Album Reviews

The Ventures “Underground Fire” (Liberty, 1969)

There’s no way most mortals have heard all of the Ventures‘ 250-plus albums. Nor, it is fairly certain, are all of the Ventures’ album worth hearing. Even the band members would admit that many of them were hastily pumped out to capitalize on trends. The Ventures were blessed—or cursed—with the ability to play nearly every style of music with verve and ingenuity. And they and/or their labels seemingly possessed an urgent need for money. So, the Ventures’ discography from their ’60s/’70s peak looks like a precursor to Guided By Voices’, for sheer prolificness.

Now, with regard to this surf-rock institution founded in Tacoma, Washington, I’m a shameful dabbler. But of the tiny fraction of LPs by them that I’ve heard, Underground Fire stands out. As most mortals know, Ventures’ albums consist mostly of covers of popular tunes from whatever period they were released. And they often have a marketable theme—or gimmick, if you want to be less charitable.

By contrast, Underground Fire can pretty much stand alone as a creative milestone for the Ventures. Side one’s all originals; side two’s all covers of some heavy, late-’60s hits that you know and probably love. But the group prove they’re much more than master replicators of popular idioms; these cats can also write some memorable instrumentals, when they set their minds to it.

The title track kicks off the album like the Yardbirds exorcising some blues-rock demons. New lead guitarist Gerry McGee apparently thought that surf rock had runs its course, and the rest of the band acquiesced with his more scathing vision. “Embers In E Minor” is cool, driving rock that has the air of hip British library music of the time. Were the Ventures secret KPM Records fans? One hopes so. Possibly the funkiest song in the Ventures’ discography, “Sea Of Grass” finds bassist Bob Bogle and drummer Mel Taylor really upping their game here. This may be blasphemous hyperbole, but I’d put “Sea Of Grass” in a DJ set with the hardest-grooving cuts by Booker T. & The M.G.s and the Meters.

In “Higher Than Thou,” Bogle’s bass line is a monster of minimalist propulsion while McGee’s guitar leads are greasy blues-rock lightning. It’s a serious party jam that may help you reach its titular state. With its on-the-nose title, “Country Funk And The Canned Head” is, you guessed it, a Canned Heat homage, as well as proto-ZZ Top boogie. (By the way, Mel Taylor was Canned Heat bassist Larry’s brother.)

Underground Fire‘s cover songs are as familiar to most seasoned listeners as the fingers on their record-flipping hand. On “Born To Be Wild,” the Ventures lean in to this Steppenwolf biker-rock staple like their paychecks depended on it. No vocals necessary when you have such slashing guitar interplay and an urgently punchy rhythm section. As for “Sunshine Of Your Love,” folks of a certain age don’t really need to hear this Cream classic in 2024. But if we must, the Ventures’ vicious, funked-up version is the way to go.

There’s also a respectful rendition of “The Weight,” but we only need the Band’s, to be brutally honest. The Ventures’ “Light My Fire” stands as a great contribution to the canon, if you dislike Jim Morrison’s vocal presence. And, if I may conjecture, John Durrill’s rococo keyboard excursions probably impressed Ray Manzarek. The same concept applies to “Down On Me,” except if Janis Joplin’s voice somehow gets on your nerves. McGee tears off fluid, searing leads—just a commanding performance. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown nugget “Fire” blazes brightly and maintains the album’s theme with panache.

Underground Fire hasn’t been reissued on vinyl in the US in 55 years. Regardless, you should be able to find copies fairly easily and cheaply. I scored mine a few years ago in an Oak Park, Michigan shop for $2.99. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Eddy Senay “Hot Thang” (Sussex, 1972)

As a guitarist from Detroit coming up in the ’60s and ’70s, Eddy Senay had to deal with some tough competition. Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel, the Funk Brothers’ Dennis Coffey, the MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer, etc. But Senay held his own among these heavy Motor City axe-slingers on his two lone albums for Sussex, Step By Step and Hot Thang (both released in 1972). He wasn’t as incendiary a player as the aforementioned musicians, but Senay ruled as a purveyor of mellow finesse, a virtuoso of blissful licks.

Hot Thang bears similarities with Mel Brown’s Chicken Fat (reviewed on this blog earlier this year). Both records eschew vocals (let us give thanks) and possess a sinuous, sinewy approach to bluesy funk. Sometimes the best way to start an album is to ease your way into it. Fig. 1 is “Just Feeling It,” a laid-back psych-blues charmer that would make Khruangbin flip their wigs. “Down Home” bears Steve Cropper/Booker T. & The M.G.s vibes. Country funk of the highest order, the song rewardingly chews the aforementioned Chicken Fat.

