Category: Love Crypt: Old Music to Rediscover

Welcome To The Love Crypt: Vol.8

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Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. This week is all about the legendary Richie Havens whose music truly qualifies as medicine.

Preface: Richie Havens is arguably most famous for his opening slot at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969. Between 1966 and his passing in 2013 he released 20 studio albums and developed a reputation as a transcendent live performer and song interpreter with a particular focus on The Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Despite his history and the plethora of Beatle covers he had on offer, I was indifferent to Richie through most of my life, dismissively regarding him as a relic of a previous generation and was thus not remotely interested in exploring his catalog (I was possibly an idiot).

Meanwhile, on the other side of my brain, after a lifetime of loving Genesis, in the early 00’s I started exploring the band’s former guitarist Steve Hackett’s solo albums from the late ’70s. I ended up being particularly taken with his 1978 LP Please Don’t Touch with it’s classical-pop-prog flavor. And the tracks I was most obsessed with featured lead vocals by…Richie Havens. I was slightly mystified at first and wondered how they knew each other but no matter, I thought both songs, “Icarus Ascending” and “How Can I” were gorgeous and dreamy and was blown away by Richie’s epic vocal performances. Still, even though I played them endlessly, I decided they were aberrations and subconsciously rewarded most of the credit to Hackett who wrote the songs. Thankfully my comeuppance was just around the corner.

In 2008, Richie did an in-store at Virgin Megastore in NYC ( where I worked) to promote what turned out to be his last album Nobody Left To Crown. Before his performance, he casually sat down in the office and serenaded us on guitar, told stories about Jimi Hendrix and exuded hope and warmth like a lighthouse in a storm. He was impossibly cool and an absolute gent. Then came his official performance. Richie was 67 years old at the time but his voice was as massive and powerful as a singer a quarter of his age, an absolute steamroller of a sound. The passion in his guitar playing was palpable and he ended his show with a David Lee Roth style scissor kick. Basically, he was f*cking amazing.

I told him afterwards how awesome I thought it had been and mentioned my pathetically meagre old bit of appreciation, namely my love for one of the two aforementioned Steve Hackett songs (“Icarus Ascending”) to which he replied that he also loved it and added that “we did another one too!”. There was a huge line of folks who wanted to meet him and he signed everyone’s cd’s and LP’s with their names and his trademark message “a friend forever”.

And with that, the deal was sealed on my forever fandom and I immediately began collecting all the Richie vinyl I could find. I soon found myself performing the eternal yet insufferable rite of passage oh so common in suburban teenage boys upon their discovery of Led Zeppelin and began regaling people with how awesome and underrated Richie Havens was all the time. I would express angry befuddlement over the fact that Gil-Scott Heron, Bobby Womack and Johnny Cash all got to enjoy late career resurgences and accolades, because although they deserved it, I thought Richie deserved the same attention (dammit). Insufferable maybe but hey, I was in love and I wanted to tell the world and for them to be in love too.

Things absolutely suck right now and we could all use a musical lighthouse to help rope in our anxiety and calm us down. And there’s something so uniquely empathetic in Richie’s voice, that he just feels like one of the ideal people to listen to right now. Now come check out how Richie turns an over the top pop-prog song into an affirmation of life and bend an ear to a couple of sublime tracks from his most ambitious, eccentric and epic album…

Icarus Ascending (1978)

“Icarus Ascending” is a little nuts. Does it sound like a ’70s era Genesis song ? In a word, mostly, but it’s hard to imagine Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins ( bless ’em) ever singing it with as much conviction as Richie does. On the one hand it is a straight up prog song with the requisite noodly instrumental patch, time signature changes and lyrics that are ideally sung from the top of a mountain with arms outstretched. On the other it’s an extraordinarily overblown straight up pop song. Ridiculously emotional, radio-friendly and featuring an absolutely wondrous vocal from Richie, “Icarus Ascending” is one eccentrically beautiful and life-affirming piece of noise.

I found out that Richie had opened some dates for Genesis in the ’70s which is how he and Hackett became friends and what led to their recording together. Hackett later described the experience like this; “I phoned him up about three months after we’d had dinner together. I said, “I’ve got a song here, Richie, that I thought you might sound nice singing.” He said to me, “I can hear it already, man. It sounds great!” The funny thing was I was meditating… and I was trying to imagine what words he might sing. I literally heard these words that popped into my mind. It was wonderful, there was something brotherly that went on. When we were working together, he was naturally larger than life, but very un-starry”.

After Richie’s passing in 2013, Hackett offered a moving tribute ; “He was the conviction, the power and the glory… the most positive musical creative force it’s ever been my privilege to work with”. And you can totally feel that joy in “Icarus Ascending”.

