West Coast: A Love Story

“They say he’s got an ’81 Firebird, I’m still in my ’79” – Paul Davis lyric from “Somebody’s Been Gettin’ to You”

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For me, that line kind of typifies the “West Coast” sound, a sound which during it’s 1978-1983 heyday, was as pervasive in the U.S., as hair metal was in later in the decade. During those years, the top 40 charts were littered end to end with the stuff. The “sound” was typified by supreme musicianship, slick production, and melodic cleanliness, and the people that made it tended to be straight, white guys, within the age range of 25-35. And as the state of the art recording studios in Southern California were where  the overwhelmingly majority of it was created, at some point, years later, it started getting referred to as “West Coast”. When it was actually happening, it was just pop music, but the latterly coined genre name, and the sound are, admittedly, a perfect match.

As for the music itself, I loved it. It spoke to me in ways I did not understand since I had nothing in common with the people creating it, or their life experiences  ( I was also obsessed with soul man Billy Preston, so there you go).  I listened religiously to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings with anticipation , hoping for a new smoothie to spend my allowance on. The deal was, if you had a neatly trimmed beard, and were leaning on a sports car, in a crumpled, yet clean, linen suit, with the sun descending behind you on the cover, and your single was at least # 39 in the chart, I bought your record. I trusted you, and I loved you. My big obsession for awhile was this guy named Robbie Dupree, who turned out to be from Brooklyn, but to me, was the west coast-iast of all the west coasters. His self-titled 1980 album is full of sleek, lonely, and lovelorn tunes, nearly all of which I loved. I would endlessly play it, and simultaneously attempt to draw  portraits of Robbie’s sullen, bearded face, as he stared out sadly from the album cover.

Of course, there’s been a resurgence in popularity of West Coast over the past handful of years. Most recently with Thundercat having esteemed West Coast royalty Kenny Loggins, and Michael McDonald, guest on his album. Prior to that, the lovingly curated “Too Slow to Disco” compilations, featuring some of West Coast’s finest, and the first of which was issued in 2014, garnered a lot of attention…and, surprisingly, critical love…but of course, it’s the “Yacht Rock” phenomenon, that really reignited the interest in the artists, and songs. That’s a cool thing. And it’s great that people are openly, brazenly loving these songs without guilt ( hopefully)…but…can’t bring myself to refer to this music as “Yacht Rock”… no. Never. To me it’s no joke, it is, and shall always will be, sigh, West Coast.

And with that, here’s a playlist, and a couple of loose ends from Mr. Dupree , of spineless, wussy, and truly awesome songs to play in your ’79 Firebird, as you drive to 7-11. Go on then.



 

Blunt Chunks “Can’t Help Lovin’ You”

The initial thing that came to mind upon hearing this was Nico, without the steely voice, and arcane lyrics. And so, I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first, but gradually found myself getting hypnotized by it’s austere simplicity. And the little melodic change in the middle is really fine.

Hatchie “Try”

If you ever wondered what uniting the tuneful, harmonic perfection of , what I imagine are heaven’s 2 favorite bands, Abba, and the Cocteau Twins, would sound like, here it is, and it is very, very good.

Toy Savoy “Clean Floors”

Toy Savoy describe themselves as “noisy kind of pop music from the middle of cold, cold Norway”. This track is noisy in the way the best Britpop was noisy, as in, it’s not remotely noisy…but it’s as melodic, and infectious as any single that emerged from the scene in 1995 . Extra points are awarded for their mention of “beans and rice”.

Colenso Parade “Fontana Eyes”(1986)

Colenso Parade were a post-punk band from Ireland, who only ever released 1 album,”Glentoran” (1986). And from that they culled one of the most glorious, and not as famous as it should’ve been, singles of the 80’s, “Fontana Eyes”.

The song is built around references to “Pan & Fontana”,  a still beloved, paperback horror anthology book series, that was extremely popular in the UK, in the early sixties, and has apparently become a real cult thing over the years.

