Jive Time Turntable

Norma Tanega “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” (New Voice, 1966)

Though she had a single that reached #22 on the charts in 1966 and wrote songs for British pop-soul diva Dusty Springfield (with whom she also had a long-term romantic relationship), Norma Tanega has remained an obscure cult figure. Call me an optimist, but I think that situation might be remedied by Real Gone Music’s recent green-vinyl reissue of Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog, a delightfully quirky folk-rock record that quickly charms its way into your heart—especially that chart-dwelling title track alluded to earlier. I mean, RGM only produced 1,000 copies, but maybe this review will tip the scales in Tanega’s favor. (HAHAHAHA.)

All kidding aside, you gotta love the moxie of opening your debut album with a song title “You’re Dead.” Tanega grabs you from the get-go with a matter-of-fact voice that’s somewhat flat yet alluring, like Bobbie Gentry (or indeed Springfield), with a lower timbre and less breathy flamboyancy… or like Buffy Sainte-Marie without the stentorian vibrato. Tanega’s music is urgent, stripped-down folk-rock that gives Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs’ songcraft a run for its trenchancy. “Treat Me Right” is upbeat folk with gospel-vocal call-and-response uplift. “Waves” and “Jubilation” form a diptych of feel-good, intimate anthems that celebrate coupledom, in waltz time.

The dramatic orchestral pop of “Don’t Touch” features a chorus paraphrasing that of Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” It should’ve been a hit! What did become a hit, “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” is simply one of the greatest songs of the ’60s, a lolloping melody that makes you want to tear off all of your clothes, wad ’em up, and throw ’em in the air. Mutedly euphoric, the song sounds like Martha & The Vandellas gone folk, and it reflects Tanega’s genius for surprising song structures and idiosyncratic harmonica tones. “A Street That Rhymes At Six A.M.” offers another Motown simulacrum, but in off-kilter folk mode. So damn fresh.

For variation, there’s “What Are We Craving?” (a stomping, martial tune with Nico-like vocals), “No Stranger Am I,” (an Astrud Gilberto-esque saudade folk tune in an odd time signature), and “Hey Girl” (a cover of the 1870s Appalachian folk standard “In The Pines,” which was made famous by Lead Belly… and then more famous by Nirvana and Mark Lanegan). Oddly, the album closes with its most conventional track, “I’m The Sky,” whose jaunty poppiness recalls the 5th Dimension.

Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog is one of the most welcome reissues of the year. The fact that the latest edition of it already has sold out bodes well for its rehabilitation. Now get to repressin’, Real Gone Music. -Buckley Mayfield

High Speed And The Afflicted Man “Get Stoned Ezy” (Bonk, 1982)

A self-described “hippie punk,” British guitarist/vocalist Steve Hall cut this cult classic during the waning days of post-punk’s zenith. It must’ve sounded extremely out of time in that milieu of severely angular and often funky rock that frequently agitated for leftist/progressive political causes. Here was an unabashed, heavy-as-fuck psych-rock beast built for reckless—if not wreckless—speed that practically made listeners grow mutton chops while it was playing. Its three long songs hit you with Hell’s Angels-on-a-tequila-bender brutality.

Get Stoned Ezy sounded nothing like, say, post-punk touchstones such as Joy Division, the Pop Group, or Raincoats. Unsurprisingly, High Speed And The Afflicted Man pretty much vanished without much fanfare… until the reissues started materializing in the 2010s. (Thanks, Guerssen!)

The six-minute title track sets the tone; it’s dominated by primitive, ram-rodding riff, fuzzed and metallicized and run right into the ground, till it hits the earth’s core. Hall boozily bellows about getting blunted with not much difficulty, his guitar sounding like Ron Asheton trying to blend Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi at their brashest.

Zip Ead” offers 14 minutes of slightly slower Neanderthal rock in which Hall’s guitar bleeds way outside the lines of decorum, like early Blue Cheer jamming with Japanese speed freaks High Rise. It’s another exercise in repetition as redemption, the road of excess leading to the chalice of (six-string) jizzdom [sic].

