By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 29,2023)
It should be obvious to anyone following my weekly scribbles at Hullabaloo (great googly moogly…have I been doing this for 17 years?!) that I primarily write about film. I love writing about film. But my first love (we never forget our first love) was music. My first published piece ever was a review of King Crimson’s A Lark’s Tongue in Aspic, in 1973. Granted, it was for my high school newspaper and upwards of dozens read it, but for that brief shining moment…I was Lester Bangs (in my mind). Now that I think about it…Digby was the editor of that paper (that’s how we originally became friends-Journalism class in our senior year).
That was 50 years ago. And Digby’s still my editor. I don’t understand what’s happening.
And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
Oh. Thanks for clearing that up.
Speaking of 50-year anniversaries-1973 was an outstanding year for music. Distilling a “top 10” was crazy making (if I hadn’t allowed myself the “next 10” at the bottom , my head would have exploded). If I have “overlooked” one of your favorites…it’s duly noted. In alphabetical order:
Alladin Sane-David Bowie
How does one follow a stone classic like Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars? Just a walk in the park for David Bowie…swinging an old bouquet. A very strong set, bolstered by Mick Ronson’s distinctive guitar pyrotechnics and some of pianist Mike Garson’s finest work (particularly on the more ethereal numbers like “Lady Grinning Soul” and the title cut). While Bowie’s so-called “Berlin period” was still several years down the road, there is a Weimar cabaret energy to the self-reflective “Time”, which is one of the album’s showstoppers.
Choice cuts: “The Jean Genie”, “Time”, “Panic in Detroit”, “Alladin Sane”, “Lady Grinning Soul”, “Cracked Actor”.
Catch a Fire-Bob Marley and the Wailers
While this was their fifth studio effort, Catch a Fire (their debut on Chris Blackwell’s Island Records) arguably marked the first awareness of Bob Marley and the Wailers for many music fans in the U.S. (they were already well-known in Jamaica and gaining popularity in the U.K.). The original sessions were recorded in Kingston in 1972; Blackwell remixed the 8-track masters and had session players add clavinet and additional guitar parts to several tracks. The songs are some of the best in their catalog. It’s a true group effort, with Peter Tosh taking lead vocals on the two songs he composed – “400 Years” and “Stop That Train”. If you haven’t heard them, I recommend seeking out the original mixes, which I think are more compelling.
Choice cuts: “Concrete Jungle”, “Kinky Reggae”, “Stop That Train”, “Slave Driver”, “400 Years”, “Stir it Up”.
Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Talk about a shoo-in (I’d probably have to hire a 24-hour security detail if I failed to include this one). The now-iconic prism design that adorns the album’s cover is apt; there is something elemental about this set that (obviously) captured the imaginations of millions of listeners (to date, the album has sold over 45 million copies). Pink Floyd may not have invented prog-rock, but they unarguably raised the bar for the genre with this entry.
Choice cuts: All of them?
Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, this self-titled debut comes in like a lion and goes out like…a lion. Led by guitarist extraordinaire Ronnie Montrose (formerly of the Edgar Winter Group), the hard-rocking quartet was propelled by a tight rhythm section (Denny Carmassi on drums and Bill Church on bass) and a young up-and-coming lead vocalist named Sammy Hagar. The album benefits from dynamic production by Ted Templeman, who also worked with Van Halen, the Doobie Brothers, and Van Morrison (prior to forming Montrose, Ronnie Montrose played on Morrison’s Tupelo Honey album, and the songs “Listen to the Lion” and “St. Dominic’s Preview”).
I had the pleasure of seeing Ronnie Montrose perform twice; circa 1981 in San Francisco with Gamma, and 2011 in Seattle. Sadly, in 2012, he took his own life. He had beat prostate cancer but battled chronic depression. That last time I saw him perform, he was in an ebullient mood; graciously chatting with fans afterwards and clearly having a great time rocking some classics from the first album (with a young vocalist who sounded uncannily like Sammy Hagar). He was an astonishing player and an inspiration to me as a guitarist.
Choice cuts: “Rock the Nation”, “Bad Motor Scooter”, “Space Station #5”, “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Rock Candy”, “Make it Last”.
The New York Dolls– The New York Dolls
In a new Showtime documentary about former New York Dolls lead singer David Johansen by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi called Personality Crisis: One Night Only (recommended!), Dolls super-fan Morrissey observes, “They only made two studio albums; and for a group that did so little really, and existed for such a short amount of time, their impact has been extraordinary. And the music, because it was such fantastic pop music, it just seemed to me like the absolute answer to everything. Which of course…too dangerous.”
What did he mean by “too dangerous”? For one, the Dolls were a bit too much, too soon for many rock music fans, likely befuddled by the band’s Frankenstein construct of fey posturing, campy attire, New Yawk attitude, and garage band sound. To be sure, Bolan and Bowie had already injected androgyny into the zeitgeist, but the Dolls were still pretty over the top for 1973. In hindsight, their descendants are legion, ranging from The Ramones to Måneskin.
