Category Archives: The 1972 Project

1972 Case File #79.

Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, The Ballad of Calico

File Between: The Free Design and Marty Robbins

Comments: When I say that The Ballad of Calico sounds far more like 1969 than 1972, I don’t want that to sound like a bad thing. But it’s a double-album concept record about the history of a California mining town (see Wikipedia for particulars), with light psychedelic flourishes, the breeziest sunshine-pop/Laurel Canyon production imaginable, and a couple of the kind of goofy genre exercises that should never have made it out of the 60s alive. (“Dorsey the Paper-Carrying Dog” is a slack-jawed “Winchester Cathedral,” while “Vachel Carling’s Rubilator” takes on the world of faddish technology at only a slightly more sophisticated level than Allan Sherman’s “Automation.”) The only thing that even sounds slightly 70s about it is the vague country-pop air that hangs about and occasionally settles down on a song or two, turning it into actual country (as with the dobro-heavy “Trigger Happy Kid,” excerpted below), moving Kenny Rogers, by now far more famous than the First Edition, away from the sundazed psych-pop of his youth and into the mellow country-pop of his adult years. But though Rogers gets top billing, he’s far from the only voice here; the whole band sings various songs, as each of the nineteen songs tells one slice of Calico’s story, tall tales and nostalgic history lessons alike, largely in character, including a couple of very bad soul imitations that sound even more Sixties (reminding me of the guys who sang in Janis Joplin’s bands). It’s charming, but slight, and the fact that it was written as a concept album for the group, by Michael “Wildfire” Murphey and Larry Cansler, makes me think of Frank Sinatra’s equally ungainly and oddly fascinating concept album “Watertown.” Like “Watertown,” I bet this could be someone’s favorite record ever if they spent long enough with it at the right impressionable age; but for me, it’s more curio than talisman.

A Keeper? That said, I’m something of a collector of curios; and starry-eyed Americana is nothing to sneeze at, however underwritten or overlong.

Vinyl Rip: Trigger Happy Kid

1972 Case File #78.

The Dells, Sweet As Funk Can Be

File Between: The Impressions and the Family Stone

Comments: The Dells were one of the longest-running R&B groups still making thoroughly contemporary music in 1972, from the doo-wop of “Oh What A Night” in 1956 to the lush Philly-esque “The Love We Had Stays On My Mind” in 1971 (and later hits as well), going so strong that this is the second of two records they put out in 1972. It’s a concept album about the dialectic between sweetness and funk, the twin poles of R&B in the late 60s and early 70s, and it takes a wide, eagles’-eye view of the terrain. There are only eight songs on the album, but they’re intersticed by eight brief spoken-word “segues” in which various Dells rap about funk, not ignoring the potential for puns on “fuck,” and sounding at various points like Funkadelic, Gil Scott-Heron, the Last Poets, Curtis Mayfield, and even, startlingly, like Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain.” The songs themselves are variations on the Chicago soul made familiar by the Impressions, with vocal leads split between Johnny Carter’s sweet falsetto and Marvin Junior’s gritty, bluesy shouting. Aside from scorching opening “Windy City Soul,” the songs aren’t terribly memorable, but no matter how funky they get they’re tempered by sweet production, and no matter how sweet they get they move to a funky rhythm. It’s the kind of record you immediately want to share with everyone you know, if only so that they can start using the interstitial segues to fill up space in mixes.

A Keeper? Let me repeat: It’s a concept album about the dialectic between sweetness and funk. It’s an undiscovered masterpiece to boot — never been issued on CD — and sounds terrific.