Cautiously (1968)

1968 saw the release of a double album titled Richard P. Havens 1983 which was split half and half between covers and originals and included a handful of live recordings. There are no less than 4 Beatle covers, plus a Dylan, a Cohen and a Donovan. Surprisingly though, the album’s coolest cover was not written by any of those behemoths but by Lotus Weinstock, former fiance of Lenny Bruce, comedian and mother of musician Lili Haydn. “Cautiously” screams ’60s from it’s every orifice from it’s ominous militaristic drums ( always a commentary unto themselves) to it’s Doors-ian organ. And though it pre-dates both, musically it sounds like a weird marriage of Neil Young’s “Ohio” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Richie’s vocal is regal and restrained till about halfway through when he cuts ties and just lets the wind take him. That coupled with the song’s meditative groove and doomed sentiment make for something utterly hypnotic.

For Haven’s Sake (1968)

Sad, desperate and determined, “For Haven’s Sake” is a slow burning 7 minute epic composed by Richie and a true highlight from the aforementioned Richard P. Havens 1983 album. The instrumentation thickens as the song evolves and culminates in a dizzying coda where the honeyed buzz of the Havens voice, stray hand claps and undulating acoustic guitar intertwine in heart-stoppingly amazing fashion .

Bonus Track !

The other song Richie recorded in 1978 with Steve Hackett has an actual video ! “How Can I” is a cool Beatle-esque ballad featuring the usual virtuosic picking from Hackett and requisite Richie vocal perfection.

Welcome To The Love Crypt: Vol.7

Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. This edition is all about the solo work of Fleetwood Mac’s songwriting core, namely Christine, Lindsey & Stevie, just because. Come join us in the velvet underground to meet some beautiful dark horses. Never change, never stop…

 

Stevie Nicks: Ooh Ooh Baby (1984)

“Ooh Ooh Baby” is a demo of a song from 1984 that has never been released officially in any form and as such the sound quality is a bit murky. But forget all that, for despite it’s unfinished quality, it’s an unadulterated beauty with the foggy, faraway feeling of a latter day Beach Boys tune, specifically one composed and sung by lost genius Dennis Wilson (as opposed to brother Brian). A mournfully melodic tearjerker that moves at a positively funereal pace, “Ooh Ooh Baby” is also a frontrunner for the absolute Saddest Stevie Song Ever™. Is it safe to listen to when you are feeling fragile ? Mmm, maybe not but then again it sounds most magical if you are hearing it whilst in particularly melancholic state ( let’s just call it a tear expectorant). Stevie serves up a vocal equal parts bereft and defeated for the entire length of the song and the whole thing is just heart-stoppingly gorgeous. Be brave and give over to it.

Lindsey Buckingham: Stars Are Crazy (2011)

While “Stars Are Crazy” sounds in some ways like the prototypical Lindsey Buckingham song with it’s big yelping chorus and virtuosic picking, there’s something peculiarly riveting about it’s construction. Marrying languorous, slow motion vocals and lightning fast acoustic shredding, “Stars Are Crazy” almost sounds like two totally separate songs that have been sewn together expertly, perfectly. The effect is positively exhilarating.

Christine McVie: The Smile I Live For (1984)

I’ve always thought there should be a rule wherein all albums are required to end with an over the top and epic ballad lasting no less than 5 minutes. It’s especially important if what came before it was underwhelming. And the song should be something that shakes you by the shoulders and gets you misty. While Christine McVie’s self-titled solo album from 1984 is by no means bad and spawned a couple of hits, it was invariably a disappointment knowing what she was capable of. Still there was one track that emanated a pretty glorious light. “The Smile I Live For” has one of those gigantic productions typical of the era. There are the requisite gargantuan drums that sound like they are being played from a riser in an arena, loads of lush synth swooshes as well as a whole lotta “glistening” and “shimmering” to contend with. But none of that does anything to diminish the beauty of the actual tune, with it’s mournfully melodic piano line and lyrics describing a love that’s gotten a bit lopsided. And despite all the supersize instrumental action happening around her, Christine’s wondrous forthright voice still ends up on top. “The Smile I Live For” smolders, cries and shines.

Stevie Nicks: Annabel Lee (2011)

Stevie wrote “Annabel Lee” when she was 17 years old and it’s lyrics are adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem of the same name from 1849 ( which also served as a major inspiration for the classic Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita). While she first demoed the song in 1996 it didn’t actually appear on an album until 2011’s In Your Dreams…which seems crazy based on how wondrous it is. Resembling a not so distant cousin of F.Mac’s exquisite “Gypsy”, the tune Stevie created to surround Poe’s poem of tragic, eternal love is so well-suited to it’s lyrical cadence (which expresses a sentiment oh so Stevie) that you could be forgiven for assuming she’d actually written the words as well. Though to quote Stevie from back in 2011, “I love the fact that I have written a song with Edgar Allan Poe”. Had the song appeared on any of the F.Mac albums released during their heyday, it’s likely it would be an eternally beloved and evergreen anthem by now. Next to “Silver Springs” it remains and reigns as one of the finest woulda-coulda-shoulda Stevie songs ever.

Lindsey Buckingham: Street of Dreams (1992)

“Street of Dreams” is not a typical Lindsey Buckingham song. It doesn’t feature any anxious helium high vocalizing or mind bogglingly fast picking. It is instead a mesmerizing and ethereal hymn with a backdrop of falling rain that grows heavier ( along with the lyrical content) as the song progresses. It’s on the bridge that things hit peak intensity with Lindsey serving up a particularly heart-squeezing and passionate bit of vocalizing. Lindsey has said the song refers back to a particular time in the early ’80s when he was uncertain of what he should be doing creatively and was feeling lonely and unwell, with the powerful bridge describing what he was doing to help assuage this confusion;” I used to go and talk to my father (who passed in 1974) in the cemetery…sit and talk to him and try to imagine what he would say to me…what advice he would give me”. Hypnotic, lonely and riveting to the last,”Street of Dreams”, remains a stunner.

Christine McVie: Friend (2004)

Tired of the touring grind, flying and inter-band politics, Christine McVie left Fleetwood Mac ( and California) in 1998 and moved back to the quieter environs of the English countryside to reconnect with her roots and spend time with her then ill father. While it wasn’t until 2014 that she would officially rejoin the Mac, she did make a tentative step back into the sonic fold in 2004 with the release of her third solo album, In The Meantime. The album as a whole isn’t great and she herself isn’t nuts about it, but “Friend”, it’s lone single, remains a standout. Though she wasn’t the sole composer, with it’s infectious chorus, heart on sleeve emotion and regal vocal, it bears all the markings of a classic McVie song (and as such exudes the Mac vibe from it’s every pore). In fact, it would have been a very welcome addition to Mac’s 2003 underrated but slightly spotty comeback album Say You Will.

Welcome To The Love Crypt: Vol.6

Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. Basically, if Love Crypt were a Beatle it would be George Harrison. Now join us under the radar to meet some beautiful dark horses…

 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: You Can Still Change Your Mind (1981)

“You Can Still Change Your Mind” was written by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell with Tom Petty and originally appeared on their Hard Promises album in 1981. It sounded noticeably different than the typical Heartbreakers fare up to that point for while it possessed a snarlingly magnificent signature Petty vocal, the tune itself was a lushly melodic Beach Boys style tearjerker. And with harmonies provided by Stevie Nicks and her long time backing singer Sharon Celani, “You Can Still Change Your Mind” quite literally sounded like the physical embodiment of a slow burning Southern California sunset. It’s just a total stunner. Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench himself has said that he loves it and that he thinks “it’s absolutely beautiful”. Tom did too and hoped it could be released as an actual single…but the powers that be weren’t having it. According to Petty, “That’s sort of Mike’s tribute to Brian Wilson. I loved it and worked really hard on that track. No one could hear it as a single. People had a mental picture of what we should sound like and if you played them something that didn’t sound like “Refugee” or “American Girl” or “Even The Losers”, they were puzzled”. More’s the pity because it would have been an absolute treat to hear it played live on a regular basis with thousands of people singing along. Oh if only…so, so miss this guy.

Pete Yorn: “On Your Side”(2001)

Pete Yorn’s 2001 debut album Musicforthemorningafter was the recipient of a fair amount of critical acclaim upon release. It was power pop ( Yorn especially loved the band Sloan) with both Smiths and Springsteen style flourishes and inflections. The album ended up achieving Gold status which is pretty damn good for any full length much less a debut. Yorn also had the misfortune of having to play songs from it at one of our yearly business conferences when I was with Virgin Entertainment Group as we ate dinner. And though we were basically a bunch of record store nerds who loved him, I’m guessing that had to have sucked for him a little.

“On Your Side” arrives late on the album, at track #11 to be exact. It’s 5 minutes of shuffling melodic regret and Johnny Marr-esque strumming with a delicate flush of synthesized strings and sounds both a little drunk and a little lost. But while it’s ache is palpable, even tear inducing, there’s still something oddly consoling about it. Either way it’s just a timeless and truly lovely thing.

