Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 7. 11th April 1973
The divine Miss M: Bette Midler. Atlantic SD 7238 — Bulldog: MCA MCPS 6299 — Cheech and Chong: A & M Sodl 934479 — Richard Supa: Homespun. Paramount PML 34690 — The Spirit of Pelorous Jack: John Donoghue. Ode Sode 040
The divine Miss M: Bette Midler. Atlantic SD 7238
Bulldog: MCA MCPS 6299
Cheech and Chong: A & M Sodl 934479
Richard Supa: Homespun. Paramount PML 34690
The Spirit of Pelorous Jack: John Donoghue. Ode Sode 040.
The major problem facing a reviewer of the Bette Midler album. The divine Miss M, is where to begin. This difficulty arises because of the extensive variety of styles that she encompasses, so I'll fill you in on her background first and then move on to her album.
Miss Midler first started singing in a Turkish Bath. More precisely, the homosexual-frequented Continental Baths in New York where she proved so popular that fully-clothed onlookers started turning up, and from there it was only a short step to becoming the new darling of the New York underground.
Appearances on the David Frost Show and Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" followed — the latter drew attention to her and Rolling Stone ran a seven page article on her, not exactly normal procedure for a relative unknown. That paper's senior contributing editor, Ralph Gleason, put her into Perspectives as the possible beginning of a new era in popular music. The other breakthroughs he used to illustrate his point were those made by Bob Dylan and John Contrane. Get the picture?
There are equal amounts of camp and nostalgia blended into Miss Midler's style — but there's much more to her than outward appearances would have us believe. Her record is a curious mixture — from the ragtime Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy to the best version yet of Leon Russell's and Delaney Bramlett's Superstar. Her rendering of Friends leaves Frank Zappa far behind in the schizophrenia stakes, but for my money the stand out track is Leader of the Pack in which the backing musicians play through several rapid changes like speed freaks with the Devil on their tail. After Bette Midler, you can toss your Carly Simon and Carole King recordings in the rubbish tin. The divine Miss M is indeed on her way.
The Richard Supa, Bulldog and the Cheech and Chong records are interesting, and even entertaining in patches. Apart from that, they're not very good. Supa is a lightweight in a commercial acoustic mould who is more successful singing other people's material than his own. Unhappily, the self-penned songs make up seven of the nine tracks and in these he's tried too hard to make 'significant' by cramming them full of unrelated images.
Behind him the Atlanta Rhythm section lay down a polished, professional backing and dial's alt that can be said about it. The end result is an album to listen to with half an ear while you're in another room brewing up a pot of tea.
Bulldog is yet another group in a heavy bag, which includes among its members two former Rascals, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish. The group's distinctive feature is its vocalist, Billy Hocher. His rasping voice saves the album from complete mediocrity. The music has already been heard a hundred times before, but they manage to put their message across more effectively when they slow the pace down as in Good Times are coming and Have a nice day where a lyric about closing one's eyes, locking doors and not needing sound solutions any longer is wistfully coupled with delicate acoustic guitar work.
Cheech (a Chicano) and Chong, an American Chinese, are head comedians who expand the basic premise that hippies are boring when they're stoned over two sides of vinyl. They're right, but after 40 minutes of "yeah, man" and "far out, man" they're in pretty much the same shape themselves. After repeated listening the only cuts that still hold up are Tripping in Court, (self-explanatory, I trust), and a radio advertisement for Acapulco Gold Filters.
John Donoghue's first solo LP, The Spirit of Pelorus Jack, produced in Wellington by Terence O'Neill-Joyce, is a pleasant surprise. I was reminded to notice it by a friend. It does contain some minor flaws: the bass lacks definition, the vocal harmonies are a little shaky and the lyrics could have been worked on a little longer. Bearing that in mind, it's certainly one of the best local products released for some time and well up to the standard of most overseas releases.
Donoghue is a rarity among New Zealand singers in that he possesses a distinctive voice. Rarer still, it's retained its distinctive stamp through recording, something we can attribute to a sympathetic producer. He's moved away from mirroring overseas trends into a relaxed and much more comfortable niche somewhere between Elton John and Cat Stevens. It works.