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1975 “Thank God My Music’s Still Alive”

November 12, 2015

1975 was a year that started with a new President in office, Gerald Ford, who had taken over for Richard Nixon after his resignation in late 1974. He was the only “unelected” President in our history (as he was appointed Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned due to his own scandals two years earlier). America was in the doldrums, given Vietnam, Watergate and the economic recession of 1974-75. Personally, 1975 also began in the nadir of my junior year of Brown. I was still looking for love and already worried what I would do after graduation. Fortunately, by later in the year, I was in love with my first serious girlfriend and enjoying the fall of my Senior year and at least temporarily not worried about my future.

The British Are Coming?

In 1975, rock music, which had been led by the success of the British invasion since the mid 1960s, was also in a holding pattern, while disco music ruled the pop charts. Notably, stalwarts like the Rolling Stones or the former Beatles produced little of note in 1975. John Lennon was relegated to doing covers of old rock n roll songs on his “Rock N Roll” album. (Although he did have one good song “#9 Dream” do well on the charts in early 1975 from 1974’s “Walls and Bridges” album). George Harrison had no new album and had grown increasingly musically irrelevant (only the song ‘Dark Horse’ was of note in 1975) since his outstanding first album “All Things Must Pass” in late 1970. After a dominant early 1970s, Yes had no new material. The Moody Blues were in the midst of an almost 6 year period of no new albums. Eric Clapton had nothing of note in 1975 , after his excellent “461 Ocean Boulevard” album in 1974. Led Zeppelin released the interminably long, double album “Physical Graffiti” ,with arguably only three strong tracks (the excellent “Kashmir”, as well as “Houses of the Holy” and “Trampled Under Foot”), that even Zeppelin fans found wanting after their previous two excellent and much more cohesive albums (“Houses of the Holy” and “Untitled- Led Zeppelin IV”).

Nonetheless, Britain continued to play an important role in the rock music scene with Pink Floyd, the Who, Fleetwood Mac, McCartney all with very good to excellent albums in 1975, and Elton John with several excellent pop singles which made him the best-selling artist of 1975 even amidst the Disco boom.

After late 1973’s extraordinary “Dark Side of the Moon” , Pink Floyd’s next effort was bound to suffer in comparison. Still the “Wish You Were Here” album boasted the same outstanding musicianship , excellent musical themes and a new unconventional structure that was the hallmark of “Dark Side…” . The album begins with the 13 minute+ composition “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (Parts I – V) and ends with the 12 minute + “Shine on You Crazy Diamond Pt. VI-IX)”. The song was an homage to founding member Syd Barrett who had to leave the group due to a mental breakdown 7 years earlier. Roger Waters ,who was the lead composer and lyricist for the group ,developed a simple yet vibrant central vocal and lyrical theme of “Shine On”. But it is Gilmour and his brilliant guitar playing and excellent keyboards, Waters bass and back up guitars and seamless use of synthesizer that drive “Shine On…” as the centerpiece of the album. But the other three tracks on the album are excellent musically too, with the biting satire about the music industry of “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” and the beautiful emotional longing expressed succinctly in “Wish You Were Here”. Of course, the album played second fiddle to “Dark Side” , but what a great second fiddle it was.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s , the British group Fleetwood Mac had constant personnel turnover. But with the departure of lead guitarist and songwriter Bob Welch, the remaining three group stalwarts-drummer Mick Fleetwood, singer and keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie – looked to California for reinforcement and brought in guitarist/ vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks. (They originally just wanted Lindsay, but they wisely were convinced by Buckingham to take his girlfriend Nicks as well). The formula instantly worked and the 1975 “Fleetwood Mac” album was by far their biggest commercial and critical success to date. The soft but upbeat rock sound and beautiful and catchy tunes and vocals were the hallmark of the album. I absolutely loved Christine McVie soothing voice (and song writing) with “Over My Head” , “Warm Ways” , “Say You Love Me” and “Sugar Daddy”- all outstanding tracks on the album. But Stevie Nicks ” Rhiannon” and “Landslide” were excellent too, as well as Lindsey Buckingham’s rousing “Monday Morning” “Blue Letter”, and “I’m So Afraid” (with some excellent guitar work as well) . All in all, a tour-de-force for a group that was in tatters just a few months earlier.

