Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Dusty In Memphis" by Dusty Springfield (March, 1969)

Dad's Take:

This is the album where Dusty Springfield switches from Phil Spector-ish productions to a more soulful sound, Memphis style.

After heavy albums like "S.F. Sorrow," this feels a little light, but it's a good album, full of good songwriting by people like Bacharach and David, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Randy Newman, and Barry Mann. Dusty is no Aretha, but she handles herself well on these tunes, providing a pleasant listening experience. 

The standout is, of course, the major hit "Son Of A Preacher Man," but it's not the only worthy track here. I also really like "So Much Love," "Don't Forget About Me," "Breakfast In Bed," "Just One Smile," and the minor hit "The Windmill Of Your Mind." There's not a dud in the set.

This album is, for the most part, a gentle version of R&B, but it's a great album for those mellow or romantic times. Much of side two feels more like light jazz than soul, actually. Dusty's legendary insistence on perfection comes through loud and clear on these eleven impeccably produced and performed songs. The songs flow well together, so the record holds up as a complete album, and not just a collection of songs. This is one of the softer albums on our list, but it's enjoyable and pretty darn close to flawless.

Brad's Take: 

I liked this album. I wouldn't go as far as saying that I loved it, but it was a pleasant change of pace from the last few on our list. Easy listening jazzy R&B/soul is always nice to listen to. It makes me want to sit back in a comfy couch sipping a glass of wine in the dark.

"Son Of A Preacher Man" and "Don't Forget About Me" were a couple of my favorites on first listen. While listening, I read a little bit about Dusty Springfield and the making of this album. It's interesting that she was such a perfectionist. She knew she'd be compared to all the soul greats at the time, like Aretha Franklin, but Dust succeeded. Her voice may not be as huge and powerful as Aretha's, but Dusty doesn't miss a note. I actually enjoyed the mellowness of her vocals.

Especially for the time, I can totally see why this album would be considered a classic and be on our list. At this point, I'd probably put it in the lower half of the top 20 albums we've listen to so far.

"S.F. Sorrow" by The Pretty Things (December, 1968)

Dad's Take:

1968, like many other years in that musical decade, was a year of firsts. "S.F. Sorrow" by The Pretty Things is best known as the first rock opera, beating The Who's "Tommy" by a full six months. Would it make everybody's great albums lists if it wasn't? Is it actually any good? Let's see, shall we?

It's tempting to write about this album in the context of "Tommy." Both albums came out of the same general area and the same generational attitudes of breaking away from conventions in a somewhat oppressive culture shaped by post-war attitudes. It's an inevitable comparison, but not really fair, since "Tommy" did not yet exist on record when this one came out. I'll try to review it in its own terms, rather than how it compares to The Who's better-known classic. It won't always be easy though.

I like the orchestral psychedelia of the first song. It's musically interesting, and portends a tragic life when Sebastian F. Sorrow is born. Next is a song about love, that seems to lack love, then moves into another psychedelic gem. I can imagine my little Bradley cringing at brilliant lyrics like "Fly to the Moon on the curve of a spoon I turn upside-down," but I'm digging it. There's a bleak overtone to this album, but the music and lyrics are playful, even if far from cheerful.

Three songs in, the characters are not nearly as strongly portrayed as in "Tommy" (Doh! I compared them). The end of "She Says Good Morning" could have come from "Sgt. Pepper's," though. The influence there is obvious, as it is at other times on this record.Then It moves into "Private Sorrow," one of my favorites on the album. But with 13 cuts on the album (20 on our reissued version), I can't do a track-by-track without going really long. So let's stop that right now. There are many highlights on this album for me, including the huge percussion break of "Baron Saturday," the spaced-out use of the studio on "I See You," the swirling Beatlesque feel of "Trust," the almost modern alternative rock feel (especially on the verses) of "Old Man Going," And the mellow--even pretty--"Loneliest Person" that ends the album. I'll refrain from detailing the five bonus tracks for this review, because I want to stick to the original album, but I think they add to the album nicely. I especially like the sudden unexpected explosions of guitar and bass on the wonderfully schizophrenic bonus track "Defecting Grey." 

Here's the thing. This album doesn't really work as an opera. It tells an interesting and dark story about S.F. trying to break out from a world that tries to keep him down and eventually descending into madness. It takes multiple close listens (and maybe some internet help) to really figure out the story. It is not a happy album. You don't get the feeling of freedom and success at the end like you do on "Tommy" (I did it again, didn't I?), but I think it's a very good album, much better than its US sales would indicate. Then again, it didn't see store shelves in the US until after Tommy came out, by which time it would seem like a pale imitation. (Ack! It's so hard not to review this in the context of "Tommy.") Its relative failure led to the demise of the band. Like so many classics, it is recognized now, but at the time, nobody knew quite what to do with it. That's what happens when you break down barriers.

It's not quite like anything that had ever been done before, and is full of great playing and unusual touches. It works for me. The songs are often melodic, inventive, and trippy (in a good way). It holds together well musically and lyrically as a good concept album should. I like it.

And, yes, it belongs on all of those classic album lists, in its own right.

Brad's Take:

This album really didn't do much for me. The psychedelic genre as a whole all blends together and sounds the same to me. It seems like the bands that went this route are all just imitating each other with their organs and sitars, but they just try to out-weird each other. But even the weird experimental stuff sounds familiar.

I wouldn't say that there were any songs on this album that I liked, but there also were none that I hated. To me, the music just went in and out of my head. I couldn't connect with it at all. I wouldn't say that I wasted 41 minutes of my life by listening to it because I honestly don't remember the time going by. Maybe the music hypnotized me and made me feel tripped out, or it's because it's 7:30am right now, but either way, I couldn't care less about what I just listened to, unfortunately. Sorry, Dad!

"NBC Special" by Elvis Presley (December, 1968)

Dad's Take:

Elvis made a big comeback with this TV special. It shows him at his Vegas-y best, with a mixture of rock 'n' roll, gospel, and cheesy nightclub music. This is the Elvis that the Elvis imitators emulate and parody.

Through it all, though, Elvis shows his sense of humor and a big ol' pile of energy. If you could only buy one Elvis album, this probably shouldn't be the one, but there's no denying it's fun.

Drenched with late-sixties horns, the songs have an appeal that is as rocking as it is cheesy. The King is in fine vocal form, even if the arrangements are often a bit too over-the-top. If you're not much an Elvis fan, this probably won't convert you, but as a document of a time and place and of the mainstreaming of a rebellious teen idol, this is an important record.

Brad's Take:

For me, Elvis is very hit or miss. From previous albums we've reviewed, I've enjoyed most of his upbeat songs way more than his ballads. This NBC special is mostly upbeat, but the arrangements (like my old man said) are over the top a lot of the time, and again, the slow songs bore me.

This special mostly consisted of a bunch of medleys with some dialogue in between. He busts out some classics, like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock", which are always fun to hear. When he's yelling and rocking out, it's pretty great, but overall, this was pretty hard to get all the way through in one sitting with all the ballads and gospel songs. Honestly, I don't know why this album is on this list.