Written by Donny Hathaway and Richard Evans, “Zambezi” remains one of the coolest funk cuts ever, with Senay operating at his flashiest and most dexterous, working in perfect tandem with the uncredited, flamboyant organist. It’s the album’s peak and my go-to cut from it for DJ sets. Almost as great are “Jubo” and “Reverend Lowdown.” The former’s hard-hitting, elastic funk screaming to get on a blaxploitation-film soundtrack; the latter’s stripped-down, James Brown-ian funk with tambourine-augmented beats. Scorchers, both.

Senay’s such an ingenious musician, he can make even an over-covered hit such as Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” sound necessary. He does it with requisite solemnity, but also a peppier tempo and funkier rhythm. It’s one of the best versions of this song, which, given how many there are, is serious praise.

Modern Harmonic reissued Hot Thang on vinyl and CD in 2017. Get it on all formats -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Traffic Sound “Virgin” (MaG, 1970)

I first encountered Traffic Sound in the ’80s, at a time when very few records by Peruvian rock bands infiltrated North American stores. We had access to many Brazilian releases back then, but Peru? Our ignorant, pre-internet asses didn’t even know that that South American country harbored a rock scene. But Traffic Sound were the real deal, and they broke through to receptive heads, becoming many listeners’ introduction to Peru’s rich rock landscape.

Traffic Sound only released four albums, but their second one, Virgin (following a covers-heavy debut indebted to artists such as Hendrix, Cream, and Animals), is both their most popular LP and their creative peak. The band consisted of Jean-Pierre Magnet (sax), Willy Barclay (lead guitar), Manuel Sanguinetti (vocals), Lucho Nevares (drums), Willy Thorne (bass), and Freddy Rizo Patrón (rhythm guitar). Their chemistry was magical.

The acoustic-guitar-fueled title track kicks off the album with widescreen, heroic rock marked by Sanguinetti’s passionate vocals, sung in English—another factor that helped Traffic Sound make inroads into the Anglo-American market. “Tell The World I’m Alive” channels the quasi-maudlin vibe of some of Aphrodite’s Child’s ultra-sincere ballads.

Virgin really takes off, though, with “Yellow Sea Days (March 7th; March 8th; March 9th),” a three-part suite that’s one of Traffic Sound’s towering achievements. It starts in laid-back loping mode, blissed out to the max with spangling acoustic guitar, burbling hand percussion, and distant golden sax mellowness. The second section coils into a predatory groove laced with a fried, descending electric-guitar riff that would make Jeff Beck accidentally swallow his plectrum. The third part gently ascends into a psychedelic reverie as heavenly as anything by Relatively Clean Rivers or Friendsound. In a different but no less sublime vein, “Jews Caboose” is a slice of fuzzed-out, funky, Latin psych-rock that’s heavier than anything Santana and their ilk did. Pure heat.

Virgin peaks with “Meshkalina,” which is by far the most streamed track from this album on $p0t1fy. This song warns about the sinister powers of mescaline, which may make you all the more want to partake. The “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah YEAH YEAH” refrain permanently scars your brain—but in a good way. Sanguinetti sings, “We were having fun, even though we were dying/Let me die, Meshkalina.” Yikes. As urgent and harrowing as a trip to the ER in a foreign country, “Meshkalina” ranks as one of the greatest drug songs ever. High praise, indeed. (Pun intended.) The aptly titled “Last Song” ends Virgin with a delicate, fluid acoustic-guitar instrumental—quite a contrast to the turbulent “Meshkalina.”

In 2024, the Spanish label Munster reissued Virgin with a photo-laden booklet that includes detailed liner notes. Act quickly. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Screaming Trees “Even If And Especially When” (SST, 1987)

The peak album from Ellensburg, Washington’s finest, Even If And Especially When stands as one of the greatest psych-rock releases of the 1980s. And it holds up today; hell, I just played “Don’t Look Down” in a DJ gig a few days ago night, and it sounded great seguing out of Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Little Miss Strange.” (Its 1988 follow-up, Invisible Lantern, was almost as sublime. The Trees were on fire in the ’80s.)