The 12-minute “Sun Sun” is a burly, fuzzed-out mantra that pummels its way into the delirious jam-band zone where Hapshash And The Coloured Coat, Ya Ho Wa 13, and Magic Hour dwell. Let us take a moment to praise bassist Paul Mason and drummer Billy Frater, who get the motherfuckin’ job done with minimal fuss. They’re the rock-solid foundation beneath Hall’s flagrant guitar wankery. And no, that is not a diss in my book, if the person musically masturbating has talent and cunning. Hall has just enough of those things to make his caveman rock punch above its weight. -Buckley Mayfield

Golem “Orion Awakes” (Psi-Fi, 1996)

This album is draped in mystery and has been suspected of being a hoax. It allegedly was recorded in 1972-73, but some production touches make it sound more like it was done in the ’90s. In an interview reproduced in the liner notes of the 2016 vinyl reissue on Mental Experience, producer Toby Robinson can’t remember any of the details—and the same edition’s credits bear a “℗ 1976.” They can’t keep their stories straight… All the musicians recorded under pseudonyms, but are reputedly well-known krautrock figures. Alan Freeman, author of The Crack In The Cosmic Egg krautrock encyclopedia, speculates that members of Dzyan, Birth Control, Baba Yaga, and Sixty Nine may have been involved. All the rest of the CD reissues from the ’90s on the Pyramid imprint (Nazgul, Galactic Explorers, Cozmic Corridors, etc.) have similar murky origins.

Someone on Discogs wrote, “I have sources from a musician that he confirms played on this record wich [sic] was recorded back in 1995 in Croydon near London.” I can believe that! But ultimately, the music on Orion Awakes is so good, its back story is beside the point.

Whatever the case, if you dig freaky, vocal-free krautrock, you’re gonna want Orion Awakes. The title track approaches tentatively and ominously with delayed guitar shivers, then slowly blooms into a glimmering, methodical psych-rock stomp, replete with thick organ swirls. I can’t help thinking of the ’90s band Sundial and their awesome Other Way Out album when I hear this song. Similarly, “Stellar Launch” is a contemplative space-out that meanders with menace, marked by subtle wah-wah guitar and wispy Mellotron sighs. Gradually, though, it achieves a semi-funky midtempo groove and ascends to sublime heights of cosmic chaos. The shortest track at 6:32, the aptly titled “Godhead Dance” will get you spazzing and throwing ridiculous shapes. It features an unstoppable groove powered by over-the-top Hendrixian wah snarl. If you hear “Godhead Dance” under the influence of hallucinogens, all bets are off. No wonder it’s my go-to Golem track in DJ sets.

The three-part, 14-minute suite “ Jupiter & Beyond” is powerful, surging psychedelic rock music geared for large venues. The album’s finale, “The Returning,” probably should’ve been left off of Orion Awakes. The fat drum sound and trademark indie-rock guitar tones really give away the ’90s provenance of Golem. This song sounds like something on Drag City, Matador, or Merge more than any subterranean German label. It’s also the least interesting work here. It’s not a good way to persuade anyone who suspects this LP is (mostly) a well-executed prank. -Buckley Mayfield

Charles Lloyd “Waves” (A&M, 1972)

One sees a lot of Charles Lloyd LPs in used bins—especially Forest Flower, Love-In, and Journey Within. That ubiquity suggests that the American jazz saxophonist/flautist had a spasm of commercial success, followed by a substantial disenchantment with his popular releases. It’s a common phenomenon, and it often pays dividends for crate-diggers decades later. While Waves isn’t quite as easy to find as the aforementioned records, it does pop up with some frequency for fairly low prices. I’m here to suggest that you should snap it up when you see it, as it punches way above its price point.

