything was game; today they wouldnt stand a chance.

Others simply deserved more exposure. Dino Valenti left one obscure solo album, and a string of releases as latter-day front man for Quicksilver Messenger Service. But his talent was far greater than such a CV would indicate.

A CD included with the book samples a half dozen tracks, including the Fugs, Richard & Mimi Farina and Thee Midnighters whose lead singer, Little Willie G (after years of heroin and cocaine), is currently a full-time evangelist for Victory Outreach International Church in La Puente, California.

Irwin Chusid: Songs In The Key of Z, Acappella, 2000.

Subtitled The Curious Universe Of Outsider Music, this tome profiles a lengthy list of individuals who operate in their own sphere — seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world. Against all odds, they manage to produce some of the purest music ever recorded, completely unsullied by commercial concerns. In most cases theres some sense of vision, albeit wobbly in the extreme. How it comes about is anybodys guess. Some are naturally inclined. Others, Chusid speculates, can be the “product of damaged DNA, psychotic seizures, or alien abduction . . . medical malpractice, incarceration . . . possession by the devil or submission to Jesus.”

There are many cases where the gospel is a core inspiration — including Daniel Johnston and Tiny Tim, who “expressed the unwavering conviction that Jesus Christ was his savior.” Tims visions of the afterlife were peculiar: “I dream that in the next world Ill be able to be with all the women I want. I dont want men around, except maybe my poor father, and Al Jolson. I will own them, all these beautiful creatures who never get old, and do whatever I want with them. There will be no body odor, and making l-o-v-e will be like it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. I will never get tired, and my s-e-e-d will flow out for hours, like water out of a hose, in a stream of ecstasy.”

In the case of many of these musicians, theres a decided lack of conventional talent, matched by the artists singular vision — which negates any sense of embarrassment, or self-awareness as to just how strange the music really is. Rarely self-conscious, each artist comes across as entirely sincere, and wholly unpretentious. Most performances will elicit laughter or confusion on initial exposure, but its the shock of something unfamiliar. The listener need not get the joke, because there isnt one. At the least, the performers themselves wouldnt be in on it.

© John Cody 2002

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| May 1st, 2002 | Posted in Articles |
     
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