Produced by the great Steve Fisk and Screaming Trees, Even If abounds with indelible melodies played with nuanced attention to the details of 1960s psychedelic rock. True, there’s a sense of wheel reinvention here, but it’s done so exquisitely that it matters not. Early on in the Trees’ career, Mark Lanegan (who died in 2022 at age 57) mastered the melismatic singing style that signifies mental transport to other realms. And so many of his lyrics dealt with the perception of traveling to destinations unknown and/or unexpected, e.g., “Yeah, I’ve gone so many places/That I don’t know where I’m at” from “Cold Rain.” Confusion is sex, to quote Sonic Youth, another SST band.

Even If opens with “Transfiguration,” a boisterous mission statement of ’60s psychedelia that’s devoid of kitsch and replete with liberating fervor. The Trees are telling you straightaway to strap in, because we’re blasting off at full speed with no guard rails… and lids will be flipped. “Straight Out To Any Place” continues the torrid pace established on the previous song. Lanegan convincingly sells the opening verses: “I’m burning baby, catch on fire with me/There’s some ghosts in my head/And they’re chasing me through my dreams.” On “World Painted,” the Trees perfected that swirling-miasma-of-wonder mode, before “Don’t Look Down” puts pedal to the metal in a gush of drug-trip-recounting exhilaration (“I get the strangest feeling/Jump up, become the ceiling”).

If you want to hear magical reenactments of the grooviest ’60s psychsploitation cuts imaginable, check out “Girl Behind The Mask” and “You Know Where It’s At.” The midtempo psych saunter of “Cold Rain” boasts an incredible swagger, with Mark Pickerel’s beats possessing an oddly danceable hitch in their stride, while brothers Gary Lee and Van Conner slay on guitar and bass, respectively. It’s been my favorite song on Even If since the album came out 37 years ago. “In The Forest”—which recalls the most exciting aspects of groups such as the Litter and Count Five—is a fantastic climax to a record that revitalizes the hell out of psychedelia’s familiar tropes. This addictive album can withstand repeat listens, with no ill side effects.

Although I haven’t seen it myself, a vinyl reissue of Even If reportedly has surfaced this month from the notoriously frustrating SST label, whose owner, Greg Ginn, typically has been lax to keep its most desirable titles in print. So, affordable copies may be circulating. Good luck. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Tony Joe White “Tony Joe” (Monument, 1970)

The late Tony Joe White should’ve been at least 75% as popular as Elvis Presley. He had the deep, sexy voice, the knack for telling vivid stories in songs set in his Louisiana swampland youth, the tight guitar playing, a sly sense of humor, and the rugged good looks. TJW was the whole package, and he was more versatile than Elvis (who charted with White’s own biggest hit, “Polk Salad Annie”). So while Tony had some commercial success (the aforementioned hit in the last sentence and “Rainy Night In Georgia”) and wrote a couple more blockbusters for Tina Turner ca. 1989, he didn’t come close to the fame and fortune of his fellow Southern stud. Life ain’t fair, etc.

TJW’s first five albums from 1969-1972 are all great and representative of his prodigious sangin’ [sic], songwriting, and guitar-pickin’ skills. I could’ve written about any of them, but I chose his third LP, Tony Joe, because I dig the poncho Tony’s wearing on the back cover and the horse he’s riding looks cool. I also picked Tony Joe because it starts with one of White’s toughest tracks, “Stud Spider,” which Light In The Attic Records placed on the first comp of its essential Country Funk series. In conjunction with Muscle Shoals hotshots Norbert Putnam (bass), David Briggs (organ), and other session-musician ringers hanging around Nashville studios at the time, White weaves a lustful tale of love via the metaphor of spider behavior while he and the boys erect a slow-burning funk edifice to accentuate the lyrics’ drama. Kanye West and Common have sampled Jerry Corrigan’s drums from this one, and it’s surprising more hip-hop producers haven’t.

Further excursions in grooviness occur with “Save Your Sugar For Me,” a paragon of country-funk accessibility, with White’s trademark libidinousness leading the way and female backing vocalists (uncredited, unfortunately) adding that titular sweetness. With natural gusto and grunting lasciviousness, Tony embodies the Southern-fried braggadocio of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle.” Clearly, TJW was born to perform this soulful crotch-scorcher. “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” (previously done by Jr. Walker & The All Stars) reveals White’s tender side with mellifluous harmonica playing and a confidential singing tone.

