Archive for the ‘1976’ Category

Kyrie Eleison: Gods of Landlocked Europe

October 23, 2008

Kyrie EleisonThe Fountain Beyond the Sunrise (1976).

Oddly, this was my first ever symphonic album from Continental Europe, back when it was reissued some fifteen years ago. It’s ironic, considering how this band hailed from Austria, the most musically barren country in all of Europe… barring thumbnails like Luxembourg and Albania, of course.

Anyway, The Fountain Beyond the Sunrise is a masterwork of lengthy, theatrical epics in the vein of Genesis and Ange, and the tuneful intricacy of pieces like “Lenny”, “Mounting the Eternal Spiral” and the title-suite well-compensate for the shoddy recording quality so endemic amongst landlocked bands of that era. Additionally, the album sports one of the foremost classics in Whiteheadian album art:
Kyrie Eleison

And simultaneous to the above…

Welcome Welcome (1976).
Another good one from the relatively quiet landlocked nations was delivered from this Swiss unit:


Split Enz – Second Thoughts/Mental Notes

May 15, 2008

Split Enz - Second Thoughts (1976)

This album was one of the foundations of my musical awakening. I purchased it when I was 14 years of age (in 1987), and it was my gateway into 1970s prog and art rock. This album formed the cornerstone of my musical and aesthetic identity throughout my teens and twenties.

The music on Mental Notes (aka Second Thoughts) is a number of things:

It is lush, grandiose, quintessentially ’70s symphonic progressive – from the blankets of mellotron and lyrical guitar strides which weave and embed “Stranger Than Fiction”, to the classical piano forward and orchestral climax of “Time for a Change”.

It is quirky, technicolor vaudeville, inline with The Kinks-infected music hall of such contemporaries as Stackridge, Sparks and Kayak – from the thumping top-hat burleque of “Lovey Dovey” to the mind-boggling keyboard tapestry of “Walking Down a Road”, and onto the contorted cabaret musings of “The Woman Who Loves You”.

It is antique and folky – from the mandolin minstrel strut of “Matinee Idyll”, to the lucid acoustic meltdown of “Sweet Dreams”.

It is wholly indefinable avant garde, thoroughly original and comparable to no one – from the through-composed, warped tropical slip-slide of “Late Last Night”, to the demented, bare-bones chordal crunching of the title track.

Mental Notes – one of the most fascinating, unique, inventive, diverse and remarkably unclassifiable albums of all time.

Several of the above-mentioned songs can be heard, and a few even viewed, on this page.:

Split Enz (1975-1977)

(The page goes by the Australasian releases, where Mental Notes was actually the title of their Oceanic-only 1975 debut, whilst their Northern Hemisphere release entitled Mental Notes (from 1976) was actually titled Second Thoughts down under. The latter album is the one which I was discussing in my praise up above.

Russ Ballard – Winning (1976)

March 18, 2008

The remarkable Winning LP has got to be the most well-tapped of Russ Ballard‘s much-covered repertoire. The title track was covered by Nona Hendrix, Pezband and Santana, “Since You Been Gone” was tackled by Rainbow, “Just a Dream Away” was rendered equally well by Roger Daltrey, and the (ur) Bay City Rollers tried their balance on “Cuckoo”. And on a more local note, a NuRo mime by the name of Sharkie used to do a routine to “Fakin’ Love” at Portland clubs back in the ’90s.;)

The Many Manes of John Miles

September 15, 2007

John Miles burst onto the English rock scene in early 1976 with an orchestral glam/pomp sound crossing the lavishness of Steve Harley with the dynamics of Kayak on his blazing debut album Rebel, which he topped with a striking James Dean/Daniel Boone-style image comprised of cuffed, denim straight-legs and a sleek, manicured quiff. A musical whirlwind, his long-player absorbed all senses in the lilting vocal prowess of “Highfly”, the campy romp of “Rebel”, the heartfelt poignancy of “Lady of My Life”, the climactic catharsis of “Pull the Damn Thing Down”, and the popular pride of purpose embodied in “Music”.