Musically, they were pop-punk before “punk” was a known quantity. Their eponymous debut album (produced by Todd Rundgren) has held up remarkably well; songs that, while rooted in R&B, 50s rock, and 60s pop, are most decidedly not your father’s R&B, 50s rock and 60s pop.
Choice cuts: “Personality Crisis”, “Looking for a Kiss”, “Lonely Planet Boy”, “Trash”, “Bad Girl”, “Private World”, “Jet Boy”.
Never content to rest on his laurels, Peter Townshend set out to compose yet another rock opera in 1973-and pulled it off with this epic double album, the Who’s follow-up to the excellent Who’s Next (which itself rose from the ashes of a fizzled Tommy-like project called Lifehouse). A musical love letter to the band’s first g-g-generation of rabid British fans (aka the “Mods”), Quadrophenia gets inside the head of Mod Jimmy (embodied by Roger Daltrey’s powerful and emotive vocals). Lavishly produced, with all band members in fine form. The album spawned a 1979 film version directed by Franc Roddam, with a Who soundtrack.
Choice cuts: “The Real Me”, “Cut My Hair”, “The Punk and the Godfather”, “I’m One”, “I’ve Had Enough”, “5:15”, “Bell-Boy”, “Dr. Jimmy”, “Love, Reign o’er Me”.
Suzi Quatro-Suzi Quatro
Detroit native Suzi Quatro didn’t consciously set out to be the groundbreaking and influential artist that she turned out to be. She just wanted to rock…and “rock” she does on this high-energy debut album. Music was in her blood…her first gig was playing bongos in her dad’s jazz band at age 8. She formed her first band at 15, an all-female outfit (eventually called Cradle) that included her three sisters. British producer Mickie Most happened to catch a performance and instantly saw her star potential, helping Suzi sign with a UK label.
Not unlike the New York Dolls, her influence was ultimately more impactful than her albums (she is most famously lauded by Joan Jett as her chief inspiration). This album still sounds fresh and fun, chockablock with straight-ahead rockers and catchy power-pop (many written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also composed a number of songs for The Sweet).
Choice cuts: “48 Crash”, “Glycerine Queen”, “Can the Can”, “Shine My Machine”, “Primitive Love”. “I Wanna Be Your Man”.
Solid Air-John Martyn
A near-masterpiece of (mostly) acoustic guitar-based jazz-folk by a gifted singer-songwriter. Martyn is accompanied by bassist Danny Thompson (formerly of Pentangle). I had a chance to see the late Scottish musician perform at a now-defunct club called The Backstage in Seattle back in the mid-90s. It was just Martyn and a stand-up bass player; Martyn primarily accompanied himself on acoustic, but played a Les Paul through a delay unit on several tunes. A minimal setup, but it was easily the best live performance I have ever seen by any solo artist or band. Not only was Martyn’s playing and singing superlative, but he was an absolute riot in between songs (he had a lot of Scottish jokes). Quite an experience-like this album.
Choice cuts: “Solid Air”, “Over the Hill”, “May You Never”, “Don’t Wanna Know”.
In the wake of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking 1970s album Bitches Brew, a new musical sub-genre emerged. “Fusion” (as it came to be labeled) had one foot in rock and the other in jazz. The Bitches Brew roster is legend: including future members of Weather Report (Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul), Return to Forever (Chick Corea, Lenny White) and The Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham).
Drummer Billy Cobham’s first solo project turned out to be influential in its own right (most famously cited by Jeff Beck as the chief catalyst for his lauded 1975 release Blow by Blow). Cobham recruited some heavyweight players for Spectrum, including guitarist Tommy Bolin, fellow Mahavishnu Orchestra alum Jan Hammer on keys, and veteran session bassist Leland Sklar. Crisp production by Ken Scott.
Choice cuts: “Quadrant 4”, “Stratus”, “To the Women in My Life”.
Twice Removed From Yesterday-Robin Trower
After a 4-year stint with Procol Harum (1967-1971), guitarist Robin Trower left so that he could fully realize the expansive soundscapes he hinted at in the ethereal “Song For a Dreamer”, which appeared on the final album he did with the band, Broken Barricades. Recruiting bassist/vocalist James DeWar and drummer Reg Isadore, he released this compelling set in 1973.
Unfairly dismissed by some as a Hendrix clone, Trower not only developed a distinctive texture and tone, but has proven himself as one of the greatest players ever (well, in my book). Granted, the album does feature Hendrix-ish riff-driven numbers, but evenly balances the mix with beautiful, transporting ballads, carried along by DeWar’s sublime, whiskey-soaked vocals. One of those albums I still listen to on a regular basis.
Choice cuts: “I Can’t Wait Much Longer”, “Daydream”, “Hannah”, “I Can’t Stand It”, “Twice Removed from Yesterday”.
Here are 10 more gems from 1973 worth a spin:
3+3-The Isley Brothers
Abandoned Luncheonette-Hall & Oates
Band on the Run-Paul McCartney & Wings
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-Elton John
Houses of the Holy-Led Zeppelin
Lark’s Tongue in Aspic-King Crimson
Mott-Mott the Hoople
Raw Power-The Stooges
Selling England by the Pound-Genesis
Remember-it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Now get on your bad motor scooter and RIDE!