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Throwback Thursday – Disco Music

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Those who knew me in the 70’s may be surprised that in my coverage of the decade’s music I mention disco music at all. But it was a phenomenon and it would not be fair to consider the period’s music without giving it some attention. Having said that, disco music still has for me about as much substance as a popcorn fart and all the appeal of a Justin Beiber song.

Maybe the reason I detested disco music was that I could never dance well. Yes, I tried dancing here and there along the way, whenever sufficiently inebriated to have lowered inhibitions. I mastered “The Bump” and could do the “Hustle”. The fact that I knew those dances should indicate to you that like everyone else alive at the time, no one emerged from the 70’s unscathed. If you were a guy and wanted to pick up chicks, surfing disco lounges and parties was part of life and so, you learned some moves. In my case it was just enough to get by.

Anyway, I’m far from expert on the genre. Most of the people who listened to the sorts of music I loved really tried to avoid disco. A few of us would say, it’s alright to dance to it, but never listen to it. Some guys in my frat at college actually played it on their stereos while they were studying. I never figured out how anyone could actually do that and generally assumed it was the result of a undiagnosed brain tumor or something.

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When the disco wave hit popular music it seemed like everyone was releasing a song with a funky beat. Even old timers like the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons joined in with “Who Loves You”. Other more recent artists like David Bowie released “Fame”. For the most part the driving force behind the inception of the music was a popularization of Funkadelic riffs set to a driving beat that even someone like me – the two left feet category of human, could actually find.

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New bands emerged like Average White Band, Wild Cherry and K.C. & The Sunshine Band. As is true of all pop trends many said it was a flash in the fan and would be soon over. My friends and I hoped that would be true. But it lingered and grew for a time.

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Some bands transitioned their careers to the new genre and became much more popular. Second Wave British Invasion band The Bee Gees were on the decline in popularity. Remember a song titled “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”? Their transition, supported with the release of the movie and soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, relaunched the band’s careers into the stratosphere.

In the midst of the Disco Wave many traditional R&B bands shifted their style slightly to pick up a heavier beat and released some disco albums. Bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, The Commodores and artists like Rick James extended the genre into more of the mainstream undercurrent of popular music. Meco did a disco version of the Star Wars Theme that topped the pop charts.

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A number of pop bands who considered themselves mainstream detested disco music about as much as those who played heavy metal, classical rock and such. The Bay City Rollers and The Sweet were two of the major forces of nature int he pop genre int he mid to late 70’s. Neither group released any “disco music”. In fact the latter released a song titled “Disco-Phony” that was lyrical attack on the genre, lifestyle of clubbing and the shallow sorts of people who were attracted to the genre.

By the 1980’s Disco had become more or less incorporated in the mainstream sound of popular music. Dancing and dance music never disappears, just the type of music driving people to the dance floor changes. Many new genres have erupted since the late 70’s including Punk, Rap, Grunge, Hip-hop and Techno yet some elements of the disco sound echo current music.

#70sMusic #Disco #BeeGees #SaturdayNightFever

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Throwback Thursday – Seventies Music and Sound Technologies

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My guess is that whatever music you listened to when you were growing up, coming of age or whatever is truly the soundtrack of your life. Since I grew up in the sixties and seventies the bands of those times feel like my bands. I saw many of them perform lives and I collected their albums. As those who have been following my blog for a while know I still listen to a lot of the music of that period.

Music and the ways it was recorded, mixed and presented evolved in the seventies. Although stereophonic sound started to appear in the late fifties it wasn’t until the mid-sixties that it came into common use. Even so, most of the music of the time was promoted on monophonic AM radio. Although FM existed until the late sixties most of the stations broadcast classical music. In the early seventies all that changed.