Another highlight occurs on “Conjure Woman,” an ominous pounder about a swamp-dwelling witch whom the narrator feared would put a spell on him. The album’s low point is Donnie Fritts/Spooner Oldham’s “My Friend,” a string-heavy ballad that unfortunately tumbles into the maudlin column. White’s better when he straps on the acoustic for some minimalist blues, as he does with “Stockholm Blues” and “Widow Wimberly.” Speaking of blues, White really rises to the occasion with his take on John Lee Hooker’s lean, menacing 1962 original of “Boom Boom.” He lays on the hambone-tough-guy persona thickly while playing mean harmonica and subtly savage electric guitar over the top of the classic’s pitiless lope. This version’s nearly eight minutes long, and it’s all gripping. Ain’t no way Elvis could do it better… -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Syreeta “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta” (Motown, 1974)

Syreeta Wright (1946-2004) was a fantastic soul/funk vocalist respected for her releases on Motown and its MoWest subsidiary. Blessed with a dulcet and expressive voice, she worked with her genius ex-husband Stevie Wonder on her best albums: 1972’s Syreeta, 1974’s Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, and 1977’s One To One. She also contributed to Stevie’s Where I’m Coming From and Music Of My Mind LPs and to jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz’s Juju Man and Music Is My Sanctuary. Syreeta later worked with Beatles/Rolling Stones auxiliary member Billy Preston on a grip of albums in the late ’70s and ’80s.

Ms. Wright was in the running to replace Diana Ross in the Supremes, but Berry Gordy ultimately went with Jean Terrell. Gordy allegedly changed his mind about this decision, but Supreme Mary Wilson miraculously overruled him. I humbly submit that Syreeta would’ve been a fabulous Supreme.

Anyway, Stevie Wonder was on such a creative hot streak in the first half of the ’70s, he could bestow multiple high-quality albums’ worth of tunes to his former main squeeze and still regularly pop out classics under his own name. Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta showcases the Motown legend’s ex-partner in spectacular form as both singer and lyricist.

“I’m Goin’ Left” is a wonderful way to start an album, its action-packed R&B buoyed to bubbly panache by drummer Ollie Brown and bassist Reggie McBride’s chemistry and Syreeta’s defiant and saucy vocals. Background vocalists Minnie Riperton, Denice Williams, Lani Groves, Shirley Brewer, and Anita Sherman all shine hard, and Stevie had them in seriously tight formation behind the LP’s main character. The love-drunk orchestral soul ballad “Spinnin’ And Spinnin'” gets vertiginous, thanks to Paul Riser’s swoon-worthy arrangement. “Come And Get This Stuff” showcases the singer’s sexy and funky side, with fab backing-vocal ballast and an intricately nimble McBride bass line to die for.

“Your Kiss Is Sweet” ranks as one of Wonder’s greatest, most joyous creations. It’s an upful quasi-reggae strut that elevates with phantom festive steel drums, jabbing bass, and singing that flaunts Wright’s expansive range and sparkling personality. There’s a good reason Fatboy Slim put it in his LateNightTales mix. If you don’t experience love at first listen, you need to see a doctor. Hell, I may need to go to one to get this super-infectious song out of my head…

The rest of the album can’t live up to “Sweet,” and side 2 dips into the maudlin-ballad bag too often for my taste, including “I Wanna Be By Your Side,” a collab with former Spinners vocalist G.C. Cameron. However, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” attains a tender, rueful sublimity in a saga about remaining friends after a romantic breakup. (Written from bittersweet experience, it seems safe to say.) Syreeta’s at her most Riperton-esque here.

Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta should’ve made the gifted singer a star, but alas, it only peaked at #116 on the US album chart—though hip-hop producers sure love to sample it. But at least Björk covered it in Icelandic on her 1977 debut album. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Keith LeBlanc “Major Malfunction” (World, 1986)

The music world suffered a serious loss when Keith LeBlanc, the powerful and influential drummer for Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Mark Stewart And The Maffia, and many others, passed away on April 4 at age 69. The eulogies for his work behind the kit were effusive and widespread. Understandable, as LeBlanc had lent his rhythmic prowess to two major movements in the 1980s, recording several sessions for artists on the pioneering hip-hop label Sugar Hill and for the innovative UK dub imprint On-U Sound.

Beyond those important contributions, LeBlanc sat in on studio dates for popular artists such as R.E.M., Tina Turner, and Nine Inch Nails. He also maintained an interesting, uncompromising solo career, marked by the galvanizing 1986 debut LP, Major Malfunction. This followed the 1983 underground-club sensation “No Sell Out,” in which LeBlanc spliced snippets of fiery Malcolm X speeches into a rock-ribbed electro/hip-hop jam.