Vinyl Rip: Windy City Soul

1972 Case File #77.

Larry Coryell, Offering

File Between: Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report

Comments: When I started getting into the great post-Hendrix jazz-fusion guitarists some years back, Larry Coryell was one of the names that kept coming up. Like John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, and James Blood Ulmer, he brought the techniques, tones, and dynamics of rock playing to the fluid space exploration of heavy-duty fusion. He wasn’t quite as modally adventurous as the rest of them, though, sticking to a jammy post-bop template that owed as much to the high-octane showmanship of the technical end of progressive rock as it did to the serious musical exploration of modern jazz. This is bright, friendly fusion, an obvious next step for jam-rock heads, Coryell’s guitar sharing lead status with Steve Marcus’ soprano sax over six cuts that range from eight to four minutes in length and never once surprise even if they never disappoint. I don’t know the name Steve Marcus outside of this record (he looks a bit like Rob Corddry in a goofy wig on the sleeve), and maybe it’s all the Kenny G I ingested as a youth, but it’s been hard for me to take a soprano sax seriously ever since. (Kids, be careful around that stuff. It will mess you up.) I can’t help wondering what it would sound like if Coryell were paired with a saxophonist who wanted to push more boundaries, a Rahsaan or a Pharoah or an Ayler; but except for the exceedingly New Agey “The Meditation of November 8th,” things move so fast here that I’m mostly caught up in the ride.

A Keeper? Fusion’s got its midlist, same as any other genre. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth hearing.

Vinyl Rip: Foreplay

1972 Case File #76.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

File Between: Traffic and Engelbert Humperdinck

Comments: I’ve long had a sneaking fondness for Manfred Mann in any incarnation — especially their epically absurd cover of “Blinded by the Light” — but I know that the gulf between their best work (among which I’d also catalog “Doo Wah Diddy” and “Quinn the Eskimo”) and their not-best is pretty damn wide. And so it is here. This was the debut record of the proggy “Earth Band” incarnation of Mann’s keyboard-led pop, and while some elements are familiar — especially the aiming-for-the-stars cover versions of minor songs, including a power-pop version of Randy Newman’s depressive “Living Without You” and a gospelly take on Dylan’s Basement Tape offcast “Please Mrs. Henry” – there are more genre exercises and throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick than I would have expected. There’s Deep Purple-ish proto-metal (“Prayer,”) spacey Moog-driven prog, bombastic soul-rock complete with gospel choir, moody instrumentals that sound like a pitch to score movie soundtracks, and even two country-rockish numbers to close the record on which Manfred Mann himself sings in a thin, uneven voice. Any lyrics the Earth Band write themselves are pretty much guaranteed to be awful, and much of the playing is just rote, technically proficient but without much to it besides the pretty sounds — but there are enough curveballs and dynamic pop shifts to keep me engaged nearly throughout.

A Keeper? Boil it down to the four or five good songs, and you could really have something. But like I said, I have a weakness for this kind of thing.

Vinyl Rip: Living Without You

1972 Case File #75.

Sandy Denny, Sandy

File Between: Shirley Collins and Stevie Nicks

Comments: I haven’t heard nearly enough Fairport Convention. (I know Liege and Lief pretty well, but that’s about it.) So I’m not the guy to ask if you want this record placed in the context of Denny’s career, how it differs from her Fairport material, how it expands her repertoire. The comparison I keep wanting to make, though they’re not very similar at all, is with Rod Stewart’s solo albums of the period — and not only because she covers Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” which Rod did on Every Picture Tells a Story. Maybe they share similar British folk sensibility filtered through American rock and soul. She is, of course, dreamier; there are extended violin codas and methodical guitars (Richard Thompson’s distinctively gnarled guitar lines turn up on most of the tracks) and, on the record’s high point, an Allen Toussaint horn chart. The second side, aside from the near-gospel “Listen, Listen,” is a bit samey — gorgeous, but inert — but Denny’s voice is one of the most magnificent instruments in all twentieth-century music, and getting to sit with her for the space of forty minutes is a goddamn privilege.

A Keeper? I’m not sure if this is the definitive Sandy Denny solo album — like I said, I haven’t heard enough — but until I hear something better (hard to imagine), it’ll have to do.

Vinyl Rip: For Nobody To Hear