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 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.
A Space in Time: Ten Years After Chrysalis SCYL 934620.
Ten Years After have been around for just about ten years, a commendable feat in itself, and their music has benefitted from the experience. The group are all competent rock musicians and play as a well balanced whole, the obvious leading spirit of Alvin Lee (lead guitar, vocals and song-writer) not totally over-riding the others.
Their first album (about 1965) was good traditional blues, which they developed to almost Black Sabbath intensity in Cricklewood Green, The signs of change first noticeable in Shhhh are most obvious in Stonehenge, and are continued in their most recent released Space in Time. However, the human and instrumental variations of Stonehenge have given way to more studiobred sound variations which at times unfortunately do not blend with the actual songs themselves. And while these individual songs are good in themselves there is some mixing of styles which, with the introduction pieces mentioned, breaks up both the flow and over-all unity of the album.
A Space in Time is excellently produced, the quality of the sound and the separation match the tightness of the group to give a very clean and strong sound. Not only has the reliable moog synthesiser been used but one track even has an introduction of falling waves. Unfortunately these touches appear as superficial dress-ups to what is basically a good blues/rock group who lack that extra bit of originality and inspiration which would make them a big-time group, without the frills. While Ten Years After have traded in intensity and power for a progressive note they can not get away from what they are' best at — straight forward, unpretentious rock.
The only song from the group as a whole is Uncle Jam and this perhaps is a pointer where the group could eventually go in that this track echoes the fine jazz pieces in Stonehenge. Jazz however is not as open a field as rock and popular tastes must be appeased to some degree.
The change in appeal from the straight rock to the head market is no doubt sincere, but Ten Years After have not yet quite mastered the new style — maybe their next album will.
Judee Sill — Asylum Recording
Judee Sill is going to hate this record, it's so good that she'll probably spend the rest of her career trying to match the wit and intelligence of these songs. She's probably the finest female songwriter since Joni Mitchell, but her songs are not that kind of personal inquisition, nor does she use the recording booth as a confessional. Not that she hasn't had the experiences. She's been a heroin addict, a prostitute and an armed robber though by her own account that was a complete bomb. Seems she walked into the More, mean and nervous as hell, pulled out her gun and yelled "O.K. motherstickers — this is a fuckup".
With all that behind her, and with help from guys like Steve Stills she's making it as a pop singer. She writes witty, whimsical songs about tor example her attempts to find something real in spiritualism "but magic rings just turned my finger green, and my Mystic Rose has died.. I sat here wailing for God and a train, to the astral plane". But take the time to listen to this yourself before EMI delete it, and watch out for her next album, which last I heard was to be called "So you think you're A Rock 'n' Roll Singer, You Two-Bit Gnot".
Caravanserai by Santana. CBSSBP 474046
Cartas Santana is one mean guy. At Altamont even before the Angels started their rough stuff he stopped his set to snarl at the crowd "I don't play no be-ins and I don't play no love-ins, and I sure as hell don't play no fuck-ins, so that couple out front that's balling gonna stop right now". They did.
In the Woodstock movie his facial expressions ran the gamut from sullen mean to agonised mean, and in the film Fillmore one of the less engaging moments has Carlos money hassling with the redoubtable Bill Graham. And winning. So don't take the quasi-mystical aliusions on the cover and track titles of this one too seriously. It's the same old Santana, a few electronic and Faster touches have been added but basically the same Latin bag they do so well. The material is better than the last LP with fewer vocals than ever, thank God. This record also sees the virtual retirement of the Carlos Santana Guitar Lick, that one riff he has repeated with mantra-like regularity on every track he has ever recorded. If you want to hear the best before deciding, try the last two cuts on side one.
The Divine Miss M. Bette Midler. Atlantic.
From the Art Novveau cover we can see this is 'no ordinary' record. So you've never heard of Bette Midler — The Divine Miss M? Well witness her debut. The variety of material on this record is surprising but the choke is consistently good.
The album starts with her single Do you want to dance and she sings this pop classic with a sensitivity and simplicity that the original never had. The Shangri-las' marvel Leader of the Pack is featured and naturally it's: "Bette is that Jimmy's ring you're wearing"? She tings Chapel of Love a song from the same era which is also great fun. So much for sixties' nostalgia.
Am I Blue, a melancholy bluet finishes this first side and it is a ballad worthy of Barbara Streisand. Indeed, comparisons with Streisand seem easy to make; Friends begins and ends side two and from what I read, this song is to Bene Midler what People is to Streisand.
Delta Dawn is the high-point of the album and this ballad shows this woman's vocal talent better than any other song. It tells a strange Tennessee Williams-ish story with the lyric: "She was forty-one and her daddy still called her baby".
Another high-point is a faultless imitation of the honeyed harmonies of the Andrew Sisters on Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, a superb combination of nostalgia, novelty and camp.
Bette Midler made her second entrance at New York's Philharmonic Hall at midnight, last New Year's Eve as the New Year Baby, clad in diapers with a huge silver safety-pin and a vinyl sash. "A star is born" — indeed? This type of crap is great fun and doesn't Camp work by making what was once vulgar, delightfully trendy? Anyway it's glorious publicity. I don't really care for that but I don't suppose Miss M. can either. The important thing is the music and this it a fine record and Bette Midler deserves to be a star.
Tim Rose - Playboy Records (RCA)
Combine the influences of Spooky Tooth and Johnny Hallyday with the previously dormant talents of Tim Rose and you have an album that seems to keep on growing. Being Tim Rose' first album, one would expect to find that things weren't quite together with the group, but most of the difficulties have been capably overcome with some good production by Gary Wright, ex Spooky Tooth. Besides producing the album, Wright wrote some of the songs as well as playing organ and piano on all tracks. Tracks such as Cryin' Shame, Cotton Growing Man and It takes a little longer, all written by Wright, end up sounding like cuts from the last Spooky Tooth album, and even the tracks written by Rose have the same lyrical and musical flavour.
Only 3 cuts on the album are actually written by Rose, while he includes rather orchestrated and heavy versions of Hide your love away and If were a Carpenter. Rose' voice is a little harsh in parts, it tended to grate at first, but it fits in well with the tone of the album.
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