With On-U boss Adrian Sherwood at the controls for Major Malfunction, LeBlanc led a group featuring fellow Sugar Hill/Tackhead badasses Doug Wimbish (bass, guitar) and Skip McDonald (guitar, keyboards, engineer). (The title refers to the description of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding shortly after liftoff in early 1986.) Finally free to do their own thing, LeBlanc and crew let loose with a sampladelic banger built more for the concrete bunker than for the dance floor.

“Get This” launches the record with sick keyboard warpage that’s like a virulent bug moving through an intestinal tract. Soon, LeBlanc’s huge beats pound through a disorienting miasma of disturbingly slurred vocals and fried guitar riffs. On the brutal industrial funk of “Major Malfunction,” LeBlanc threads samples of broadcasters, then-President Reagan talking about the tragedy mentioned in the previous paragraph, with bonus commentary from the Beat author William S. Burroughs, e.g., “Your planet has been invaded.” More jagged, pugilistic electro funk caroms forth on “Heaven On Earth.” “There ain’t no heaven on Earth nowhere,” growls an angry Black man amid sampled yells of the damned. Clearly, LeBlanc’s m.o. was to overwhelm the listener with spoken-word samples and equilibrium-subverting production techniques applied to militant, club-wrecking tracks.

Reputedly, “M.O.V.E.” was a Ministry song that LeBlanc repurposed for his own record; Keith had worked on that band’s 1986 LP, Twitch. It’s a rugged, polyrhythmic shuffle on which African Head Charge member Bonjo’s bongos really slap the track into overdrive. The funkiest and most psychedelic cut here, “Technology Works Dub” is laced with eerie chants and distorted whooshes, with a robotic voice intoning, “Technology works. Technology delivers. Technology is a modern quasi religion.” LeBlanc obviously was skewering the blind faith corporations put in tech while simultaneously using sonic gear designed with it to prove its value in other fields. The chaotic piece “You Drummers Listen Good” closes the album strangely, as a gravel-voiced preacher rants about young women falling for drummers, before it eases back into a slab of exotic funk rock.

The stilted quality of Major Malfunction‘s rhythms was endemic to a lot of vanguard electronic music and hip-hop in the ’80s. While working within those technological limitations, though, LeBlanc found a way to make his beats funky and timbrally exciting—they hit with the exaggerated THWACK of fists hitting faces in Hollywood blockbusters. There were good reasons why so many musicians—both experimental and mainstream—wanted him to supply beats. RIP, Keith LeBlanc. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Sadistic Mika Band “Sadistic Mika Band” (Doughnut/Harvest, 1973)

Led by the wife/husband team of vocalist Mika and guitarist/composer Kazuhiko Katō, Sadistic Mika Band released three very good albums in the ’70s (this one, Black Ship, Hot! Menu) that peddled an over-the-top strain of glam rock, with surprising undercurrents of funk. That funk mainly came from bassist Rey Ohara and drummer Yukihiro Takahashi, the latter of whom later played with electro-pop legends Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Sadistic Mika Band often have been called the Roxy Music of Japan, and for good reason: their chops and production values were impeccable and their songwriting teemed with invention and personality. While SMB presented as goofier than Bryan Ferry and company and didn’t attain the popularity of their British counterparts, they did open for them on the UK leg of their 1975 Siren Tour and accrued a fervent cult status among collectors.

This album bursts into vivid life with “Dance Is Over,” full-on glam with flashbacks to ’50s rock & roll, as was common in the first half of the ’70s. Being Japanese musicians, though, SMB imbue the homage with a flamboyant excessiveness and surplus adrenaline. Now that they have our attention, SMB deliver the killer funk bomb that is “Silver Child.” Mika giggles, gasps, screams, and belts over a fathoms-deep groove and absurdly oscillating wah-wah guitar pyrotechnics. The song makes Parliament-Funkadelic at their most extravagant sound buttoned up. Drop “Silver Child” in a DJ set and watch the floor explode.

Nothing else on Sadistic Mika Band quite matches that peak, but a few inspirational flashes occur. “Galaxy Way” offers truly odd tropical funk with marimba and synth while “Milky Way”‘s pseudo-reggae rock foreshadows Patti Smith Group’s “Redondo Beach,” and is accidentally funky, to boot. “Picnic Boogie” is at once a parody of American rock and doo-wop and an apotheosis of it. Mika’s charming sassiness here makes one wonder why she didn’t get more time on the mic for this record. “Arienu Republic” is peak freewheeling glam that would make Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and Gary Glitter stomp their hands and clap their feet. Have Asian musicians ever sounded more British, even while singing in Japanese? Doubtful.