In 1975, the Who released “Who By Numbers” . Unfortunately, it was there first new studio album after the extraordinary trifecta of such albums produced by the Who in the early 1970s – “Tommy”, “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia” – and thus,  couldn’t help but be disappointing by comparison. Further, the Who recorded the album amidst Keith Moon’s spiraling drug and alcohol programs, as well as Daltrey and Townshend’s barbs at each other in the British press.  Nonetheless, “Who By Numbers” was a very good album – emotionally darker than anything the Who had done before and achingly personal for Pete Townshend. The album opens with perhaps its best track “Slip Kid” a song about the responsibility of growing up “there’s no easy way to be free”.  “However Much I Booze”  was written the day Townshend quit alcohol  and provides the answer “there ain’t no way out”.  Other excellent tracks include “They’re All in Love”, a bitter song about loneliness and anger,  “Dreaming from the Waist” a song of sexual frustration, and atypically for the album, a beautiful and heartfelt love song ” Blue, Red and Gray”. Meanwhile, bassist John Entwistle excellent contribution “Success Story” captured the Who’s mood at the time perfectly “Back in the studio, to make our latest number 1.  Take 276, you know this used to be fun”. Ironically, the album’s only single, the catchy “Squeeze Box” was Townshend’s sole humorous track on the album and clearly doesn’t fit the deeply personal theme of Townshend’s fear of growing up and being old and lonely. Musically and vocally the album is superb with Daltrey’s vocals, Townshend’s guitar playing, Entwistle’s bass playing and Moon’s drumming being particularly noteworthy. Overall, the album was a back-to-basics effort by the Who (no rock opera or glitzy use of synthesizer) but a very strong one at that.

After the critical and popular success of  the excellent “Band on the Run” album, McCartney (and his group Wings) produced a solid next album “Venus and Mars”.  The highlights of the album included the excellent opening track “Venus and Mars/ Rock Show” which was pure rock n roll  fun and reminded one of McCartney’s vocals as an early Beatle in songs like “I’m Down” and “Dizzie Miss Lizzie”.   Two other songs “Letting Go” and “Call Me Back Again” also were excellent rockers driven again by superb but very different McCartney vocal styles. “Love in Song” revealed  a rare side of McCartney, a more emotionally bare Paul than was typical in his love songs. “Listen to What the Man Said” was a catchy pop song (complete with clarinet) that at least was a good tune, albeit was very familiar McCartney schmaltz. New member of Wings, guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, in addition to solid lead guitar work on the album, penned and sang lead on “Medicine Jar” another strong track. There were some misses on the album, most notably on the inane “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” (Denny Laine singing lead vocal) and “Magneto and Titanium Man”, but overall “Venus and Mars” was a solid, albeit under-appreciated, follow-up to “Band on the Run”.

Elton John was prolific in 1975 with two new albums released “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” and “Rock of the Westies”. (as well as a re-release of his first album “Empty Sky”). I didn’t buy either new album and know little of the music from these two other than the singles. “Captain Fantastic” was autobiographical about Taupin and John’s early years as songwriters. The single from the album “Someone Saved My Life” was in my opinion one of John’s best songs both musically and lyrically, focusing on Elton’s marriage engagement and conflict with his musical career, his contemplated suicide in 1969 and his (very wise) decision to ultimately break off the engagement. This was clearly a deeply emotional song for Elton and you can feel it in his piano playing, vocals and of course, his singing. “Rock of the Westies” had much less going for it. It’s two singles “Island Girl” and “Grow Some Funk of Your Own” were decent songs but grew very tiresome when heard on the radio constantly in 1975 and early 1976.  Elton did succeed with another upbeat single earlier in the year “Philadelphia Freedom” which he and Taupin wrote as an homage to Billie Jean King and her newly founded professional Tennis team , the Philadelphia Freedoms.  The song which was vintage Elton John pop/rock and was the #3 song of the year. For some reason I never tired of hearing it, no doubt because of its infectious chorus. Last but not least, Elton teamed up with Neil Sedaka and scored with the catchy “Bad Blood” which  soared to #1 on the charts late in 1975.

