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16 January, 2011


Recent excavations yielded a trove of vintage vinyl: Beethoven and Black Flag, Kingston Trio and Kingston's favorite son and so on.

Last time these saw the light of day or felt the touch of a diamond was in the 80's, when I had a radio show on the college station. It was called the "Weird Uncles Show," and it is my no-longer-secret dream to start that again, to jam up a couple hours of KAOS with the eclectic, ecstatic sounds we once made. The Weird Uncles were psychonauts, comrades, and eventually the rentee lords of a house in NW DC where within the most innocuous-looking walls all manner of mayhem erupted. But that's another story.

This has to do with one of the discoveries we made: 1973 was a great year for albums. I've been looking at wikipedia to see what all came out that year, and it turns out that a lot of my soundtrack comes from 1973, even if I am a miser and own few of the records themselves. By the time the Weird Uncles banded together, CDs were just beginning to enter the market, and so we listed to vinyl. In the milk crates were several 1973 classics: Larks Tongues in Aspic (King Crimson), Brain Salad Surgery (Emerson Lake and Palmer), Innervisions (Stevie Wonde), Dark Side of the Moon (Successors of Syd Barrett), Catch a Fire (Bob Marley and the Wailers), the latter released the same day as Alladin Sane (David Bowie). Bowie somehow made his way fm the radio station to the house, while Marley was something I picked up from a rasta-run shop in NE DC, whose proprietors seemed pretty irritated to see a punk-rock looking white boy in there picking up the gospel.

BMW had been busy that year, releasing also the compilation African Herbsman and Burnin'. So when they tell you that ganja makes you lazy, that it makes you think you are creative when you are not, consider the Wailers in 1973.

The year was big for eponymous albums as well: 10cc, Foghat, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Byrds, and so on. Not that we listened to much of that then (the word Foghat just induced knee-buckling laughter), aside from Randy's beloved Aerosmith. And above all, Ringo. I frickin' love Ringo Starr, whose name somehow immunized him against changing under the duress of being bigger than Jesus.

There's a lot of stuff from 1973 that I would have denied ever listening to from about 1977-1998. Lynyrd Skynyrds Pronounced album spawned stuff that traveled Richmond's airwaves ever since. Just today, I had "Gimme Three Steps" stuck in my head. That line "Hey there fella/With the hair colored yella" cracks me up--the singer comes off as either of kindergardenly linguistic aptitude, or or maybe a flambouyant escapee from a musical (seriously, say that line in the most over-the-top stereotypically gay man voice you can muster). A lot of the more directly eponymous stuff fits in that category as well. Then there are the classic that I've never owned, but appreciated, like  Goobye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John) and Fresh (Sly and the Family Stone).

It was a year of endings. A lot of bands that should have called it quits in '73 released either their last good album (Floyd, some would say the Stones' Goatshead Soup) while others let loose with their first really bad one (Quadrophenia? Who but bloated indulgent rock stars would think that the public wants to hear a second rock opera?). Meanwhile, Elvis moved up a couple of sizes in the jumpsuit category, and released Aloha from Hawaii: Live Via Satellite. And I would be remiss if I didn't single out Frank Sinatra for his hideous un-retirement piece Ol' Blue Eyes is Back; him talking his way through "Send in the Clowns" is one of the most painful things ever recorded, and I can never understand why Sinatra achieved acclaim while Shatner was ridiculed for nearly the same delivery.

There was the beginning of what would be punk as well. Iggy's Raw Power nearly got worn out on my turntable. I never had it, but New York Dolls (there's that eponymeity again) influenced a lot of punk bands whose albums did end up in my collection. These things happened under the radar (except for Bowie, who toured as Ziggy Stardust), and along with reggae quitely paved the way for the punk explosion a few years later, an event that required the release of big rock's most indulgent crap (Floyd and Stones again) and the transmogrification of Funk into Disco (just add coke and $$$).

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