Like a handful of serious jazz artists, Lloyd intermingled with rock royalty at a time when jazzers and hippies often shared similar worldviews and aesthetics. That’s how Lloyd ended up corralling Beach Boys members Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, and Billy Hinsche and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn to make Waves. You can hear these West Coast rock gods in full flower on album opener “TM” (yes, it’s a blissful paean to transcendental meditation, and it sure sounds like it). Add the fantastic Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó to the mix and you have a gilded gem of a tune that you can imagine appearing on Friends, 20/20, or Surf’s Up, what with its patented honeyed, intricate vocal interplay by those Beach Boys cats. Plus, Pamela Polland is no slouch on lead vox.

“Pyramid,” cowritten by guitarist Tom Trujillo, is an epic psych-jazz ramble with plenty of Lloyd’s flute dazzlement and a guitar/bass duel that makes me think of Wolfgang Dauner’s astounding Et Cetera album from 1970. “Majorca” is pretty much a continuation of “Pyramid,” but with Szabó unspooling rococo guitar filigree all over the shop. These two songs will make you feel about 67 percent more sophisticated than you actually are. Let it be known that this is one helluva side one.

Side two kicks off with the nine-minute “Harvest,” another Szabó extravaganza; it’s jaunty, fleet hippie jazz spiced by Gábor’s pointillistically pretty guitar origami. On the gorgeous psych-jazz meditation “Waves,” McGuinn exudes restrained lustrousness on his 12-string guitar while the melody recalls Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light”—which also came out in 1972; weird. The triptych “Rishikesha” concludes Waves with a gentle psychedelic reverie that strives for a peace beyond understanding. Whether you think it attains that exalted state depends on your own tolerance for long-haired utopian soundtracks and Mike Love’s quasi-mystical lyrics. Luckily for me, I at least have a healthy appetite for the former.

Waves is a testament to Lloyd’s aptitude for adaptability. He proved that a respected jazz musician could smoothly transition into the precarious freak zone of fusion and hippie rock and create a lasting work—even though too few people realize it. -Buckley Mayfield

Chicago “Chicago VI” (Columbia, 1973)

If you were conscious during the ’70s, you couldn’t help being aware of the music made by the unimaginatively named band Chicago. It was in the air like perfume and cigarette smoke and summer breezes, dominating the airwaves with soulful, jazz-inflected rock and heart-melting ballads. Some of those ubiquitous hits were damned good, some tilted the schmaltz meter into the red. But it was all impeccably played and produced and usually housed in gatefold sleeves, and it somehow appealed to hip folks and squares.

By the time the seven dudes in Chicago had reached their fifth album, VI (odd, I know, but they were called Chicago Transit Authority on their first LP), they were surefire chart-dwellers who had their shit down pat. But they weren’t averse to bringing in some outside help for this one, tapping Brazilian percussionist Laudir De Oliveira (Sérgio Mendes, Marcos Valle) to accentuate the rhythms. The results on VI, though, are a mixed bag, which you can expect when you have four songwriters angling to get ideas expressed.

The album begins unpromisingly with “Critics’ Choice,” an acerbic, Elton John/10cc-like ballad that dissects said critics’ negative traits. But that meh start quickly gets whisked down the memory hole as “Just You ‘N’ Me” enters earshot. Yes, it’s a warm power ballad you’ve heard 18 million times, so it’s curdled into an innocuous bauble that reminds you more of shopping for deodorant in a chain drugstore rather than as one of the classiest, slinkiest, and most earnest love songs ever to top a chart. It helps that composer/trombonist James Pankow pulls a “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” sucker punch that elevates the track to a much higher level.

Keyboardist Robert Lamm’s “Darlin’ Dear” is horn-heavy funk-rock with a festive, Dr. John-like air, enlivened by Terry Kath’s sizzling, snarling guitar solo. Kath’s lone writing credit, “Jenny,” sounds like the Band’s earthy roots rock, but with more rhythmic complexity. The album’s best deep cut is Pankow’s “What’s This World Comin’ To,” whose boisterous, busy funk rock bumps somewhere between Funkadelic and Grand Funk Railroad. I wish Chicago explored this vein more often. Similarly deep and not oversaturated by radio, “Rediscovery” is a midtempo funk jam with low-key jazz chordings, as Kath channels Eddie Hazel’s fluid, wah-wah squawk.