A few songs on Sadistic Mika Band tilt too heavily into sentimental-ballad territory for my taste, but they’re executed with serious panache. This was a common trait in Far East Asian pop music of the mid 20th century and it has its devotees, but maudlin singing has always disagreed with me. Hearing how much sheer glee went into SMB’s music, you can’t help feeling shocked that the band’s catalyst, Kazuhiko Katō, hanged himself in 2009.

Sadistic Mika Band has been oop on vinyl since 1975, though Universal Music Japan re-released it in on CD in 2018. Suffice it to say, a major reissue campaign for SMB’s ’70s LPs is overdue. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Eugene McDaniels “Outlaw” (Atlantic, 1970)

Eugene McDaniels’ outré political-protest-album era was short, but yielded two classics: 1970’s Outlaw and 1971’s Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse. These records deviated from his previous output as a relatively conventional R&B singer, becoming treasure troves of samples for hip-hop producers and earning love from counter-culture types, too. His rabble-rousing 1969 anthem “Compared To What” was turned into a hit by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and it somewhat foreshadowed Outlaw. By 1975, though, McDaniels was in full-on loverman mode with Natural Juices. While Headless Heroes has been sampled more and garnered more critical accolades, Outlaw is just as powerful an artistic statement.

To achieve this lofty work, McDaniels enlisted elite session players Ron Carter (bass), Hugh McCracken (guitar), Eric Weissberg (guitar), Ray Lucas (drums), and Buck Clarke (percussion), plus musical director Williams S. Fischer. This team served as exceptional facilitators of soulful, rock-oriented ballads and occasional forays into funk and gospel. Eugene threaded the needle with songs that double as fascinating character studies and trenchant sociopolitical commentary.

“Outlaw” portrays rebellious women who don’t wear bras nor fry their hair, but rather live with nature and not with the law. Surprisingly, “Outlaw” sounds like one of those elegantly stumbling, blues-rock gems from the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet. “Sagittarius Red” offers more Stones-like balladry, flaunting McDaniels’ vast range and emotional depth as a singer, a rich combo of soulfulness and rock bravado.

“Welfare City” is an absolutely joyous ode to flouting convention, hanging out with the kids in Washington Park, and smoking joints. It’s powered by a total earworm of a melody that moves in huge, sugary loops and possesses some of the most infectious “yeah yeah yeah”s and “la la la”s. The gospel intro of “Silent Majority” gives way to a lean, staunch protest song that gathers strength with each passing bar. The guitar interplay between McCracken and Weissberg glints and coils with glorious tension in a tune that’s a perfect merger of Shuggie Otis and Phil Ochs. The song segues seamlessly into “Love Letter To America,” a devastating condemnation of the USA. “Hey, America, you could’ve been a real democracy/You could’ve been free/You could have had me for your friend and not your enemy/The only thing you can respect is violence now/You lost the gift of love, don’t ask me how.” McDaniels renders this brilliant concept with tough tenderness.

In “Unspoken Dreams Of Light,” McDaniels loquaciously castigates the genocide of indigenous peoples (called “Indians,” in the parlance of the time) to a backing in which heartfelt balladry and incisive jazz-funk alternate. It’s a fantastic roller-coaster ride. With its über-funky opening drum break, “Cherrystones” unspools into a low-lit, laid-back charmer in which McDaniels sarcastically lambastes greedy, apolitical assholes. Reminiscent of the sidewinding seductiveness of the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues,” “Reverend Lee” relates a tale about a clergyman who succumbs to the fleshly temptations of “Satan’s daughter.” The album closes with “Black Boy,” a trembling ballad in which McDaniels shows the rare ability to simultaneously project vulnerability and strength.

On the record’s back cover, McDaniels wrote, “under conditions of national emergency, like now, there are only two kinds of people—those who work for freedom and those who do not… the good guys vs. the bad guys.” Evergreen truth. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

The Doors “Waiting For The Sun” (Elektra, 1968)

Waiting For The Sun is the Goats Head Soup of the Doors’ catalog. It followed their two most beloved albums—The Doors and Strange Days—and was considered a letdown by most critics and fans upon its 1968 release. Nevertheless, it reached the top of Billboard‘s LP chart. But, as with Goats Head Soup (which had the difficult task of following Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St.), time has been kind to Waiting For The Sun. Over the decades, the deep tracks on both records have risen in esteem and they’ve proved to be some of the best work by both groups. (Read our review of Goats Head Soup here.)