And so, this song. Lush piano, stuttering drums, sinewy vocalizing : it’s just one big, fat, epic beauty.

And in case you were curious about the line,”God put my eyes in with smoky fingers”, that is repeated throughout the song, and what it means, well, I remember reading an interview a million years ago, where the singer was saying, that the line refers to that classic horror creature/ghost/ zombie look, of having big, black circles around the eyes, you know, like the kind you’d read about in those books. “Smoky fingers”. Perfect.

Uni Ika Ai “Soft in Ice”

There are several peculiarly awesome things that came to mind upon hearing this for the first time. The Beach Boys classic “Sail on Sailor”. A seasick Roxy Music sax solo circa 1974…and okay, anyone remember Dubstar, UK band from the nineties ? Anyone ? Okay, never mind, we’ll get back to them. All that stuff, plus a soaring Annie Lennox-esque vocal ( really, she rules btw), adds up to this, which is pretty freakin’ great. And hey, here’s a bonus track from the cool, and underrated Dubstar, from 1995, just because…

Chien NOIR “Et La Nuit”

This is completely beautiful, seems to be made solely of air, and ocean, has a truly swoon-inducing ending, and should be playing over the credits of something, somewhere in this world right now.

Donny Hathaway & the greatest live performance ever (ever)…

Warning : What follows is really over the top.
I have a friend who thinks Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ” One More from the Road” is the best live album ever. Out of every live recording in the world that’s ever existed. Better than James Brown, “Live at the Apollo”, or the Who, “Live at Leeds”. All of them. Maybe I’ll get him to explain why here soon, since I kind of want to know myself. If I had to guess, knowing him, I would say it’s probably related to the feeling of the whole thing. The emotional elements, the heart and soul, the Artimus Pyle ( their hairy drummer in shorts) of it all, as opposed to it’s tightness…which leads us here, to one of the greatest live performances ever to appear on an LP. As in, staggeringly incredible. As in, you guys go on ahead, I need to sit down for a minute.
Here’s the scene: Donny Hathaway, one of the finest singers earth has ever been blessed with , is playing at LA’s Troubadour in August of 1971. He hits the opening notes of his cover of Carole’s King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, on the keyboard. It’s just been #1 in the charts, as sung by James Taylor, and of course features on Carole’s megaselling, gigantic “Tapestry” LP, that every person alive that year owns a copy of, or at least their big sister does. It is beyond ubiquitous. The notes instantly trigger maniacal, unhinged, Beatle-esque screaming from the ladies in the audience. Donny starts singing with his usual soulful beauty, like always. When he gets to the line in the first verse, “close your eyes and think of me”, one of the intensely hyped up ladies answers back with, “I’m thinkin‘ !”. There is a burst of laughter. And then it’s time for the chorus. At this point, the whole audience takes the mike from Donny, and he graciously lets them. Beyond let’s them. They completely take over the song, while awestruck Donny guides, leads, embellishes, and backs them up for the rest of the way. I’m telling you, it’s just, damn….
One of the most mind-blowing things about this recording, is the closeness of all of it : it sounds like the crowd is onstage with him, all clapping, screaming, breathing, and chattering, while completely surrounding him at his keyboard (at least that’s the way I’ve always pictured the scene in my head). That moment, when the first verse transitions into the chorus, and everyone starts singing, gives me chills every single time I hear it : it is positively transcendent. You’ll actually feel your heart expand inside you.
At one point Donny says “Y’all sound awful good to me”, then,” this might be a record here”.
Yeah, thank God for that.

Kweku Collins “Oasis2 :Maps”

Listen with rapture as Kweku Collins slyly reinvents the Yeah Yeahs Yeah’s classic, as a spaced out tearjerker, standing under a lonely streetlight. Real beauty. And hey, check out his recently released “Grey” album, which is full of moody, and personal things, and also mighty fine.