In addition to Fleetwood Mac, McCartney and Elton John’s singles successes, other UK artists also had a strong year:

  • David Bowie had his most successful year in 1975 with his first #1 single in the US, the excellent rock song “Fame”. The song was co-written by John Lennon who also sang back-up. “Young Americans” did not chart as well (reached #28 in the US) but also was a very good song. Both songs came from Bowie’s “Young Americans” album released in early 1975 which saw a shift in Bowie’s music genre from glitter/space rock to blue-eyed rock n’ soul.
  • Electric Light Orchestra’s “Face the Music” album spawned two successful singles for the group, “Evil Woman” released in late 1975 and “Strange Magic” in early 1976. Both were up tempo, catchy songs that continued and expanded the unique ELO rock/orchestration sound as well as featuring Jeff Lynne’s excellent vocals. But the highlight of the album was the brilliant “Fire on High” , an instrumental masterpiece which featured unique orchestration with vocal snippets of the Hallelujah chorus, excellent guitar and drumming as well as the ELO drummer speaking backwards apparently saying (if you played the turntable backwards) “The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back, turn back”.
  • Queen had their first successful US single “Killer Queen” which reached #12 in the US. The song was like nothing I had ever heard before, particularly vocally, and I enjoyed it immensely.
  • A new Scottish group, Pilot had the very catchy, rock song “Magic” which became one of my favorites of the summer of 1975. I can remember driving back from an unsuccessful date that summer, blaring the song from the car’s speakers at full blast.
  • Another Scottish group, Average White Band had two instrumental disco-oriented hits in 1975 with “Pick Up the Pieces” and “Cut the Cake” with the former reaching #1 on the US charts. Though I was no fan of the disco sound, it was hard to resist the excellent saxophone playing and tune of “Pick up the Pieces” and it was certainly was one of my favorite disco songs.

God Bless America

In America, rock music had increasingly moved to a softer rock and jazz fusion sound but there were a few notable exceptions. One such exception came from comparative newcomer Bruce Springsteen who with the release of his third album “Born to Run” became one of the best “new” artists of 1975 (even featured on the cover of Time Magazine). Of course, his first and particularly his second album were quite good. But it was “Born to Run” that was to become his most popular effort to date and created an entire new legion of  Springsteen fans. “Born to Run” features the heartfelt drama of “She’s the One”, “Backstreets”, “Thunder Road” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” “Jungleland” and the title track “Born To Run”. Lyrically and musically the album was outstanding  with not a single weak track. Some compared Springsteen to an electric Dylan (a la “Like a Rolling Stone”) but Springsteen took the music further with more complex arrangements and orchestration than Dylan ever contemplated (some critics likened it to the Phil Specter “wall of sound”). And he had a great backup band featuring Clarence Clemons on sax. “Born to Run” is my opinion Springsteen’s best album and the title track his best single of his long and illustrious career.

Paul Simon released the album “Still Crazy After All These Years” in October 1975 which won the Grammy for best album in 1976. (In his tongue-in-cheek acceptance speech, Simon thanked Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album in 1975!). The album features four outstanding compositions the title track, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”, “Gone at Last” (with Phoebe Snow) and “My Little Town” (with Art Garfunkel). The album has an interesting jazz/rock/folk fusion feel to it, and certainly was very unique at the time. At about the same time, Art Garfunkel released a reasonably good new album “Breakaway” with two good tracks– the original song “Breakaway” and the cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe”. However, the highlight was his superb rendition of “I Only Have Eyes for You” which even surpassed the Flamingoes original version from the late 1950s.

The Eagles released their must successful album to date “One of these Nights”. The title track was an outstanding example of the folk-rock sound that the Byrds and Dylan had begun in 1965, and was one of the best songs of 1975. It also was one of the most  popular reaching #1 and ending up the #9 song for the year. My other favorite song from the album was “Take it to Limit” which was to reach #4 on the charts in early 1976. . The other hit song from the album “Lyin’ Eyes” is a decent song but one that I tired of quickly (perhaps its 6 minute length and its constant airplay and the ever repeating chorus had something to do with that). Early 1975 featured the no. 1 hit “Best of My Love” which was OK, but grew tiresome with extensive airplay.