Welcome to the Love Crypt: Vol.5

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Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. Basically, if Love Crypt were a Beatle it would be George Harrison. Now join us under the radar to meet some beautiful dark horses…

Keith Green: Your Love Broke Through (1977) 

While the song I’m about to describe isn’t technically obscure, it’s not exactly mainstream either. It straddles the line between being a beloved classic known to fans of a certain sub-genre and a cool piece of cult pop. Up until the early ’00s, I’d never heard of Keith Green. In the course of a general music conversation one day, a friend recommended him to me and described him as sounding “like a Christian Elton John“. I was instantly intrigued by this this chocolate and peanut butter combo. I loved Elton of course but I’d also had an ongoing fascination with Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) although it’s hardcore messaging was not remotely applicable to my own life (on top of which I disagreed with more than a few of it’s tenets). But I was somewhat fascinated by it’s earnestness. Of course my interaction with CCM was of the decidedly alternative variety in the form of bands like Jars of Clay and Mutemath who both generally preferred not be branded as such and thus be pigeonholed as bands solely for believers. Once I finally heard Keith Green though, it was clear he’d had no such reservations. He was laser focused on spreading a message. And he made for a curious listen. There is an undeniably Elton-esque quality about the construction of his songs which are primarily big pop piano ballads with gloriously soaring vocals. But that’s where the similarity ends, for Green’s songs are not about yellow brick roads or or horny toads but about Jesus. “Your Love Broke Through” is a highlight of Green’s 1977 debut album Him Who Has Ears to Hear which is regarded as one of the greatest CCM albums of all-time. The tune itself is sublimely melodic and Green’s vocal is exceptionally lovely. It sounds like a classic mid ’70s style am radio hit, is neither aggressive nor preachy and no matter what you feel about the sentiment it’s innate sweetness is hard to deny. If you dig the studio version, check out this solo TV performance of the track from 1977 which is also pretty fine.

 

Des’ree: “You Gotta Be (After Hours Mix)” (1994) 

It’s not what you think. I’m going to start with the facts then go off the nerd rails so don’t worry ( or worry). Des’ree’s infectious anthem of self-affirmation and belief “You Gotta Be” was a massive worldwide hit in 1994. The song was released in the UK in March of 1994 and was available to purchase as both a “CD Maxi-Single” and a 12″ piece of vinyl. I was a purist and a nerd so opted for the vinyl. It featured 6 different versions of “You Gotta Be”, including something called the After Hours Mix, which was nestled discreetly at the end of side A. It was basically “You Gotta Be” stripped down to it’s absolute bare bones, minus the original single version’s groovily ostentatious piano and drumbeats. It’s only occupants were Des’ree’s exquisitely warm vocal, some Rhodes style keyboard chords and a rubbery bass. Once I’d heard it the original ceased to exist for me forever, for the eye-rollingly titled After Hours Mix is absolutely gorgeous. The song morphs into something otherworldly and untouchable…and it kind of crushes the original. Sadly the mix is not available on either Spotify or Apple Music as of this writing which is a damn shame.  Here’s hoping someone will one day see the brilliant light it emanates and it’ll find it’s way to the mass audience it deserves.

 

Welcome to the Love Crypt: Vol.4

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Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. Basically, if Love Crypt were a Beatle it would be George Harrison. Now join us under the radar to meet some beautiful dark horses…

Laura Veirs: The Canyon (2018)

Things are messed up right now. And songs about the finite nature of human life, and the fact that we are all basically dustballs might feel like the last thing you’d want to hear at the moment. But maybe “The Canyon” will change your mind. It originally appeared on singer-songwriter Laura Veirs’s superb 2018 album The Lookout and for a song whose theme is our mortality, it is oddly, extraordinarily, comforting. It begins as a somewhat sunny singalong before morphing into a twanging windswept (mostly) instrumental. If riding off into the sunset had an actual sound it would undoubtedly resemble what happens in the last minute and a half of “The Canyon”. An utterly embraceable beauty.

 

That Petrol Emotion: “Heartbeat Mosaic” (1993) 

 That Petrol Emotion were formed from the ashes of legendary Northern Irish band The Undertones in 1984 and featured that band’s core guitar team of brothers John and Damian O’Neill. Their sound uncannily predicted the unruly animal that would come to dominate mid ’90s musical culture, namely the beast of Britpop. “Heartbeat Mosaic” which appeared on Fireproof, the 5th and final TPE album, is a sparse, epically handsome ballad that despite being full of optimistic imagery ( “sun-kissed oceans”) and sweet psychedelic illusions (“moonbeams and maybes”) sounds like it should be playing over a set of closing credits after a particularly intense final scene. And singer Steve Mack’s vocal positively soars with love, love, love.