You can’t say that Waiting For The Sun lacks range. This album contains “Love Street”‘s feathery, filigreed, and quaint romantic pop that threatens to float right off the grooves and “Five To One,” perhaps the toughest and most ominous Doors song—which is saying something in a catalog that boasts “The End” and “Horse Latitudes.” Hip-hop stars J Dilla and Jay-Z and Plunderphonics prankster John Oswald all sampled “Five To One,” which provides a helluva climax for Waiting For The Sun.

Waiting For The Sun also possesses the Robby Krieger-dominated “Spanish Caravan,” in which the guitarist flexes his considerable flamenco chops. The melody eventually gets as convoluted and bombastic as anything ELP or Yes would do a few years later. Then you have “My Wild Love,” which is constructed like a work song, with backing chants, claps, and stomps. Like it or not, there were very few tracks that sounded like this on rock records of the time—especially on those released by major labels.

You got “Yes, The River Knows,” an intimate jazz-pop beauty, not unlike Tim Buckley ca. Blue Afternoon. and also the relentless earworm of big hit “Hello, I Love You.” Bizarrely, the Doors may have unknowingly blueprinted a strain of synth-pop on “Hello, I Love You,” with its sassy automaton shuffle. Yes, the rhythm resembles that of the Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night,” but Manzarek’s keyboard drives it instead of distorted guitars and it’s stiffer in the joints, and that makes all the difference. This development was concurrent with Silver Apples’ first LP, which also foreshadowed synth-pop, but in a more blatant manner. “Hello, I Love You” also possess the coolest sound on any Doors record—those three seconds of futuristic, spaced-dusted keyboard wizardry at 1:16.

I have a fondness for the maligned “Summer’s Almost Gone,” because of how it foreshadows Opal‘s “Happy Nightmare Baby.” A swaying, wistful ballad about romantic doubt and confusion, “Summer’s Almost Gone” features Krieger’s bottleneck-guitar sighs sailing over Manzarek’s Ramsey Lewis-esque keyboard curlicues. Less successful is “Wintertime Love”‘s baroque, waltz-time puffery that’s somewhat similar to Love’s “Stepanie Knows Who,” but with much less thrust and excitement.

If you dig sophisticated, multi-part anti-war tunes, “The Unknown Soldier”—which peaked at #39 with a bullet—is the bomb. “Not To Touch The Earth” stands as one of the Doors’ eeriest, most suspenseful, and psychedelic tracks. Krieger forges a mesmerizing guitar motif while Manzarek creates a proto-Suicide throb that intensifies throughout the song. Despite reports of him being a drunken mess for these sessions, Jim Morrison roars at his most portentous and croons at his most suave. The coda is almost as nerve-shattering as that of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” When people diss the Doors, I like to counter with “But have you heard ‘Not To Touch The Earth'”? If that doesn’t convince ’em of the Doors’ worth, nothing probably will.

I get it: some listeners have trouble with Morrison’s try-hard “poetic” lyrics and self-serious demeanor. But I filter out most of that noise and enjoy Mr. Mojo Risin strictly as a disruptive performance artist who’s competing for attention with the exceptional music behind him. More often than not, Jimbo rises to the occasion and—bonus!—sometimes delivers unintentional humor. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Sugarloaf “Sugarloaf” (Liberty, 1970)

Cheap-heat alert! You’ve probably passed over this ubiquitous bargain-bin dweller by Denver band Sugarloaf more times than you care to count. But please reconsider. I copped mine for a buck years ago, and I’m happy to report that I got way more than expected from these two-hit wonders.

Sugarloaf’s debut album peaked at #24 in the US, thanks largely to its hit single, “Green-Eyed Lady,” which reached #3 in the singles chart. After an instantly magnetic intro featuring Bob Webber’s luminous guitar wails and Bob Raymond’s bubbly, bulbous bass line, things excitingly change for the duration of the song’s 6:50. Allegedly, the suspenseful main riff derived from a scale exercise in a music-theory book. Works for me. As paeans to emerald-orbed girlfriends go, this is unsurpassable. It’s a minor miracle that radio lavished so much love on such a non-LCD, unconventionally structured jazz-rock opus—although the Doors kind of, uh, opened the door for such airplay largesse. Whatever the case, those were different times.