Like a lot of smart groups, Chicago saved the best for last. No exaggeration: Peter Cetera and Pankow’s “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” stands as one of the greatest pieces of music ever. This magnum opus has about five or six distinct parts, and each one is dazzling. The song begins like a fairly typical inspirational, casually strolling rocker, but you can sense it’s going to build to something much more majestic. Sure enough, about halfway in, “Feelin’ Stronger” accelerates into a magnificent chug and then things just get insanely sublime from there on out. The massed, swaggering horns, the crazed, galloping drums and mad tom-tom fills, the “YEAH YEAH YEEEEAAAAH,” the soaring backing-vocal vortex, Cetera’s aerated “We get stronger today” refrain that rides till the fadeout… Put the coda on in a loop in your brain while running and you’ll never fail to break your personal record. Trust me… I’ve tried it. -Buckley Mayfield

The The “Uncertain Smile” (Some Bizzare, 1982)

As someone who’s only listened to The The up through 1986’s Infected, I can’t claim to be an authority on leader Matt Johnson’s musical career. However, I can confidently state that I am an expert on The The’s 1982 EP, Uncertain Smile. I bought it soon after it came out on British import during the grim Reagan/Thatcher era and proceeded to listen to its three sui generis songs obsessively, while putting the title track on many a mixtape. Uncertain Smile may not be the most popular or revered release in Johnson’s catalog, but I maintain that it deserves repeat plays and a lofty place in your musical pantheon.

“Uncertain Smile” itself begins with some of the most urgent, warped marimba you’ve ever heard, before suavely shifting into a midtempo dance-rock groove augmented by a plangent guitar and mournful flute motifs of utmost poignancy. The flute solo is mellifluously melancholy enough to earn a spot on a Moody Blues LP. Johnson sings like an introverted, less narcissistic Morrissey here, relating a fraught internal emo-drama with intimate equanimity. You will feel Matt’s pain.

The song’s long instrumental bridge coasts into mysterioso jazz territory, with brooding sax and sly bass laying a foundation for another madly undulating marimba solo. As the song progresses, more elements enter (sumptuous synth swells, heavily FX’d harmonica, an intriguing sound I can’t pinpoint), adding to the sensation that this is a once-in-a-lifetime epic that transcends its early-’80s British milieu. Make no mistake: “Uncertain Smile” is The The’s peak and one of the greatest songs ever. The truncated version on the 1983 LP Soul Mining pales beside this one.

By contrast, “Three Orange Kisses From Kazan” is a weirdly ominous yet enigmatically beautiful piece of art pop, like some amalgam of Tuxedomoon, early Clock DVA, and Tin Drum-era Japan. “Why do people never say what they mean? / Why do people just repeat what they read?” Johnson gripes, and that sentiment still resonates 37 years later. Another example of Johnson’s unique way with songcraft and vocal modulation, “Three Orange Kisses” presents a perfect balance between melodiousness and cacophony. It’s some of the most gorgeous chaos that appeared on record in the ’80s. “Waitin’ For The Upturn” can’t help sounding somewhat anticlimactic after the preceeding two classics, but it’s still a gem of low-key, chilling balladry, like a master class of muted Sturm und Drang. The production on Uncertain Smile by Mike Thorne (Wire, John Cale, Laurie Anderson, Soft Cell) is spacious and dynamic, abetting Johnson’s idiosyncratic ideas about timbre and atmosphere. -Buckley Mayfield

Grand Funk Railroad “E Pluribus Funk” (Capitol, 1971)

E Pluribus Funk is probably the greatest album ever to be packaged to look like a silver coin. Admittedly, there’s not a lot of competition for that honor, but still… respect is due. Speaking of which, Flint, Michigan’s finest never have received much of that stuff from critics, but Grand Funk Railroad’s extravagant commercial success (multi-platinum records, hit singles, selling out Shea Stadium in 72 hours, etc.) shouldn’t detract from you enjoying their genuine strengths.