Welcome to the Love Crypt: Vol.3

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Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. Basically, if Love Crypt were a Beatle it would be George Harrison. Now join us under the radar to meet some beautiful dark horses…

Jackson Browne: Hold Out (1980) 

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The initial reviews for Jackson Browne’s 1980 album Hold Out were not particularly favorable. Upon release Rolling Stone magazine stated “What we have is a song cycle with scarcely a single tune that has the moral imagination, pop grace or writerly precision of Browne’s best material”. Doesn’t exactly make you wanna run out to the record store right ? …but people did, in fact it ended up being Browne’s first # 1 album. Truth be told, it was riding on the reputation of it’s predecessor from 3 years before, a critically acclaimed, multi-platinum behemoth called Running On Empty, Browne’s absolutely beloved suite of songs about life on the road. That album got as high as # 3 on the charts and it’s success and quality inevitably ratcheted up the expectations for whatever was to come next. And so when Hold Out arrived 3 years later, the world at large was primed. But as Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk was critically savaged for not being like planet earth’s favorite album Rumours, so too was Hold Out for being not only a mere shadow of Running On Empty in terms of song quality, but for Browne’s not sounding like the favored acoustic troubadour of years past.

But forget all that. Seriously. For while, Hold Out is as slick and shiny as a brand new Corvette cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway on a summer day in 1980, it’s also a ridiculously good, earnest and heartfelt bunch of pop songs. It has a lot of things working in it’s favor. It’s an easily digestible 7 tracks long. It consistently employs the most wonderful of all pop music tropes with it’s sweet, upbeat tunes marrying themselves to sad and wistful lyrics. It’s over-arching theme is loss. Lost and unrequited love in”That Girl Could Sing”and “Call It A Loan”, a lost friend in “Of Missing Persons” and a population of lost souls in the supremely radio-friendly “Boulevard” and “Disco Apocalypse”. It’s closing track, “Hold On Hold Out”, an 8 minute unabashedly romantic epic with an exceptionally clumsy spoken word break is Browne doing his best Springsteen and it’s a pretty endearing thing to behold.

Yes, Hold Out is not Running On Empty or the soul baring equal of any of Browne’s uniformly fine albums of the early ’70s…but it is kind of wonderful.

 

Hear it here: 

 

Tashan: “For The Sake Of Love” (1993) 

Tashan’s “For The Sake of Love” had little in common with what was happening in R & B at the time of it’s release in 1993. While the soul charts at that point were dominated by latter era New Jack Swing grooves, slick ‘n sweet boy band-girl group pop and glossy, over the top balladry, “For The Sake of Love” was looking the other way, namely backward. The song was a brazen throwback to the string-laden, lovelorn “Philly Soul” that the legendary team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote and produced for eternal lover man Teddy Pendergrass in the late ’70s. It didn’t sound modern…and, maybe unsurprisingly, sank without a trace. To make matters worse, despite it’s being released through Sony, as of this writing you won’t find the song or Tashan’s album of the same name on Spotify or I-Tunes ( though the cd can be had through Discogs pretty cheaply). It’s a damn shame because it is an extraordinarily lush and beautiful song (with an especially wondrous hook on the chorus) and deserves to be heard. I know that’s a whole lotta breathless hyperbole to take in but “For The Sake of Love” is pretty special.

Welcome to the Love Crypt: Vol.2

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Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. Basically, if Love Crypt were a Beatle it would be George Harrison. Now join us under the radar to meet some beautiful dark horses…

Psychic Babble: My Brother’s Ears, My Sister’s Eyes (2011)

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I made a playlist a while back called “Beach Boy-esque” featuring songs that openly and lovingly bowed toward the legendary band in sound and scope. And within that list were a couple of songs by Psychic Babble, the side project of Colin Frangicetto, guitarist of artistically ambitious band, Circa Survive. 2011’s My Brother’s Ears/My Sister’s Eyes is the only album Frangicetto has released under the Psychic Babble moniker thus far and it’s a beauty. It’s alt-rock filtered through a Brian Wilson lens, plushly melodic, occasionally edgy and filled end to end with epic, echoing, sundown soundtracking anthems. Special nods go to “Harper”, “Let Me Change” and “Samantha” , all undeniably handsome and evocative to the last.


Hear it here:

 

Emmylou Harris: “The Connection”

For a song that won a Grammy in 2006 for best “Female Country Vocal Performance”, “The Connection” feels oddly obscure. For one thing it’s introduction to the world wasn’t particularly conducive to discovery; it appeared as the last track, #19, on the 2005 compilation The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches and Highways. It was never a single. It was over 5 minutes long. It fell in right between the chairs, not quite a sleeper but hardly famous. But it is one of the true Emmylou lost gems, an absolutely gorgeous and wistful waltz of desperation, ethereal and melodic. The song was written by by Jack Routh and Randy Sharp, who in an interview with Songfacts said the idea behind the song  ” …was this connection, this stream, this desperate person who just wouldn’t let go. And the state of mind that they would go to. But the concept of just refusing to let go, even when there really was nothing there… so desperate that they’re conjuring up a connection of any kind just to keep from letting go”. Emmylou offers up a vocal of pure, rustic beauty and “The Connection” remains an absolute stunner.

