1. Patti Smith, "Gloria." Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. I wasn't gonna say anything else … what else needs to be said … but the video link is terrific, from her April 1976 Season One appearance on Saturday Night Live. Robin and I had seen her two months earlier.
2. Hot Chocolate, "You Sexy Thing." In the 1974 Random Ten, dance music was represented by the funk of the Meters, and the list closed out with the New York Dolls leaving glam behind and hinting at … Now 1975 starts off with punk and disco. Change came fast. I believe in miracles.
3. War, "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Why, indeed. I'm not even going to bother posting a video link. For some reason, the last two songs invite those kinds of videos where the song serves as a soundtrack to something or other … what the person thinks is sexy, or what friendly message they want to express. Guess I'm not friendly enough.
4. Carol Douglas, "Doctor's Orders." Cheating a bit, since it came out in '74, but the album was '75. Douglas claims that her mother was Minnie the Moocher. Really … she was a singer, and Cab Calloway based the song on her. Or at least that's the story. (For another piece of Carol Douglas history, along with a couple of bars of "Doctor's Orders," click on the video link.)
5. Earth, Wind & Fire, "That's the Way of the World." Compared to Funkadelic, they may indeed have been hot air and no fire, but this song has one of the great "Yow" vocals of all time. If you like songs dedicated to World Peace, you've found the promised land.
6. Robin Trower, "Daydream." Back in the 70s, Bill Graham used to have these Days on the Green, where he'd sell out a baseball stadium by putting three or four top acts on the bill and letting them play all day long. It was like a well-run mini-festival, pretty much what you'd expect from Bill. It wasn't really the best way to hear music, although I heard a lot of great stuff at those DoGs. Mostly you just baked in the sun and watched people unfurl toilet-paper rolls from the top deck, the white chiffon floating halfway over the stadium. Moments like that were made for guitar solos … it was pointless to try anything else, as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young found out once when they tried to play a "wooden" set while the toilet paper flew ("sorry, Dave, the toilet paper's got ya beat!" shouted a drunk guy next to me as Crosby tried to get our attention). Those times were made not for just any guitar solo, but the trippy, drippy kind that Robin Trower played in "Daydream." Trower was famous in those days as Hendrix Reincarnated … I never got it, myself … he played really loud, and in concert, he would shout out his "THANKYAVERYMUCH" with such ear-busting enthusiasm that I can recall it to this day (and it still makes me wince). But when he played "Daydream," I forgave him everything … that one long note that he stretched out for what seemed like an eternity at the end of the solo was exquisite. And the best place to hear it was baking in a stadium, with toilet paper drifting overhead. The recorded versions I'm aware of do not come from 1975, but I appear to have on my hard drive a bootleg or something that is dated 1975, so here it is. (Fans of British blue-eyed soul singers fronting hard rock bands should love James Dewar, who for some reason seems forgotten.) If you can't guess, I highly recommend the video.
7. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, "Come on Baby, Let's Go Downtown." Tonight's the Night remains harrowing. An album about friends dead due to drugs, almost unbearably depressing, and then there was this song, which the All-Music Guide refers to as a "country barnburner … with a lighter touch." Hmmm, okay. The song, written by Danny Whitten (one of the two dead friends) is about scoring dope … that's why they're going downtown … and closes with the line "Pretty bad when you're dealin' with the man, and the light shines in your eyes." In one of the more subtly sad, heartbreaking additions to all of this, the album included a picture of Crazy Horse playing live, with their names at the bottom of the picture to match their position in the picture … Ben Keith, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, Nils Lofgren. Danny Whitten's name appears on the bottom, as well … but there's no one standing in his place in the picture.
8. Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir." I've told this story many times before … at this point, I can't remember what's real and what's apocryphal. In my first year as a grad student, a bunch of us went out to a local joint frequented by frat boys, to drink beer, eat pizza, and bond. Among our group was a woman … I hate to say I can no longer remember her name … she was a lawyer who decided to get a doctorate in English, and she always dressed very professionally, like she'd just gotten off work at the law office, with crisp blouses and proper skirts. She never said much in class … I found out later that the papers she wrote were brilliant, but we barely knew her because she didn't talk a lot. Nor did she talk much as we drank beer and ate pizza and drank more beer. In her case, a lot more beer. At one point, I looked down at the end of the table, and there she was, trying to hold her head up. I went over to talk to her … if not then, when? I asked how she was doing, and she looked up at me and replied "I love Led Zeppelin." She followed this statement by informing me that she often had the desire to pound out "Moby Dick" on somebody's head. She didn't last more than a year or two in the English program, and I have no idea what ever happened to her. (Puffy is not even in the same league with Run DMC as a rapper, but neither is Aerosmith in the same league as Led Zep. And "Walk This Way" is a good song, but "Kashmir" is the greatest monster riff in Jimmy Page's long career of one monster riff after another. Hence, the video link … "Walk This Way" is not the best matchup of metal and rap.)
9. Bonnie Raitt, "Sweet and Shiny Eyes." My favorite Bonnie Raitt song of all time. "Your sweet and shiny eyes are like the stars above Laredo, like meat and potatoes to me."
10. Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run." OK, so this list isn't always random. 1975 was one of the most important years of my life. In May, our first child was born, and that pretty much says it all. But since this is about music, there's no avoiding a mention of Bruce. How he was out there on the periphery of my consciousness for a couple of years, they played "Rosalita" on the radio once in awhile, but then the buzz started. OK, the hype, but first it was buzz, and I was intrigued. Word was he played the greatest concerts in the world. And he was coming to Oakland. So I got us seats … they were in the next to the last row … and then the album came out, and I brought it home, and we were visiting a friend down the street so I took the LP and we put it on her stereo. I decided to start with Side Two, because it had the title song on it. And thus began a long and so far unending ride. To this day I cry when I hear these lines:
Someday girl I don't know when
we're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go
and we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
baby we were born to run
And everytime we get a new piece of audio equipment, the first song I play always has to be "Born to Run." And I still don't know when. Till then …