Next, Sugarloaf turn in a suitably turbulent cover of the Yardbirds potent blues-rock warhorse, “The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On).” Another zenith occurs on “Bach Doors Man/Chest Fever.” It opens with a momentous classical-music overture that will curl the toes of Iron Butterfly fans. This then segues smoothly into a grandiose rendition of the Band’s greatest song, “Chest Fever” (nobody can compete with Richard Manuel on the mic, so the decision to go instrumental makes sense.) Sugarloaf transform the original’s propulsive, proto-house rhythm into a staccato blues-rock behemoth full of swirling organ, trenchant guitar stabs, and wicked bass ostinatos, while drummer Myron Pollock gets baroquely funky. It’s a complex banger, for damn certain.

Now, a lot of critics have dismissed side two of Sugarloaf, but “West Of Tomorrow” is a striking bit of musicianship. The track boasts the sky-punching air of a Guess Who hit (partially due to singer Veeder van Dorn’s vocal resemblance to Burton Cummings), but it’s more progtastic than those Canadians, with its intricate beats and dynamic interplay among Webber’s guitar, Jerry Corbetta’s keys, and Raymond’s bass.

After this song, though, the record flags. “Gold And The Blues” is trudging (not walking) blues with plenty of guitar fireworks, but ultimately it sounds like flashy filler. There’s no good reason for it to last more than seven minutes. Last comes “Things Gonna Change Some,” middling waltz-time rock with fruity vocals by van Dorn. There’s an urgency here, but overall the effect is not gripping, although Corbetta breaks off a vibrant piano solo in the last minute.

Sugarloaf‘s hit/miss ratio is 66.6%, which is higher than that of many pricier albums. Stop riffling past this one. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Timmy Thomas “Why Can’t We Live Together” (Glades, 1972)

If you only know Why Can’t We Live Together for its stirring, racial-harmony-desiring title track (which peaked at #3 in the singles chart in early 1973), you’re in for a treat. This is a damn strong album all the way through—and reputedly the first record to prominently feature a rhythm machine instead of a drummer. A session musician for Miami’s T.K. Records, Timmy Thomas played and sang every damn thing on Why Can’t We Live Together, and he deserves way more respect for this LP than he’s received. (The gifted soul singer and multi-instrumentalist passed away in 2022 at age 77.)

“Why Cant We Live Together” was Thomas’ only pop hit, although he earned several R&B chart placings. Recorded in mono, this track cut through the commercial-radio clutter with its stark production, the plaintive soulfulness of Thomas’ vocals, the distinctive timbres of the Maestro Rhythm Master drum machine and Lowrey organ, and the simple power of TT’s peace-mongering lyrics. Throughout the LP, Thomas plays bass lines with his organ’s foot pedals, and he creates an incisive one for this all-time classic. For what it’s worth, “Why Can’t We Live Together” has racked up more than 31 million plays on $p0tify—with the album’s next most popular track clocking only 725k. In other trivia, the song’s been covered by Sade, Santana, and Steve Winwood, among others, and was sampled by Drake for his “Hotline Bling” hit. Putting money in Thomas’ bank account is the best thing that that Canadian hip-hop mediocrity’s ever done.

“Rainbow Power” follows with a low-slung paean to ethnic diversity, calling for Americans to “love… your brother,” no matter one’s race; its message remains evergreen. “Cold Cold People” soulfully excoriates soulless ghouls over a drum-machine pattern that ticks methodically and ominously while Thomas gets rococo on the organ. “Dizzy Dizzy World” is a wistful ballad about status-climbers while “Opportunity” comes over like a pep talk given by the most soulful and funky striver you’ve ever heard. By far the most uptempo track here is “Funky Me,” an instrumental that has an almost proto-techno propulsion and swiftness. I recommend it to DJs who urgently need to get the crowd moving.

The LP’s two covers are phenomenal. Inspired after hearing it in the movie Play Misty For Me, Thomas turns Roberta Flack’s awesome interpretation of Ewan McColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” into a low-lit, instrumental with fibrillating, vibrant organ tones carrying the weight of the heartbreaking melody. A mournful tour de force! Thomas follows it with a rendition of the Chi-Lites’ “The Coldest Days Of My Life,” one of the saddest ballads ever conceived; he inhabits its rueful doldrums with natural panache. Thomas’ minimalism wrings maximal sympathy and he equals the original masterpiece—something most listeners would’ve thought improbable.

One drawback to Why Can’t We Live Together is the relative similarity and lack of spontaneity of the beat patterns, but Thomas’ yearning vocals and moving melodies more than compensate for that. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.