Although music format on AM radio persisted into the late seventies and early eighties, in most markets the common fare was Top-40. Some FM stations began Top-40 formats as well but in stereo. Despite the inherent bandwidth limitations and compression of the dynamic range for FM the music played gave the listener a much better idea of what the actual record sounded like. Album oriented formatting began to appear in the early to mid seventies as well and many rock groups whose music was not commercially viable as singles for Top-40 began to receive airplay. Without the transition to FM I doubt I would have ever heard many of my favorite groups from the era.

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Radios were optional equipment in cars as early as the forties it wasn’t until the fifties and sixties that they became standard. In the late sixties and early seventies AM/FM Stereo radios began to appear in cars. In an effort to make personal music collections mobile, and because vinyl records in a car was impractical, pre-recorded tapes appears, first as 8-Track cartridges and later cassette tapes. However, the two tape formats were inherently noisier than vinyl records. Though manufacturers though the problem was a non-issue at first, people sought higher fidelity in my cars, especially when van conversions became popular. Over the decade, after market “Car-Fi” evolved to the point that sound quality rivaled some home systems. Using noise reduction techniques like Dolby and dBx hiss that was always a limitation of tape recording was virtually eliminated. The use of cassette tapes led to personal playback devices like Sony’s Walkman that became popular in the early eighties, and “Boom-Boxes” or portable music playback systems that were prevalent throughout the eighties and nineties.

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The quest for noise reduction also led to innovations in vinyl recordings such as half speed mastering on virgin vinyl, a method used to reduce the surface noise produced from the friction of a stylus coming in contact with the record during playback. It was discovered that by mastering a recording by playing the tape at twice the speed while encoding the pressing plate at half speed the signal to noise ration of the recording was greatly improved. The compulsion to further increase dynamic range of music playback through noise reduction led to several early digital signal processing devices such as the auto-correlator that removed nearly all white noise from the background of the music during playback. Another method often used was decilinear compression and decompression, first encoding a composed form of the recording and then expanding it back to full dynamic range during playback.

Digital signal processing lead directly to experiments using laser to etch pits into a disc that would reflect a high frequency rate sampling of an analog waves. When played back the result would be a extremely close approximation of the original analog. The basic groundwork for the compact disc were created in the late seventies.

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Recording techniques used in the studio and during stereo mastering and post production evolved from instruments to the let of me vocals to the right that was popular in the 60’s to a wall of sound and finally a special approximation of what it would feel like to be sitting on stage with he musicians surrounding you. The latter desire drove the experimentation with Quadrophonic sound that would eventually evolve into digital time delays and finally multichannel surround sound.

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THX Sound often used in movie soundtracks was also pioneered in the late seventies by an audio engineer named Tomlinson Holman who worked for Advent Corporation, a New England based speaker manufacturer. Holman invented a preamplifier circuit that dramatically reduced low frequency feedback when playing back a record and the technology was incarnated into a small stereo receiver that many audiophiles purchased just to have the preamplifier driving their later amplifiers. In couple of years later, Holman left Advent and created Holman corporation to manufacture an updated version of his preamplifier – with additional features that catered to audiophiles. His parents were eventually sold to Phase Linear Corporation that was subsequently purchased by Pioneer Electronics. Holman invested in the development of a playback system specifically designed for film won the right to create the THX (Tomlinson Holman Extensions) used by Lucas Films for the second installment of the first Star Wars trilogy.

#70sMusic #THX #Dolby #dBx #FM #AM

 

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Throwback Thursday – Genesis: A Trick Of The Tail

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A lot of people wrote off Genesis after lead singer and songwriter Peter Gabriel, an original member of the band, departed in 1975 to pursue other musical interests including production and, later on, a solo recording career. Genesis’ cadre of loyal followers were accustomed to impressive theatrical stage performances – mainly due to Peter Gabriel’s flair and showmanship. Many could not imagine the group continuing.

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In 1974 the band had released its most ambitious project, Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, prior to Gabriel’s decision but in the process of making that album were the signs of the the musicians going separate ways. Each member of the band had contributed significantly to creating the band’s unique, progressive sound and yet on the Lamb project Gabriel was the principal composer, arranger and lyricist which left the other band members less than completely satisfied. It was while touring in support of the album that Gabriel announced to the other members that, upon completion of the tour, he was leaving.

The remaining members of the band, Steve Hackett (guitar), Tony Banks (keyboards), Michael Rutherford (bass and guitars) and Phil Collins (drums) auditioned for a new lead singers and tentatively selected one but, at the last minute decided his voice did not fit the music they had already composed for A Trick Of The Tail. However, since Collins had performed backing vocals to Gabriel’s lead on previous albums, he gave it a try and the album was completed and released in 1976. Many critics said that Collins’ vocals sounded more like Gabriel than Gabriel.

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Steve Hackett after Wind and Wuthering (1976), making Genesis a trio and resulting in the title of the 1978 album And Then There Were Three. In between Genesis released a live album titled Seconds Out.

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Although Genesis was a commercially successful band in the 70’s and by the end of the decade were playing sold out shows in arenas around the world it wasn’t until the 80’s and following each member’s work on solo projects that the band’s work began topping the charts. With the rise of Phil Collin’s solo career came Genesis’ largest commercial success, including a number one hit in the US, Invisible Touch in 1986.

Genesis is one of the best selling bands of all times and was admitted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

#70sMusic #Genesis #PhilCollins #PeterGabriel #SteveHackett #MikeRutherford #TonyBanks #ATrickOfTheTail #LambLiesDownOnBroadway

 

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Throwback Thursday – Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti

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This week marks the 40th Anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin’s double album, Physical Graffiti, the iconic band’s sixth release overall. The event on Tuesday was also marked with the release of a remastered special deluxe edition, part of a process begun last summer to reissue the band’s studio albums after undergoing extensive digital processing to enhance the recordings in a way more suitable to the modern market. Having listened to the newest version of the album, a three CD set that includes seven never before released tracks that are earlier or alternate versions of some of the elections on the album, I highly recommend it as an addition to any Led Zeppelin fan’s collection.

Even if you have not been fan of the band since the 70’s you should give this one a listen. Compared to the material released in February 1975 the vocals and guitar work feel more prominent giving a better spacial image in stereo even when compressed into a digital format. You’ll want to listen to the 40th Anniversary Edition on headphones, seriously. The remastering has transformed the music in a way that, regardless of how many previous times you’ve listened to the music, it’s like hearing the songs for the first time.

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Most people have heard the guitar riff from the song Kashmir, one of the longer selections on Physical Graffiti. It features guitar virtuoso Jimmy Page playing his Gibson Les Paul with violin bow giving the song a unique quality. Rapper P. Diddy, a.k.a Puff Daddy (Sean Combs), recorded Come With Me for the soundtrack of the 1998 movie Godzilla along with Jimmy Page performing the guitar riffs of Kashmir.

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Physical Graffiti is a collection of blues oriented rock music for which Led Zeppelin is well known. By the time of album’s original release Led Zeppelin had already attained superstar status. The album appeared on Led Zep’s private label, Swan Song Records, for example, giving the band a level of creative control over their work afforded to only a few bands at the time. They were playing sold out stadiums and arenas all over the world. Hardly anyone of my generation didn’t know who they were and also, barely a person did not have some opinion of the band and their music.

Physical Graffiti has the feel of a culmination effort, showcasing the talents of each of the band’s members: Jimmy Page on guitar, Robert Plant on vocals, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, and John Bonham on drums. As musicians they fused their individual talents to create an album that, from start to finish, defines who and what they were together. I have always felt that Physical Graffiti was an inflection point for the group. They released several albums after, and many of the songs yet to come were great performances, but for me this always felt like it captured the band at their peak. Having purchased the album shortly after its original release in 1975, at the time I was a Freshman at Purdue University and played it was on a pair of Infinity 1001A loudspeakers in my dorm room. Listening to the remastered version last night was almost like experiencing time travel in a way.

Although I was a fan of Led Zep since the release Whole Lotta Love off the band’s second album, I did not own every one of the band’s albums until after the release of Physical Graffiti. As my tastes had matured to a greater appreciation of blues I was prompted to discover the band’s early work on the first and third albums. Houses Of The Holy, the band’s fifth album, had been my previous favorite, with Over The Hills and Far Away second only to the fourth Album’s Stairway To Heaven as my favorite Led Zep song. Rock and Roll and Black Dog, also from the fourth studio album, and D’yer Maker, from Houses Of The Holy, tend to be the other Led Zep songs most people know. But Physical Graffiti marked Led Zeppelin’s experimentation with a variety of musical styles and recording techniques producing a collection of tracks that, from start to finish, prompted me to dub the entire album onto my reel-to-reel so I could listen to it straight through without having to flip to the over side of the disc. Yes, do you remember having to do that with LPs?

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Page’s guitar work on Physical Graffiti is reason enough to get this updated version of the album, but his is hardly the only great performance. As a bassist I’ve always loved John Paul Jones’ work and it’s difficult to be a bassist and not key on the percussion. John Bonham’s style was always driving and lent the signature, often times counter-rhythmic, backbeat to the music. Plant’s vocal work on every song delivers.

The bonus tracks on CD 3 feature Brandy & Coke (An initial rough mix of Trampled Under Foot), an early version of Sick Again, an initial rough mix of In My Time Of Dying, a rough mix of Houses of The Holy, Everybody Makes It Through (In The Light) – an early version of the song In The Light, the Sunset Sound Mix of Boogie With Stu, and Driving Through Kashmir (a rough mix of Kashmir). The previously unreleased material is interesting to anyone who wants to hear how the music evolves during the recording process. Also, Plants vocals are a little more up front on some of the tracks than the release versions.

#LedZeppelin #JimmyPage #RobertPlant #JohnPaulJones #JohnBonham #SeanCombs #PuffDaddy #PDiddy #Kashmir #PhysicalGraffiti #Godzilla1998 #70sMusic

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Throwback Thursday – Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination Edgar Allan Poe

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Sometime in 1974 Eric Woolfson met Alan Parson and a collaboration on many levels began. Woolfson, a keyboardist and and vocalist had written several songs and musical arrangements based not he literary works of Edgar Allan Poe. Alan Parsons was an award winning audio engineer and producer who had achieved critical acclaim for his work with the Beatles on the Abbey Road and Let it Be albums as well as Pink Floyd’s legendary Dark Side of The Moon. With the latter production Parsons experimented with and innovated many studio recording techniques still used today.

Woolfson served as Parsons’ manager for his production work for other bands such as Pilot and Ambrosia. Both men were inspired by visions of creative film directors such as Hitchcock and Kubrick and their level of control over their projects. Parsons’ had grown increasingly frustrated while working with musicians. Often he felt his concepts for how a song or an album could be fell short of potential due to differences with artists over the recording of their work. Woolen and Parsons teamed up to form the Alan Parsons Project in 1975 an, enlisting the musical skills of session musicians and other artists they had worked with, including members of the bands Pilot and Ambrosia, recording the Project’s debut album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Edgar Allan Poe. The album was released in 1976 and featured the hit son The Raven which was the first known use of digital vocoder which distorted Parsons’ voice as he spoke the lyrics.

Although Tales of Mystery and Imagination reached the top 40 in the US, and did well continental Europe it did not fare as well in Woolfson and Parsons’ native UK, a trend that would continue throughout the Alan Parsons Project’s career.

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Throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s the Parson’s Project released series of albums continuing to use several different session musicians. Their catalogue includes I Robot (1977), Pyramid (1978), Eve (1979), (Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980), Eye In The Sky (1982), and Ammonia Avenue (1984) – which reached the top 10 in several countries and featured the smash hit “Don’t Answer Me”.