Produced by Terry Knight, E Pluribus Funk is an unabashed par-tay record. Being as it’s made by dudes from the central part of a centrally located Rust Belt state, the album pummels with a ferocity that comes from folks who have to endure six months of shitty weather per year. (As a native Detroiter, I speak from bitter experience.) Whatever was fueling drummer/vocalist Don Brewer, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Mark Farner, and bassist Mel Schacher in 1971, it was pretty potent.

Opening tracks don’t get much better than “Footstompin’ Music.” This uptempo boogie bomb does what it says on the tin, pretty much running head-to-head with the Bohannon funk burner of the same title. Put this on at a party and watch rivalry turn into revelry. “People, Let’s Stop The War” is tough-as-hell funk-rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on the crucial Chains And Black Exhaust compilation of black psychedelia. The sentiment—see the title—may be simple-minded, but it was righteously on point during the Vietnam conflict. “Upsetter” is burly, uproarious party rock that’s very clever with maracas (no, it doesn’t sound like Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire”), while “I Come Tumblin’” peddles rugged, churning rock that’ll whip you into a sweaty frenzy, if you’re open to its rude, thrusting nature.

That’s a hell of a side 1, so side 2 can’t help seeming a bit lacking in comparison. The best thing I can say about the middling hard rock of “Save The Land” is that it must’ve burned a lot of calories during the recording of it. For better for worse, the bombastic hard rock of “No Lies” sounds like a blueprint for Guns N’ Roses circa Appetite For Destruction. The LP ends with “Loneliness,” a pensive, strings-augmented ballad that sometimes tilts into bloated melodrama as it strives for a momentous climax. Nevertheless, it’s a bold tangent in this context and is pretty ambitious for GFR.

Given its fantastic, circular packaging and dynamite first side, E Pluribus Funk merits space on your shelf. File it next to Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. -Buckley Mayfield

Dick Hyman “The Age Of Electronicus” (Command, 1969)

Even some of the best Moog albums have a fair amount of cheesy camp elements littering them, and Dick Hyman’s The Age Of Electronicus is no different. While Robert Moog’s invention tends to time-stamp music with as much finality as Auto-Tune has done in this century’s first two decades, some of the former material has endured beyond cheap nostalgia thrills. And that includes this cover-heavy opus.

Now a spry 92, Hyman was 42 when Electronicus came out, and he’d established himself as a jazz pianist who once played with Charlie Parker. Dick also was the in-studio organist for the stunt game show Beat The Clock, which sounds like a very fun gig. So, dude has chops. He applied his dexterity and ingenuity to the then-novel Moog synthesizer with both virtuosity and opportunistic glee.

Electronicus boasts the obligatory Beatles covers (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Blackbird”), two Booker T. & The M.G.’s cuts (“Time Is Tight” and “Green Onions”), Hair show-stopper “Aquarius,” an interpretation of James Brown’s “Give It Up Or Turn It Loose,” a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and merely one original. Sure, Electronicus smacks of Moog-hysteria cash-in, but Hyman’s inventiveness with this familiar and relatively eclectic material raises the record high above most of its counterparts now moldering in bargain bins.

The album starts with one of the Beatles’ most insufferable tunes, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and Hyman squirts chintzy Moog sauce all over the gratingly ingratiating dud. Thankfully, this poor start’s obliterated by the über-funky “Give It Up Or Turn It Loose,” which has more freaky libidinousness than you’d expect from suit-and-tie-wearing, middle-aged white guy who likes to twiddle nobs. Yeah, I’ll still drop this heater into DJ sets. “Blackbird”’s solemn beauty survives Hyman’s wonky timbres and insistent, synthetic pulsations—barely. I bet McCartney dug it.

“Aquarius” is “Aquarius”; it’s hard not to smirk when any version of it is playing. Hair-raising it isn’t. However, “Time Is Tight” and “Green Onions” strut with alpha-male bravado while flaunting extremely flute-y tonalities. Hyman finds a quite annoying setting on the Moog for the folk standard “Both Sides Now,” so I usually skip over it. The sentimental Bacharach-David movie theme “Alfie” fares a bit better, but is still inconsequential. However, the lone Hyman composition, “Kolumbo,” is an epic excursion into complex, swarming oscillations and delayed percussion. It’s by far Electronicus‘ most serious and psychedelic effort. I wish Hyman would’ve unknotted his tie and frolicked in this direction more often.

