what's opera
why all the whaling?

friday random ten, 1972 edition

1. The Rolling Stones, "Rip This Joint." Holy shit. The last Stones album of their greatest period, and it's so good they can take this song, a barn-burning album-opener if there ever was one, and stick it at #2 on Side One. As propulsively rock-and-rolling as anything they ever recorded, with typical Exile lyrics, as in "why did they mix it like that, I can't understand a word Mick is saying." As I heard it, the song starts out "Mama say yeah papa say no, may blughghs blah blah ugh low" and ends in a more comprehensible fashion with "Wham! Bam! Birming! ham! Ala! bam! Don't give! a DAMN!" In the video link, from the '72 tour, the whole damn song finally falls apart as Mick stretches out on the floor. One of the best songs ever by one of the best bands ever, and a perfect song to start a Random Ten.

2. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, "If You Don't Know Me By Now." The early 70s was a great period for soul music. "We've all got our own funny moods. I've got mine, woman you've got yours, too." The video link has a surprise for fans of ... ah, but that would be telling.

3. The Carpenters, "Goodbye to Love." I've written enough about this song over the years that I should probably be brief here. So I'll just give my semi-annual shout out to Tony Peluso for two of the greatest guitar solos of all time, on the only Carpenters' song worth hearing. If you can stomach the video link, take my advice: let it load first, then fast-forward to about 2:45, so you don't have to listen to the other two songs.

4. The Stylistics, "Break Up to Make Up." This illustrates two of my points from above: the early 70s was a great period for soul music, and by comparison, virtually the entire Carpenters catalog is tripe. "First you love me, then you hate me, that's a game for fools."

5. Curtis Mayfield, "Superfly." "Ask him his dream, what does it mean, he wouldn't know."

6. Bonnie Raitt, "Love Has No Pride." Fans of the group in song #3 might take note of this song, or anything else Bonnie Raitt recorded back then. The only song on this week's list without a video link, because I didn't want Linda Ronstadt to mess with my images of Bonnie.

7. Roberta Flack, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Cheating a bit, sticking this here … it was recorded a couple of years earlier, but was revived on the soundtrack for Play Misty for Me (the Carpenters, Roberta Flack, Clint Eastwood … it's an Over-rated Festival) in 1972. I'm not sure whether Flack was the Karen Carpenter of soul, or the Judy Collins.

8. Elvis Presley, "An American Trilogy." The song that best sums up Elvis in the 70s. "An American Trilogy" is bombastic, silly, touching, intelligent, ridiculous, all in equal measures. And it barely matters, because of the performance of the King. When he cared, he was the greatest singer in rock and roll history. There are several songs on this Random Ten like this one, lesser songs made great by the artist. This is the best of them all. As Greil Marcus wrote in Mystery Train, "When Elvis sings 'American Trilogy' … he signifies that his persona, and the culture he has made out of blues, Las Vegas, gospel music, Hollywood, schmaltz, Mississippi, and rock 'n' roll, can contain any America you might want to conjure up. It is rather Lincolnesque; Elvis recognizes that the Civil War has never ended, and so he will perform the Union." (Marcus, it should be noted, didn't think Elvis cared by this point in his career … "He sings with such a complete absence of musical personality that none of the old songs matter at all, because he has not committed himself to them." This marks a rare occasion where I disagree with Greil.)

9. Taj Mahal, "Cakewalk Into Town." What is Taj Mahal's legacy? I have no idea. He's been doing the same thing for many decades now, yet the variety of his musical interests mean "the same thing" offers up far broader results than it would suggest. I find much of his work delightful, myself. There are better songs and better artists on this list, but nothing makes me marvel with happiness at the joys of YouTube more than the fact that there is a video of Taj Mahal singing "Cakewalk Into Town."

10. Randy Newman, "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)." This version comes from a Boarding House concert in '72. Randy's introduction: "This is my contribution to ecclesiastical music…. God is in this song. I'll sit up straighter when I play God's part." The video link is to the Dana Fuchs Band … I'm not sure what to make of an earthy blues-mama version with hot-licks gee-tar solo, but I'm kinda impressed that someone out there actually wanted to cover the song in the first place. Earlier this week, I attended the funeral of my father-in-law, and at the service, his favorite song was sung, "Red River Valley." On the ride back from the funeral, I wondered aloud what song I would want played at my funeral. My family assumed it would be a Bruce Springsteen song, and that's probably true … "Born to Run," or maybe "Across the Border" except it implies a belief in God that is more ironic when I'm alive than it would be when I'm dead. To myself, I thought that your choice of song would depend on whether the song was for you or for the survivors, and if it was for the survivors, was it meant to make them feel better, or to send a last message from beyond the grave? If the latter, I would want to choose "God's Song":

Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:

Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
'Cause he thinks that's where I'll be
That's why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind

The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, "Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won't take care of us
Won't you please, please let us be?"
And the Lord said
And the Lord said

I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind