Friday, January 30, 2009

Feels Like 1974

And it feels like 1974
Waiting for the waves to come and crash on the shore
But you're far in land
You're in funky denim wonderland
You and David Crosby and a bloke with no hand
You've got hair in places
Most people haven't got brains

-Robyn Hitchcock "1974"

All Music Guide currently has a list of its critics' favorite albums from 1974. Off the top of my head, I probably would have said 1974 was a terrible year for rock music, perhaps for music in general. When I think of 1974, I think of The Doobie Brothers, Supertramp and Jethro Tull, and not to pick on them, but I just don't much care for their music. In my mind 1974 was a time when the innovations of the 60s had given way to the excesses of progressive rock or mellow tedium of singer songwriters. When I think of 1974, I tend to think of the kind of music punk rock was a reaction against.

But looking over the All Music critics' lists, I was surprised how many albums I really love were released in 1974: Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Big Star - Radio City, Richard & Linda Thompson - I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Neil Young - On the Beach, Roxy Music - Country Life, Gene Clark - No Other, Shuggie Otis - Inspiration Information, John Cale - Fear, Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim - Elis & Tom, Betty Davis - They Say I’m Different, Merle Haggard - If We Make It Through December, George Jones - The Grand Tour, Funkadelic - Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, Parliament - Up for the Down Stroke, Stevie Wonder - Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Miles Davis - Get Up with It, Dark Magus and Big Fun, Herbie Hancock - Thrust and Head Hunters, The Residents - Meet the Residents, Electric Light Orchestra - Eldorado, Sweet - Desolation Boulevard.

And as far as I could tell none of All Music's critics even listed Gram Parsons' Grievous Angel (seriously?), Terry Callier's I Just Can't Help Myself, Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece (??), Sly Stone's Small Talk, Bob Dylan's Planet Waves, Al Green Explores Your Mind by Al Green, Ry Cooder's Paradise And Lunch, David Bowie's Diamond Dogs (okay, that one makes sense) or Love's under-rated Reel To Real (no surprise). And I don't doubt there are a bunch more albums from 1974 that haven't even crossed my mind. So upon further reflection, I have to admit 1974 was a great year for music, even if the best of it was bubbling under the surface of the pop charts.


Darren said...

I was glad to see at least one mention of Little Feat's Feats Don't Fail Me Now. Side B of that record is one of my all-time favorite album sides.

Pete, have you ever heard all of Shuggie Otis's Inspiration Information? I only know the title song -- from the Six Feet Under soundtrack, I think -- and have always been curious to hear more of it.

Pete Bilderback said...

Yeah, Inspiration Information is as great as its reputation suggests, and the Luaka Bop reissue adds the choicest cuts from Freedom Flight, including "Strawberry Letter 23" which was later a hit for The Brothers Johnson and epic title track.

Otis was a complete genius... a child prodigy, virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, producer, first rate songwriter, etc. There must be some story behind why he never became a star (he was even invited to join The Rolling Stones). I don't know what the story is, but it probably isn't pretty.

I've never gotten into Little Feat, although I've always felt I should. Next time I see a used copy I'll grab it.

martind35 said...

I've always held '74 in high esteem. I have friends that are diggers - DJ's who go to the ends of the earth to find rad funk joints on wax. One of them told me one time that one rule of thumb is that any funk record from '74 is a guaranteed to please.

Thanks for great blogg.

Doug said...

Is it not supposed to be the case that in any given year the tripe from the pop charts colors our glib recollections of a given year's musical output, and that only when we specifically investigate what else came out that we realize no year is really bad?

The less-than-great tunes get stuck in that year, but the good stuff transcends being linked to a particular 365-day period.

(I touched on that, sort of, in this post of mine from a few weeks ago.)

p.s. Nice title. I knew it was Robyn before I even started reading.

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Doug, yes, I think that is typically the case, but I think there is a little more to it here. First of all, I think you'd be hard pressed to put together a list of this many really interesting, classic albums from the past 5 years. But get back to me in 20 years and I might tell you differently.

But I can think of a lot of other years where both the popular stuff and the underground stuff was pretty great. Take 1977 - Rumours and Saturday Night Fever were the most popular albums of the year, and I don't care what anyone says, they're great. And of course you had the whole punk thing going on underground.

By contrast, '74 looks pretty barren on the mainstream level. Even the stuff that I have to admit is "good" mainstream music from the period (Pretzel Logic, Court And Spark) doesn't much float my boat.

But more importantly, off the top of my head I wouldn't have said there was much interesting going on beneath the surface either. That might be because it wasn't really part of some organized subcultural movement like punk. The only thing Radio City, Inspiration Information and I Want to See The Bright Lights Tonight have in common is that fact that they're great, and none sold many copies when first released. Also, these albums are basically just very interesting failed attempts at popular music, not oppositional music in the sense that punk was.

Of course in '74 you had the very first rumblings of punk, The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads all formed that year (Television the year before). But that had yet to congeal into anything of significance.

Peter Hennig said...

Bob Marley's Natty Dread was released in 1974 and IMO he was just hitting his full stride.

Funky Kingston was released in '73, Marcus Garvey came out in '75, but overall this was a great period for Reggae music.

Good post -- sometimes I do tend to think of specific years as vacuous for good music(probably based more on mass-culture of the time) but there certainly was plenty to go around in '74.