Hidden Gems – 1970s #1 – Broadcast 13 October 2020
Guy’s Mum and Dad all dolled up circa 1972, the year of Superfly
I’ve been waiting a while for this one! On tonight’s show we have three hours of awesomeness from the greatest musical decade of them all, the 1970s. The quality and quantity of supreme musical output across these ten years is breath-taking, with classics emerging on a weekly basis from a dizzying variety of sources. I absolutely loved putting this playlist together and I hope you enjoy it too.
Kicking things off is Bob Marley & The Wailers with a medley of War/No More Trouble from their live album Babylon By Bus. Just exceptional, political, entrancing rock/reggae fusion from one of music’s all-time legends. The whole album is worth a listen if you can track it down.
The 70s was the undisputed apotheosis of rock music, as amply demonstrated throughout tonight’s show. First out of the rockin’ gate is Harry Nilsson, who in any other decade would have become a mega-star, but was relegated to substitute status amongst the plethora of talents emerging in this decade. This seven minute epic Jump Into the Fire has everything that makes for a classic good-time rock ‘n’ roll tune, all sounding lush and crisp in typical 70s style.
This is followed by Hawkwind’s Motorhead, from 1975 but sounding wilder and more unhinged in its guitar maelstrom than the punk music that followed in later years. This mere b-side has more balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll goodness than the entire discographies of the legion of rip-offs of this sound who have emerged in the ensuing decades. Why listen to a pale imitation when the original is sitting right there, as good as ever?
Next we’re off to funk town with Curtis Mayfield’s Freddie’s Dead from the 1972 Superfly soundtrack. One of the chunkiest basslines ever alongside the former Impressions’ singer’s gorgeous vocals makes for a 100% certified classic.
This is followed by the first of many gorgeous R&B songs tonight, which act as a palate cleanser in amongst the rock/funk/reggae heaviness. This is The Chi-Lites with Oh Girl from 1972. Beautiful, clear production and heart-tugging harmonies with nary an Auto-Tune tweak in sight.
Next we take in two dub reggae classics, beginning with master-producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and his band The Upsetters with Dread Lion, from their superb album Super Ape. One of the weirdest, deepest, grooviest albums in history, this gets under your skin with its mesmerising, other-worldly vocals and production that sounds piped in from the centre of the Earth.
Scratch is followed by Burning Spear with The Ghost, a dub reworking of their tune Marcus Garvey. This gorgeous little instrumental will have you nodding along and hitting rewind as you succumb to its groovy goodness.
Up next is Big Star, one of the most criminally overlooked bands in music history with the beautiful Watch the Sunrise. This sounds like it could have been recorded at any time in the last 40 years, providing a template for uplifting, sun-kissed acoustic guitar goodness employed by Jack Johnson, James Taylor and a hundred other strummers since. Still unfathomable that this isn’t a rock solid part of the 70s canon.
Next up is Paul McCartney and Wings with the wonderfully silly Jet, one of the all-time grin-inducing pop songs. Just pure delight.
We move to country with Kris Kristofferson’s Best of All Possible Worlds from his spectacular debut album of 1970. This song is so poetic, hilarious and quotable (e.g. “I’d trade my soul for something wet and cold as that old cell”) that it’s a thing of wonder. This is just one of many classics on this record, one of the most fully-formed debut albums of all time that represents a high water mark for the genre.
We close the opening hour with Isaac Hayes and Ike’s Rap II/Help Me Love from Black Moses (1971). The gorgeous, tender intro was immortalised by Portishead who sampled it for their signature track Glory Box. But the whole track is worthwhile, with Hayes’ distinctive voice gliding over sumptuous 70s strings.
Now we go into New Wave with The Cars’ album one, track one masterpiece Just What I Needed, which pretty much perfected the genre at the first attempt. Everyone from Blink-182 to The Strokes took inspiration from this perfect piece of power pop.
Another funk/R&B classic with Aaron Neville’s Hercules, a hidden gem that I first encountered on his greatest hits CD, borrowed from Archway Library many moons ago. This is so slinky and smooth, epitomising the decade’s best sonic tendencies.
Next up is the historical anachronism Dire Straits with the magnificent Wild West End, unfairly neglected by radio due to its sharing vinyl real estate with Sultans of Swing. This is just as lyrically potent and instrumentally lush, with Mark Knopfler’s unique story-telling conjuring images of a forgotten London of the late 70s.
Up next is Van Morrison with the utterly joyous Bright Side of the Road, a perfect example of his distinctive “Celtic Soul”. Never has someone so grumpy and morose produced a work of art this feather-light and fun.