One good thing about Electronicus: It hasn’t become a hipster totem nor received a fashionable deluxe reissue, so you can still find used vinyl copies for under $10… for now. -Buckley Mayfield

King Crimson “Earthbound” (Island, 1972)

I’m generally not a huge fan of live albums, but Earthbound definitely merits as much undivided attention as any King Crimson LP from their peak era (1969-1975). Recorded at various dates on their 1972 US tour, the five tracks on Earthbound represent some of the pioneering British prog-rock group’s funkiest and farthest-out moments—in addition to tracks not found on any other studio releases. It’s kind of an odd mishmash, but it never sounds less than vital and thrilling—no matter how hard the anal-retentive audiophiles on Prog Archives bitch about the original release’s notoriously poor sound quality. (Earthbound got upgraded with several remasters/reissues in the 21st century. I would recommend getting an HDCD of it, just this once.)

You can’t beat the start of Earthbound: a scorched-earth rendition of prog’s Big Bang, “21st Century Schizoid Man” (you know, the song Kanye West sampled for “Power”). This 11-plus-minute bad boy is unbelievably heavy, and electrocuted by vocals so distorted they sound as if they’re being run through an air-conditioner fan. King Crimson whip this warhorse into the fiercest shape it’s ever been in. Bassist Boz Burrell is so much more of a beast on the mic than was Greg Lake on In The Court Of The Crimson King, and the notorious instrumental breakdown is longer and more brutal and chaotic than that in the 7-minute-plus original. Saxophonist Mel Collins blows articulate fireballs while Fripp shreds at peak fury. They take what was already one of rock’s most spasmodically dynamic and explosive numbers and nuclear bomb it further. CATHARSIS, AHOY!

“Peoria,” by contrast, is funky, straightforward rock with a slurring, alpha-male sax solo. It’s the closest King Crimson ever have come to Grand Funk Railroad or Rare Earth. (You may think that’s a diss, but you’d be wrong.) The instrumental freak-rock of controlled madness that is “The Sailor’s Tale” diverges from the version on Island in that it’s rougher and vocal-free. “Earthbound” flaunts an incredibly funky 40-second open break by Ian Wallace at its beginning that’s nearly as heavy as Bev Bevan’s beats in the Move’s “Feel Too Good.” Burrell grunts like a boar in heat, as if he’s auditioning for Bad Company, but the groove is so lubricious, one can (almost) forgive him. The album closes with “Groon,” a loose quarter-hour jam that encompasses contemplative spiritual jazz, rugged jazz-rock, a thuggish, rumbling drum solo, and Pete Sinfield filtering Wallace’s drums through a VC3S to cause zonked-to-hell electronic tumult that foreshadows mid-’90s IDM. Holy shit, what a bizarre climax!

Plenty of Crimson fans malign Earthbound, but I recommend that you keep an open mind about this rough-round-the-edges anomaly, as it contains some dome-cracking revelations. -Buckley Mayfield

Hal Blaine “Psychedelic Percussion” (Dunhill, 1967)

Hal Blaine died of natural causes last month at age 90. A session drummer on 150 top-10 hits and a member of the world-famous Wrecking Crew studio band, he had perhaps the most impressive music career of anyone who isn’t a household name. While the obits reeled off the many chart smashes and TV themes—both sublime and cheesy—to which Blaine contributed his impeccable timing and tone, they failed to mention this wonderful oddity in his discography. And that’s a damn shame…

Psychedelic Percussion is truth in titling. With help from Paul Beaver of Beaver & Krause non-fame on electronics and Emil Richards and Gary Coleman (not the actor) on percussion, Blaine goes wild in the studio with drums, gong, xylophone, organ, bongos, congas, and timpani. Free to follow his own instincts instead of adhere to the whims of other musicians and producers, the legendary sticksman let loose with a freaky panoply of non-4/4 beats and unusual textures and tones. The result is 12 instrumentals that sounds like a combo of Raymond Scott-esque slapstick jazz, ’50s exotica on dexedrine, and an LSD-laced library record. Conservative estimate, Blaine packed 20 pounds of action into a 10-pound bag here. It’s one of the craziest party platters with which you’ll ever have the pleasure of baffling your guests.