#70sMusic, #AlanParsons #EricWoolfson #Ambrosia #Pilot #AlanParsonsProject

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Throwback Thursday – The Who’s Quadrophenia

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In late 1973 the Who released their second rock opera, a two LP album set titled Quadrophenia. It is about the four personalities of a kid named Jimmy who is caught up int he turbulence of Britain’s youth wars of Mods vs Rockers which happened around the original of The Who as a band. Although he album was successful and received critical praise from most reviewers. it was perhaps the most difficult and ambitious project the band had ever undertaken.

Following on the tails of success for the rock opera Tommy and Who’s Next the band struggled to find a music direction. For Quadrophenia they constructed a new studio and went about creating the album in a quite different way. Of the album, Pete Townsend, lead guitarist for the band, said that it was the last great album the band did. It epitomizes what The Who was and could be up to that point. It featured two hits 5:15 and Love Reign O’er Me, both of which charted in the UK but only the later was released in the US. The album was certified Gold based on over a million copies sold upon release and it peaked at #2 both int he UK and in the US, suffering from competition from David Bowie and Elton John.

This was one of my favorite albums during my senior year of high school. I listened to it on my headphones, dubbed it onto a reel to reel so that I could listen to the album in its entirety without having to pause to flip sides of the discs. At the time I felt it was perhaps the best performance for Pete Townsend, Keith Moon, John Entwhistle and Roger Daltry who began as a band in the 60’s and became one of the most influential British Rock bands with hits spanning decades. It even bothered learning the bass lines, which was quite an accomplishment for me because mimicking Entwistle’s style was a challenge required me to develop both speed and dexterity in playing. The percussion and bass on the album were tight. Townsend was, well. as always, Townsend. And Daltry’s lyrics were delivered with power.

One historical note that is often missed from any reviews of the album is what was going on in the music industry and the world at the time. There were vinyl shortages due to the OPEC oil embargo, so a double LP album was pretty rare and there were shortages of the Album here and there. Also Quadrophic sound was being heavily marketed and many people wrongly assumed the album was recorded in wither SQ/QS or CD4 Quad sound – which it was not – the title confusing them.

#TheWho #PeteTownsend #KeithMoon #RogerDaltry #JohnEntwhistle 70sMusic

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Throwback Thursday – Foreigner’s Debut Album

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In 1976 Mick Jones (guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, vocals), Ian McDonald (guitar, saxophone, flute, backing vocals) and Lou Graham (lead vocals, percussion) formed the nucleus of the band to be later named Foreigner. Al Greenwood (keyboards and synthesizers) was added along with Dennis Elliot (drums) and Ed Gagliardi (bass) to form the original lineup of the band appearing on the first, self-titled album. Jones came up with the band’s name Foriegner  after the group realized that former name Trigger was already in use. His logic was that since the group consisted of three Brits and three Americans, no matter where the band was at least three of them would be foreigners.

The first album was released in March 1977 and immediately connected with an audience featuring three hits, “Feels Like The First Time”, “Cold As Ice” and “Long, Long Way Home”. The album stayed in the top 20 for a year selling 4 million copies. By May the band was already headlining larger venues, well on their way to becoming one of the best selling groups of all times.

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Although the band would undergo several personnel changes over the ensuing years they became a band synonymous with the late 70’s and 80’s in popular music, producing a series of hits including (From Double Vision)  “Hot Blooded”, “Double Vision”, Blue Monday, Blue Day”,  (From Head Games) “Head Games”, “Dirty White Boy”, (From 4) “Urgent”, “Waiting For A Girl Like You”, “Juke Box Hero”, “Break It Up”, (From Agent Provocateur) “That Was Yesterday” and “I Want To Know What Love Is” – the band’s biggest hit, reaching number 1 in the UK, US and many other countries.

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Mick Jones and Lou Graham were indicted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.

#70sMusic #Foreigner #MickJones #LouGraham