Welcome to the Love Crypt: Vol.1

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Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. Basically, if Love Crypt were a Beatle it would be George Harrison. Now join us under the radar to meet some beautiful dark horses…

 

Todd Rundgren: Nearly Human (1990)

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4 years had passed since Todd Rundgren had last released a studio album by the time Nearly Human hit the shelves in 1989. 4 years is of course a veritable eternity in pop music. But instead of chasing modern sounds, Todd instead went the other way, eschewing the trends and making an epic, straightforward soul-pop record. Nearly Human contains none of Todd’s trademark quirky interludes and no outright experimentation ( another Todd tendency), it’s basically “Hello It’s Me” on steroids. Melodic, plush and stirring, full of longing lovelorn anthems (“Parallel Lines”, “The Waiting Game”) and hymns of self-realization (“Can’t Stop Running”, “Hawking”) as well as a wondrous scenery chewing cameo from R & B legend Bobby Womack on magnificent roof-raiser “The Want of a Nail”. Nearly Human is a beauty.

 Hear it here:

 

Annuals: Be He Me (2006)

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The debut album by Annuals ( led by Adam Baker) is an ambitious mix of indie rock, seventies style harmonizing, emo and Brian Wilson. Tuneful as hell, it stomps, pleads and intermittently screams and is home to many a singalong chorus. It received a fair amount of acclaim upon release but seemed to fade from view with alarming speed…which is a shame because it’s a manic, theatrical and truly inspired record. From the absolutely gigantic opening track “Brother” to the seven minute closer, the sweet, sad, almost proggy “Sway”, there’s a lot to love here.

Hear it here:

 

Glen Campbell: “Early Morning Song” (1977)

Legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb had no greater muse than late country legend and virtuosic guitarist Glen Campbell. “Early Morning Song” was a deep cut off 1977’s Southern Nights LP, the title track of which went to #1 in the pop charts that year.  Despite being on an album that also sold pretty damn well ( hitting #1 on the Country chart ) and Glen going so far as to perform it on TV, “Early Morning Song” remains a lost gem, never appearing on any of the multitude of Campbell compilations that have been released over the years. It’s a world weary cousin to the absolutely perfect “Wichita Lineman” ( also composed by Webb), full of regret, loneliness…and hope. Glen could do a wistful tearjerker like nobody’s business and he absolutely crushes it here offering up a truly heart-squeezing vocal. It’s full of evocative Jimmy Webb poetry, the song’s narrator recognizing he “ain’t that much fun no more” and dedicating the proceedings to cowboys, hawks in the morning haze, friends lost along the way and lovers “trying to love a telephone”. Campbell said “I think it’s one of the most beautiful ballads he’s ever written”. You got that right Glen.

A More Down Hero: Wings “Back To The Egg (1979)

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An imagined “Dear Paul” letter from Wings’ 1979 album Back To the Egg:

Dear Paul,

What did I do wrong ? Why do you hate me so much ? Why, as of this writing, have you extended the deluxe treatment to albums that are nowhere as good as I am like Pipes of Peace and Wild Life and not me ? Why don’t any of my songs ever get included in your live shows ? Why whenever anyone mentions me, are you so completely dismissive ? You once said I wasn’t so much a concept album as I was a bomb-cept album. Don’t you love me ? Did you ever ? Won’t you help me to understand.

Yours (literally),

Back To the Egg

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Paul in 1979, year of the Egg.

Background: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when but at some point over the past 20 years music writers and critics began casting a considerably more benevolent eye toward Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle output than they’d offered up in the past. And if you were a fan who’d experienced any of Paul’s solo and Wings stuff being released in real time it was impossible not to notice this seismic shift in opinion. I remember going to buy Pipes of Peace on release day and the guy behind the counter sweetly telling me it was “shit” as I handed over my money to buy it ( admittedly not Paul’s finest album but still). For years writers, record clerks, even other musicians all seemed to be equipped with the same default button, the one that was stuck on Paul solo sucks.

But time has been exceptionally kind to the output of post-Beatle Paul and the seemingly ingrained perceptions have changed. Maybe because the context and expectations have been removed and the albums can finally be listened to at face value. And certainly the ongoing Paul McCartney Archive Collection deluxe reissue program with it’s wondrous, remastered, dolled up versions of selected catalogue titles has helped open ears and eyes. Or maybe, cynically, the awareness that Paul’s a senior citizen and we should appreciate him while he’s still here has come into play. Whatever it is, Paul’s post-Beatle albums are gradually getting their deserved due. Albums once considered substandard and sloppy have come to be regarded as masterpieces (1971’s magnificent Ram). 1980’s McCartney II, described cruelly in the Rolling Stone magazine review upon release as “aural doodles designed for the amusement of very young children” is now rightfully acknowledged for it’s prescience and originality. And time has also shone kindly on the glorious, sugared-up pop of Red Rose Speedway (1973) and Venus & Mars (1975) after years of their being written off as subpar radio pandering cheese.