More funk now with the sui generis The Meters from New Orleans. Zigaboo Modeliste and his bandmates produce some of the tightest, snappiest grooves of the decade with Just Kissed My Baby. You can draw a clear line in your life between your first hearing of this band and afterwards, as you’ll keep coming back to them time and again for 100% funk greatness.
Next up is one of the 70s’ dominant figures, David Bowie, with Young Americans. This isn’t as well-known as some of his other tracks from this period, but is pure musical joy, pouring funk, jazz, R&B and pop into a blender to create something uniquely his. His frenetic motor-mouth burst of lyrics towards the end is particularly stunning, proof that the man could do practically anything, during this decade and the rest of his career.
Following on is another legend, this time Pink Floyd with Us & Them from Dark Side of the Moon, probably the decade’s most famous album. This gorgeous near eight-minute ballad instantly grabbed my attention when I first heard it as a teenager, and is just as moving and transfixing when listened to now.
Up next is Jim Croce with Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, a nice little palate cleanser in amongst the epics, and proof that this jazz-swing-pop style was still going strong in the early 70s after nearly 30 years in vogue.
Next we have Blondie with the gorgeous Dreaming from Eat to the Beat, 1979. Taking the immediacy of punk and refracting it through a shimmery, glamorous lens, this is the sound of an iconic band at their best.
Heading into our third hour, we have Lou Reed and his monstrous band with a rip-roaring version of Sweet Jane from his Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal live album of 1974. It absolutely lays waste to the comparatively timid-sounding original from 1970’s Velvet Underground release Loaded, busting out joyful, wailing exploratory guitar lines for three and a half minutes before kicking into a unanimous hammering of the track’s iconic riff. Lou’s vocals perfectly evoke the lives of his characters (e.g. “Some people like to go out dancing, then people like us we gotta work”), elevating the track into something truly transcendent.
Next up we have the most obscure selection of the night with a true hidden gem from Benin, West Africa. Gabo Brown & Orchestre Poly-Rythmo deliver the amazing It’s A Vanity, unearthed on the tremendous African Scream Contest compilation from 2008, with the original recording dating to the 70s. This is just a pure thrill, with hypnotic vocals, sprightly guitars and those rollicking rhythms suggested by the band’s name.
Another lush 70s R&B track follows with The Stylistics, one of the decade’s defining groups in the genre, with the beautiful You Make Me Feel Brand New. Its treacly nature might not be to every taste but I love it, like stepping into a freshly drawn bath.
An interesting selection next from Australia’s wealthiest rock exports AC/DC, and Riff Raff, a selection from their early, pre-mega-fame period. Those hypnotic, shredding guitars in the intro suggest something much fiercer and, dare I say it, avant-garde than the meat and potatoes blues-rock they’re known for. This came out in 1978 and has all the ferocity of the contemporaneous punk and metal releases thanks to the Young brothers’ guitar heroics. Bon Scott’s stream-of-consciousness vocals would later be radically reinterpreted by American singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek on his acoustic AC/DC covers album What’s Next to the Moon.
Next up is T Rex with Spaceball Ricochet, one in a long line of classics from The Slider of 1972. As with all their tracks, this is just pure fun, and endlessly sing-alongable.
Following up is the ultimate Dad Rock perfectionists Steely Dan and Peg from 1977’s Aja. I am just getting in to these guys properly and there is a lot to discover! This selection is just pure bouncy-pop bliss, with their legendary studio craft coming to the fore and laying the foundation for a true boogying classic.
Our last rock track of the night belongs to Jackson Browne and Running on Empty. Not in any way a hidden gem but I absolutely love it (particularly its early foreshadowing of the death of the Baby Boomer dream in his lyrics) so in it goes.
Saving our electronic experiments for near the end with the granddaddy of them all, Dusseldorf’s finest, Kraftwerk. The gorgeous track Neon Lights may sound of its time thanks to its very-70s synth, but the sheer inventiveness of constructing a nine-minute symphony from those instruments deserves applause. That it can somehow evoke emotion despite its unequivocal robotic heart is a testament to their creative abilities. A near half-century of synth pop, moody Goth pop, techno and a hundred other sub-genres starts here.
A change of pace now with the evergreen Willie Nelson and his magnificently humble Moonlight in Vermont. This would be a classic were it released in 1978 as it was, or in any year since. From the bare bones of instrumentation, Willie takes us to the stars.
Our next track takes a similar approach for very different results with Nick Drake’s haunting Which Will, a whisper delivered straight to your ears from one of the decade’s most talented but tortured souls.
We finish with one of my all-time favourites, the singular Nina Simone, and her take on Mr Bojangles from 1971. It’s somehow melancholy yet strangely uplifting, whisper-quiet yet emotionally heavy. Once again she proves she can do anything with her voice and piano-playing, and strikes the perfect chord with which to include our first foray into this decade’s rich musical tapestry.