Steely Dan released their  ” Katy Lied” album which was a solid effort but not quite as good as the previous year’s “Pretzel Logic” . However, it did boast four very good tracks including “Black Friday” “Bad Sneakers” “Any World” and one of Steely Dan’s best songs ever “Doctor Wu”. The album was noteworthy as it marked the end of touring for the group (in mid-1974) and the departure of several original members, in particular  guitarist extraordinaire,  Jeff “Skunk” Baxter who went on to the Doobie Brothers. However, Steely Dan’s signature sound , a unique blend of rock and jazz, remained ever-present as group founders Fagan and Becker continued to dominate vocals, song writing and musical arrangements, and increasingly using session musicians to record albums.

Other North American artists with rock singles/songs of note during the year included:

  • The Canadian group Bachman-Turner Overdrive had two more rollicking rock hits “Hey You” and “Roll On Down the Highway”. While their music had become pretty formulaic, it was a hard rock formula that I really enjoyed.
  • Lynyrd Skynrd had no new material of note, but they did release their classic rock jam song “Free Bird” as a 4 minute single (which peaked at #19 in early 1975) as well as a second top forty,  hit single “Saturday Night Special”. “Free Bird” particularly in its more familiar 10 minute rock jam version was to become one of the top classic rock songs of all time. (Like many, I never bought the single, but instead eventually recorded the long version on cassette tape from the album of one of my friends).
  • A new group Styx had a pretty good song with “Lady” (released originally in 1973, but eventually cracking the top ten in early 1975).
  • Chicago released a pretty ordinary Chicago VIII album, but it did boast one of Chicago’s best songs and one of my personal favorites of the year the upbeat rock n roll song “Old Days”.
  • Linda Ronstadt had her first three solo hits (after her original hit “Different Drum” with the Stone Poneys  in 1968). “You’re No Good” which might be her best track ever was a more conventional rock song, featuring Ronstadt’s great voice.  Almost as good was “When Will I Be Loved” a great country-rock style cover version of a hallmark Everly Brothers song. She also did an excellent rock-version of “Heat Wave”.
  • America scored big with two hits during the year. “Sister Golden Hair” was one of the best songs of the summer with a great upbeat folk-rock song. I also liked “Lonely People” earlier in 1975, perhaps because it fit my “I wish I had a girlfriend” mood at the time with the lyrics “Thinking that love had passed them by…..don’t give up til you drink from the silver cup, you never know until you try”.
  • James Taylor continued his popular success with his folk-rock sound and two hits– “How Sweet it Is” (cover of the Marvin Gaye hit) and the original “Mexico”. I liked the latter song, but “How Sweet it Is” suffered in comparison to the Marvin Gaye original.
  • Another soft rock-pop hit was “Dance with Me” by Orleans a wonderful romantic song but without the oozing schmaltz of so many other songs in 1975.
  • I also liked “Laughter in the Rain” by Neil Sedaka even though it was clearly overly sentimental , but I suppose even then I was sucker for a comeback hit from an early 1960s artist.
  • Janis Ian scored with the excellent “At Seventeen”, her first big hit since 1967’s “Society’s Child” (a song she originally wrote three years earlier at 13!).
  • A relatively new group , the Ozark Mountain Daredevils had the catchy and soothing, country-rock song “Jackie Blue”, which surprisingly turned out to be their only major success on the pop charts. (Interestingly at the time, I thought that it was sung by a woman, but I learned later, in fact, the high voice of drummer Larry Lee).
  • The Doobie Brothers had a new, but fairly ordinary, album “Stampede” in 1975. However, it did boast a pretty good rendition of the Motown song “Take Me in Your Arms”. Meanwhile, “Black Water” the highlight of the weak 1974 album “What were once vices are now habits” reached #1 in March.
  • Grand Funk Railroad had the excellent tune “Bad Time”, one of my favorites of the Spring of 1975.