John Miles, 1976

John Miles, 1976

His uber-cool image – which would have looked fairly casual a few years later – caused a ruckus amongst the mostly hirsute audience of his chosen musical style. So after being chased down Notting Hill Gate by a gang of Teddy Boys, Miles opted for a hammy, mustached disguise on his sophomore release Stranger In the City, where his lavishness was downscaled for a humbler set of songs spanning the 20th century lexicon of pop: brassy ’60s showtune pastiches like “Manhattan Skyline”, thumping Music Hall on “Music Man”, feverish disco with “Slow Down”, cinematic balladry like “Remember Yesterday”, and eerie alleyway night rock such as the title track, amongst others.

For 1978’s Zaragon, Miles adopted yet another renegade likeness in the white-robed and frizz-permed imagery of Luke Skywalker, while ace producer Rupert Holmes steered Miles back towards pomp rock, only this time in a more stripped down trio setting, which drew him closer sound-wise to stateside contemporaries like Ambrosia, Trillion and Zon. Compositionally grand as ever, the set was propelled by the sinister triplex complicity of “Nice Man Jack”, the modulated heights of “I Have Never Been In Love Before”, and the bombarding might of the cautionary tales told in “Overture”.

Six songs from his phenomenal first three albums, plus a clip for his 1976 UK hit “Music”, can be experienced right here.

City Boy

June 29, 2007

Amongst the many beguiling debuts of 1976 was the eponymous entry from the bodacious Birmingham sextet City Boy. Over the next several years, City Boy weathered the colliding musical currents with sassy swagger (“Deadly Delicious”) and power aplenty (the thundering “Narcissus”), whilst strands of art rock, hard rock, pomp pop, folk, and the ever-pervasive prints of Little Feat etched and sprayed the graffiti walls of City Boy’s concrete urban turf. Oft-tagged as a cross betwixt 10cc and Queen, our runaround boys indeed contained a guy named Lol and possessed a polar-analogue to “We Are the Champions” in the emotionally climatic “Dangerous Ground”, City Boy’s **GREATEST** song of all!

City Boy

Rea-esque (Cafe Jacques, Easy Street, City Boy, The Movies)

June 4, 2007

Mention of Chris Rea on progressiveears recently led to a flow a stimulating conversation. Here are some of the highlights:

I’m familiar with Chris Rea‘s first four albums, in which the music tends to coast along on Rea’s cool, laidback vibe, in lieu of melodic hooks. Initially, I only liked four songs off Whatever Happened to Benny Santini (“Fires of Spring”, “Because of You”, “Three Angels” and “Fool If You Think It’s Over”) but gradually the humbler numbers sunk in, like “Dancing With Charlie”. The key to his charm seems to be in his tasteful* arrangements.

Another British act from that same time period with a very similar sound to Rea, yet with more standout hooks and artful arrangements, was Cafe Jacques, one of my favorite unknowns of the late 70’s:
Cafe Jacques

*If anyone wants to know exactly what I mean by “tasteful”, I submit this definition:

‘everyday’ said: “Great band [Cafe Jacques] – ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ is one of my fav tracks. Interesting to look at the MySpace entry and their friends – several of my other fav bands from that era – City Boy, The Movies, Easy Street. “

Wow, you know about Easy Street? I’ve only encountered one other person on any of the music forums who’s ever even heard of them. Their track “I’d Been Lovin’ You” somehow managed to crack the Cash Box Top 100 in the Summer of 1976, which I find unbelievable since Capricorn (mystified by how Easy Street ended up on that label) didn’t seem to know how to promote those “short haired English pretty boys.” In fact, I own the entire 1976 volume of Rolling Stone (save for the Jackson Brown issue), plus every issue of Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press from that mighty year, yet I see no mention of Easy Street in any of those issues whatsoever. I would have never even known about Easy Street had I not seen a mention of their name in a blurb on Landscape (the next band for drummer Richard Burgess) in The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records.

Bands like Easy Street, Cafe Jacques, The Movies, City Boy, Deaf School, etc make a good argument for the existence of fresh, young talent that was emerging outside the New Wave, circa 1976-77. There’s even a review of Cafe JacquesRound the Back LP in Record Mirror from late 1977, which wryly noted how the “monopoly of attention given to up and coming bands” was indeed allotted to the post-Pistols horde. Such was the haze of the pre-internet age.