But alas, this deserved reassessment and acknowledgement hasn’t extended to quite all of the children. I’m speaking specifically of 1979’s Back to the Egg. It’s especially grating in light of the belated love that’s been directed at lesser lights ( okay, gonna say it… I think 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt is supremely overrated). Egg remains a true full length stepchild in the McCartney canon. No deluxe Archive treatment ( despite rumors). No anniversary celebrations. No love at live shows. Egg gets zero.

And here’s the thing, amongst many of the hardcore Macca fans and music nerds I’ve spoken to over the years, the general consensus seems to be that Back To The Egg is objectively brilliant. A loud, beautiful, blaring down the highway, mess of an album and the most criminally underrated release of Paul’s post-Beatle career: the catalogue’s true sleeper. Everyone, can I get a SALAMANDER ( that’s a reference expressly inserted for you Macca nerds. To everyone else I apologize ).

And now as a quick reminder of what we’re dealing with from a historical perspective, here are some highlights from the late Timothy White’s original Rolling Stone review of 1979’s Back To The Egg aka the last official release of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle band Wings:

“This album is nothing more than a slipshod demo by an aimless band. If it had arrived unsolicited in the offices of Columbia, it would have been returned in the next mail with a terse “No thank you.”
I can think of few other prominent rock musicians who’d have signed their names to this kind of drivel. McCartney’s gross indulgence is matched only by his shameless indolence, and Back to the Egg represents the public disintegration of a consistently disappointing talent…Back to the Egg is just about the sorriest grab bag of dreck in recent memory.”

Damn. Timothy White really hated Back To The Egg.

If a Tree Falls: What does it mean when an artist passively denies an album’s existence by simply ignoring it ? Besides the one above, the reviews for Egg upon release were across the board savage, full of exceptionally hyperbolic vitriol and personal attacks. Why was the hostility ratcheted up so high when it came to Egg in particular ? While it may not have been the equal of what was considered to be Macca’s most esteemed post-Beatle album at that time Band On The Run, it wasn’t that bad ( and to my then young teen ears it was amazing with a giant A). What did they want from him ?

That’s a trick question. They wanted nothing. To them he’d had his ration of success and acclaim ( understatement) and had stopped trying. They thought he was complacent. He was 37 years old and to them his attempts to seem sonically modern and tough came over as desperate, especially in light of all the soon to be seminal albums sprouting up around him as of 1979 (by the likes of The Specials, The Clash, XTC and Joy Division in particular). They wanted him to get out of the way.

‘Cos I Got a Whole Lotta Love For You: The most pronounced quality of Back To the Egg was it’s noticeable increase in volume in comparison to all previous Macca releases. Egg was, for all intents and purposes, a hard rock record… but it’s much more fun to think of it as PAUL’S F-ING METAL ALBUM 🤘. Roughly 6 of it’s 12 musical tracks tug aggressively ( yet sweetly) on Satan’s hem, drunkenly bouncing off the walls with loads of fat riffs, sludgy chords and throat shredding vocal performances. With the exception of “Helter Skelter” Egg remains as metal as Paul has ever been. Representing the noise are “Spin It On”, “Old Siam, Sir”, “Rockestra Theme”, “So Glad To See You Here”,”To You” and “Getting Closer”, every single one being some manner of infectious and sloppy drunk on itself. For those songs as well the album’s ballads, the Paul vocal switch is set to full throttle.

 

“Getting Closer”, the album’s highest charting single still kicks all kinds of ass.

 

The Soft Stuff: A cryptic and eerie hymn (“We’re Open Tonight”), a gothic and doomy ballad ( “Winter Rose”) and the requisite Macca unabashed tribute to love (“Love Awake”) supremely fill in the spaces between the noise. In addition there’s a quality singalong written and sung by band member Denny Laine (“Again and Again and Again”) as well as some straight up romantic retro kitsch because Paul can’t help himself (“Baby’s Request”). And “The Broadcast”, wherein Paul has the owner of the castle the album was recorded at recite a pair of obscure book excerpts, adds a bit of perfect pretentious weirdness to the proceedings.

And oh yeah, Egg is also home to arguably one of the all time greatest McCartney songs ever ever ever, sublimely melodic lament and deep catalog dark horse “Arrow Through Me” which can never be exulted and appreciated enough. It’s hook is just…I have no words.