Soul, Funk and Disco: The Good

For the most part, I found only a limited number of songs/artists that I liked in 1975 in the soul, funk and disco genres. On the soul and funk side, this included:

  • Chicago-based, Earth Wind & Fire, was one of my favorite groups of the year. They had their first popular success with the “Shining Star” (which hit #1 in May) and later in the year with the top five hit “Sing a Song”. Both were prime examples of EW&F’s great formula– wonderful lively brass arrangements, excellent vocals and harmonies, great tunes and a unique funk/soul fusion sound.
  • The Ohio Players had the huge hit “Fire” (#1 in February) and another top 10 single “Love Rollercoaster” released in November, which were probably the best popular examples of the funk genre in 1975. I’ll confess to liking the Ohio Players much more in retrospect. At the time, I actually disliked the song “Fire” intensely (no doubt this is because I can remember being kept awake at 3AM in the morning at Brown during the winter of 1975 by the bass line of the song which I could heard booming across the quad).
  • The Spinners had the excellent tuneful and upbeat, soul hit “Games People Play” which features their great mix of soprano, tenor, alto and bass voices including most notably bass singer Pervis Jackson hitting his exceptionally low notes on his verse. “12:45 heading for the subway line…”
  • LaBelle scored with the rousing and overtly sexual “Lady Marmalade” (e.g. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi se sour ?”) which though overplayed, was still an excellent song. The leader, Patti LaBelle had been lead singer for 1960s girl/ doo wop group Patti LaBelle and the Bluenotes. The song which has been covered multiple times was written by Bob Crewe (of Four Seasons song writing and producing fame) and Kenny Nolan ( sang/wrote “I Like Dreamin’ “).
  • The Latin funk sound of the group War was very appealing on its two chart hits “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and “Low Rider”.

There were only a few pure disco songs that I liked:

  • The Bee Gees had perhaps the best disco song of the year with their first entry in the genre “Jive Talkin”.
  • A reformulated Four Seasons managed to convert their great 60s sound to 70s disco with the lively “Who Loves You”. I particularly enjoyed the instrumental section of the long version of this song and of course Frankie Valli’s vocal .

The Bad and the Ugly

Unfortunately, there was a lot of bad and even ugly songs in 1975.

  • I’ll know Minnie Riperton had a great voice, but the abysmal “Lovin You” complete with a sing-song melody, Minnie’s very high pitch “la-las” and outright screeches and a song opening with birds chirping literally made me ill (and made it one of the worst songs of the year). This song had one redeeming feature however, which was if it came on in the morning on my clock radio alarm, it was sure to get me up for class.
  • Barry Manilow knows how to write a good tune and I’ll admit the first time or two I hear one of his songs, I’ll find myself humming it. But eventually the saccharin sweetness of the musical arrangements and lyrics just overpowers me and I feel like I do when I eat too much – sick to my stomach.  In early 1975, I could tolerate “Mandy” (and even liked it a bit) but by the time he reached “Could it be Magic” and ” I Write the Songs” later in the years, I was having severe gastrointestinal distress. I know what he means when he says “and I wrote the very first song…I am Music and I write the songs” BUT does he realize how obnoxious and pompous this sounds!
  • Olivia Newton John had two big hit songs “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please”, both cloying and featuring Olivia’s very average voice. Like many in my generation, I did like Olivia’s looks however. This fact was not lost on a ‘girl’ friend of mine several years later who bought me Olivia’s greatest hits album for my birthday solely because of its album cover featuring Olivia’s beautiful face.
  • Jefferson Starship had an OK album, “Red Octopus”, but the main single “Miracles” was incessantly played and extremely repetitive. (I have never counted but I think the chorus “If only you believe….” is sung way too many times.).
  • As noted, I found many disco songs just mediocre at best, but K.C. and the Sunshine Band probably had the worst of the lot, with “Get Down Tonight” (“Do a little dance make a little love, get down tonight”)  and “That’s the Way I Like It” (“uh huh uh huh”)

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But overall 1975 wasn’t a bad year. It was the coming out of Bruce Springsteen and Queen, and a happy time for me by the fall of 1975. And America’s bicentennial and graduation were right around the corner.

 

From → Music 60s70s

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