‘everyday’ said: “I have the Easy Street album in front of me as I type this – can’t have played it for 20 years! I certainly remember ‘Feels Like heaven’ and ‘Lazy Dog Shandy’. The first Landscape album was superb – very experimental for its day. I saw them in Hull when they were touring that LP. ‘Japan’ was a superb track. The Movies did some excellent work too. They were originally Joan Armatrading‘s backing band I believe. Jon Cole has a website from where you can download tracks for free once you get a password. Google Jon Cole and Movies to find it. Never saw City Boy but have all their albums including a CDR of the never-released outside Sweden ‘It’s Personal’. Of course Mike Slammer went on to form Streets with Steve Walsh.”

The eponymous Easy Street is one of my top 5 all-time albums from one of my top 3 favorite years in music, 1976. I got the cover spread out on the wall right behind me.

I never got my hands on the first Landscape LP, but I do have the fusiony “Worker’s Playtime” 7″ which preceded it. From the Tea Rooms of Mars.. is definitely one of the highlights of the New Romantic movement, along with some ultra cool videos featuring the band in full Romo garb along with the eye-fetching Barbie Wilde.

The Movies evolved out of the 1973 symphonic prog one-shot Public Foot the Roman, whose lone album is another underexposed treasure.

Progbear said: “The Movies played on Joan Armatrading‘s 1975 Back To The Night tour, as both opening act and backing band! Members went on to play on her albums after the band dissolved: percussionist Julian Diggle on The Key and drummer Jamie Lane on The Shouting Stage. They were actually the synthesis of two prior Cambridge-area bands—keyboardist Dag Small, drummer Jamie Lane and guitarist Greg Knowles hailed from Public Foot The Roman, who released one proggy LP on the Sovereign (Renaissance, Flash) label. Meanwhile, percussionist Julian Diggle and lead singer/slide guitarist Jon Cole came from an unrecorded band called Thunderbox.

Don’t confuse them with the Seattle trio The Movies, who released a melodic pop album on Arista (produced by Vini Poncia) in 1977.”

Igniting the day with Fireballet

October 21, 2006

I’ll start things off by casting the stage-lights on Fireballet, who I’ve been touting the virtues of throughout the internet since 1998. Here is just some of what I’ve said:

Fireballet had the most ornate, opulent and ostentatious sound that could possibly be reached, in full reverence of the grand pantheon of English art rock, pomp pop and prog. And that’s an excellence that few North American bands have ever achieved.

Two, Too

Their 1976 sophomore release, Two, Too…, is a buried treasure indeed! The “Chinatown Boulevards” suite is bedazzlement in through-composed form, punctuated by dotty xylophone loops amidst staggering metric twitches, whilst “Carrollon” is an apex of mind-boggling key tapestry that never quits (you’ll loose balance somewhere before the climax!) And then there’s “Great Expectation”, a sparking jewel of art pop creation that launches the whole adventure with gusto galore. Complimentary echoes of Gentle Giant, Yes, Kayak, and the Beach Boys abound, with a faithfully invigorating cover of the Left Banke’s baroque pop classic “Desiree” as an added surprise. One of my top 10 albums from 1976 (and that’s saying a lot, considering what a musically rich year ’76 was!)

Night On Bald Mountain

Stepping back a year to Night on Bald Mountain LP, I’ll state that the compositions are best when they remain in the 3-5 minute range. “Centurion” and “The Fireballet” juggle anthem-like ensemble themes with abrupt metric shuffling and harmonic vocal crescendos. Soon this all gives way to fuzzy, sustained guitar breaks in the Hackett and Fripp mould (underpinned by tints of GG-like glockenspiel), and solo keyboard passages of the Emerson/Argent variety. Meanwhile, “Atmosphere” evokes “Lovers Leap” by Genesis as if it were performed by Gordon Haskell! Of the longer pieces, “Les Cathedrals” is about five minutes worth of good ideas inflated to ten, with the previously outlined approach interspersed with soporific stretches indicating length for length’s sake. And most of the criticism lobbied at Fireballet seems to be based on this album’s title epic, a redundant, drawn out expansion on the Mussorgsky composition.

To sum things up: Night on Bald Mountain is half good, whilst Two, Too… is of near total perfection, and the best in stateside 70’s prog bar none!

Now with Great Expectations, hear a little!