 

 

The song has developed a bit of a cult following over the years, the finest manifestation of which came in the form of Erykah Badu’s “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” from 2010.

 

 

What If It Happened To You ?: Bad reviews dovetailed into disappointing sales (compared to all the previous post-Beatle releases that is, as Paul himself commented not long after, Egg’s sales would’ve been considered quite healthy by a “normal” band’s standards). And, maybe unsurprisingly, Paul seemed to start distancing himself from it. When asked about it later he’d said at the time of recording he’d been feeling bored and restless working within a band set-up, implying that this ennui affected it’s overall quality…but that may be a bit revisionist analysis so as to align with the myriad of mediocre reviews. Maybe all that negativity got to him. Which is a damn shame because there are a whole lotta people who don’t agree and think the critical assessments were just plain wrong, who continue to believe Back to the Egg rocks and rules in equal measure all day and all of the night.

Loud, lyrically cartoonish, overtly romantic, fabulously weird, occasionally somber and all the while innately melodic, Back To The Egg remains a confusedly beautiful piece of noise. Bless it forever.

P.S. A special nod of appreciation to the Wings logo light fixtures on the album cover. I will never stop wanting you.

Listen to Back To The Egg right here:

 

 

 

Lost in the’80s Playlist: A Celebration of Should’ve Been #1’s

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What you see above is my actual pen pal request as published in the UK’s greatest pop music magazine ever Smash Hits back in the ’80s. I was 100% desperate to know someone in England which I felt was home to the best music & what appeared to be the cutest people. I was both excited & disturbed when I first saw the published ad because while WOW I was in Smash Hits (!), they’d also re-punctuated my first sentence, changing the period to a question mark. It was actually a meant to be a statement about how I, teenage Hope, felt about music, not a question. But still, Smash Hits (with Heaven 17 on the cover) !!

The requirements for being my pen pal were obviously pretty stiff , as you couldn’t just be into The Police & Culture Club to write to my stupid arse, you had to be “REALLY” into them. And the “busy” part had zero to do with an active social life & everything to do with school & the commitment of my very first job…at the ‘One Hour Photo’ store one town over.

You can see why this ad might be absolute catnip to the universe.

Now to cover my bases in case that UK ad got no responses, I put an ad in a glossy Japanese music mag called “Music Life” as well because I was also desperate to connect pop music freaks in Japan. It appeared in an issue with my personal love God at the time David Sylvian on the cover which thrilled me far more than it should have.

David+Sylvian+Music+Life+-+September+1983-334828

Inexplicably these ads worked. Within weeks of their being published I was inundated with hundreds of letters. Envelopes from Japan covered with stickers & cartoons that held intricately folded & elaborately decorated pieces of tissue stationary as well as actual photos of Ian McCulloch & Paul Weller arriving at the airport. Polaroids of people sitting in tiny bedrooms in Liverpool surrounded by Boy George paraphernalia. Old ticket stubs from recent New Order shows. And oh yes, there was some really weird shit too, mostly coming from a particular grown man who lived in Kidderminster but we’ll just leave it at that. Oh ’80s…

Yup, that pen pal pursuit is one of my most cherished memories of being a music nut-nerd in the ’80s ( and yes, I still have a bunch of letters saved somewhere).

And so, to celebrate those glossy, glittery, shiny pop times, I wholeheartedly offer you the genre-spanning, head spinning LOST IN THE ’80s PLAYLIST, a mighty fine, fittingly massive selection of wondrous singles that didn’t quite ascend to the heights they deserved & foxy deep cuts that never got to be singles but should’ve been.

There are 60 tracks (!) & all are gently gathered the YouTube playlist below ! I truly hope you discover ( or rediscover) something in here that both blows your mind & inspires you to investigate these particular artists . Let the music play…  

Quick note: Why YouTube ? Well while putting this together I discovered a lot of these songs were not available on Apple Music or Spotify. Thankfully most could be found within the lord’s # 1 rabbit hole i.e. YouTube. You can hear the playlist featuring all these little wonders below ( & in some cases, enjoy the added bonus of seeing some VERY ’80s videos).

Listen here ! :

One last note while we’re here: I want to acknowledge & pledge my eternal love to these people, places & things below, nearly all of which are gone now but provided endless joy & fascination to a whole lotta teen pop nerds back in the ’80s. Bless them all to the last :

Magazines: Smash Hits, Number One, Record Mirror, Melody Maker, Sounds & NME

Record Shops ( in NY ): Slipped Disc, Rebel Rebel, Record Runner, Vinylmania, Discorama, Record World, It’s Only Rock’n Roll, Musical Maze & good old Tower on W.4th

Radio : WLIR-WDRE

You all ruled, thank you forever…