Psychedelic Percussion truly is an unclassifiable one-off, obviously unlike anything Blaine did while on the clock during other people’s sessions. Whatever the case, it’s strange that this album’s never received a proper vinyl reissue in the 52 years since its initial release. (Universal Japan re-released it on CD in 2002.) I write this review partially in the hopes that some enterprising label will finally do the deed. In the meantime, you can hear it in its entirety on YouTube… or score it on Discogs for big bucks. -Buckley Mayfield

2019 Record Store Day Sale!

Join us Saturday, April 13, 10-9, for our biggest sale of the year! In celebration of national Record Store Day, all used vinyl, CD’s and tapes will be 25% off! All new vinyl 10-25% off! Plus: Receive a free, limited edition, hand-screened poster with any purchase. Spend $100 or more and receive a lmt. ed. Jive Time RSD T-shirt or LP tote (while supplies last). Follow us on Facebook or Instagram at @jivetimerecords for more details.

Patti Smith Group “Wave” (Arista, 1979)

The final entry in Patti Smith Group’s tetralogy, Wave is not as highly rated as their first three full-lengths. Much of it’s pretty bombastic, melodically turgid rock that sounds stodgy, particularly after PSG’s mercurial, poetic burners Horses, Radio Ethiopia, and Easter. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Wave preceded a seven-year hiatus during which Patti married MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and started a family. It’s not a total dud, though—otherwise I wouldn’t be spending precious time reviewing it.

Basically, you need Wave for its first three songs. Talk about a front-loaded LP… “Frederick”—which retreads Smith’s biggest hit, the Bruce Springsteen collab “Because The Night”—is a tribute to Patti’s soon-to-be husband, Mr. Sonic. It’s a sweepingly romantic rocker that sounds nothing like her beau’s band. Co-written with guitarist Ivan Kral, “Dancing Barefoot” is a low-slung rock mantra in which Smith sings as if she’s in a trance. The easy-going, undulant ramble foreshadows R.E.M. and certain Feelies tracks. No wonder the latter covered it, as did Simple Minds, the Celibate Rifles, Pearl Jam, U2, and others.

Wave crests on Roger McGuinn/Chris Hillman’s “So You Want To Be (A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star).” PSG’s is my favorite version of this much-covered song—I like it even better than the Byrds’ original. Smith and company execute an irrepressible interpretation whose main riff is a masterpiece of minimalism that hints at the transcendental, tidal rock of late-’90s Boredoms. (Highest compliment!) Patti surely could relate to McGuinn and Hillman’s cautionary tale and their lyrics’ overarching cynicism—even as she’s singing the hell out of the song in a display of sheer bravado that’s very rock-star-like. The guitar solo is also striving for the sort of glory against which the words are warning. Irony!

Unfortunately, the stretch from “Hymn” through “Broken Flag” is hard going. “Revenge” is lumbering, slow-blooming, dramatic rock about a dying relationship, as Smith sings, “All the gold and silver couldn’t measure up my love for you/It’s so immaterial.” “Citizen Ship” and “Seven Ways Of Going” are hugely bombastic tunes that make Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds seem like shrinking violets. The former’s a Sturm und Drang political song while the latter is so over the top, it qualifies as PSG’s “L.A. Blues.” “Broken Flag” is a swaying, lighters-aloft anthem that sounds like music for a political rally—but ironically rendered.

Yeah, Wave is kind of a disappointment, because we have such high expectations from Patti Smith and her crack band. But that opening triumvirate of classics is sufficient to make it worth your while. -Buckley Mayfield