Another busy week with the new album. It should be completely finished in the next couple of weeks (artwork and all). I’m working with some really talented people as the final days approach.

I’m still hoping to, at least, soft release it this year…but am thinking more and more that an official release (with a release party and all) may have to wait for the new year. There are so many aspects to releasing an album, that I don’t want to rush the process now that it’s complete. I want to make a space for it to get the proper attention it deserves. I’m still learning what that really means…so I’ll share more as the ideas take shape.

26 Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

026: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)

Now this is an album I had heard before. I fell in love with it in college…and hadn’t really listened to it again since.

To me, this album is perfect.

Aspirational.

It hits all the right notes. The songwriting is solid throughout. The production is interesting, varied, and timeless. The performances are amazing…Those background vocal harmonies alone would do it for me.

I watched the Classic Albums episode about this album to get some context.

It turns out the band (which formerly housed two relationships amidst its five members) was coming apart at the seams. Because of the success they’d seen with their previous album (the first of this new lineup), they worked through the pain…and wrote from where they were. Even in this episode, 21 years after recording the album, you can still see the pain, and lingering love, barely beneath the surface.

Songs of pain. Songs of defiance. Songs of new love. Of drug use.

All performed with their central object right there in the room. On the other side of a shared mic.

I can’t imagine how emotionally intense a time that must have been.

But the result of a year’s worth of pain is an album full of wonderful songs…not a single filler.

Coming back to it after so much time, I was impressed by some of the lesser known songs–particularly Songbird. The songwriting is simple–lyrically and harmonically. But so effective and affecting. Christine McVie has such a wonderful voice. I think Stevie Nicks gets so much attention for her voice–and with good reason. But there was so much talent here that it warrants shifting focus on repeated listens. The vocals. The bass, drums, guitar, keys…all on par with each other.

Sure, some of the songs here have been played to death–having become ubiquitous in political campaigns, commercials, grocery stores, and oldies stations. But when consumed as an album…it’s hard to hold that against it. It’s a beautiful collection of songs.

 

25 James Brown - Live At The Apollo

025: James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)

And now for the second live album on this list. And the second appearance of the hardest working man in showbi’ness–James Brown.

I have a hard time seeing past James Brown the personality–and simply enjoying the music for what it is.

So to help gain some context, I read the 33 1/3 book on the album, written by Douglas Wolk. This book is densely written. There are some very interesting facts about what the show would have been like (covering who the openers would have been, what the general program would have been like, the vibe of the crowd, etc.). The book gets a little lost in trying to chart the origins of every song…detailing every note played by the band…the origins of every instrumental break…where, if you’re not intimately familiar with the songs (as I’m not), it’s a little alienating.

But with what I learned here, and what I learned from the Public Enemy book in the same series (which focuses quite about on JB), I had enough to get some valuable context.

Thinking a little more wouldn’t hurt, we watched the recent biopic Get On Up.

This is what ultimately gave me what I needed to imagine the intensity of the show…to imagine his showmanship, in addition to his undeniable musicianship. Chadwick Boseman did an incredible job as James Brown. He lip-synched most of the vocals–so effectively that I thought he’d actually sung the part.

James Brown recorded this show with his own money. His label didn’t believe in live recordings for his audience–they wanted him to stick to singles. His belief in the project probably saved his career…Can you imagine the loss if he’d given up at that point. The album shot his struggling career into high gear. He’d tasted fame (and certainly worked for it, playing 300 days a year, with several shows on many days), but this launched him into the stratosphere. He tried to recreate the magic again many times by releasing subsequent Live At The Apollo (LATA) volumes…but this is where the magic is. That initial burst.

One thing the 33 1/3 book does very well is explains what was happening in the country at the same time this show was recorded…the fears of nuclear war with Russia coinciding.

The crowd is right there with him…perhaps looking for some serious escapist good times. James Brown has them, especially the frenzied women, eating out of his hand.

I love the background vocals on I’ll Go Crazy…especially the “Leave me…oip” lines.

James Brown is singing his butt of on Try Me. In the absence of the theatrics, it’s easier to see how he really was the whole package. I love those intermittent hand claps. too

The band is tight. Is this because they’re afraid of Mr. Dynamite’s fines for any misstep? Or just that they’re some serious musicians?

When James comes in on Think…until he says “I think about the hard time…”, I have no idea what he’s saying for lines at a time. But it sounds good.

I Don’t Mind is another favorite–again with amazing background vocals, especially the rushed “I-doh-mine” lines.

Lost Someone is, arguably, the centerpiece of this album. You definitely get a sense of JB the impassioned preacher/lover both deprived and depraved. He can work a line, bending and twisting it until its meaning changes. The audience screams when they should, and he invites them to go further with him–with a few comical outbursts. And go with him, they do.

It’s not my favorite song here though…It goes on a bit too long for me. Perhaps because every other song is rushed through, with little time for a breath, or palate cleanser, in between. Maybe its length is necessary for that reason. But there’s very little song there. It’s mostly an underpinning for his impressive theatrics.

“Mr. Please Please” squeezes what must be 6 songs into the 6 minute “Medley”. I would love to hear a full version of the song “I Found Someone To Love Me”…but it doesn’t seem that one exists (not by James Brown anyway).

The midnight set closes with funky Night Train–a funked up roll call of American cities, which itself gives way to end the show with a rather anti-climactic organ-laced jazz.

 

Verdict

This week, for some reason, I was struck by how hard fame is on people. Both Fleetwood Mac and James Brown had massive doses of fame, and subsequently took excessive amounts of drugs to help cope with the incredible workload and pressure that that must have required.

In the Classic Albums episode, Stevie Nicks said that she’s asked all of her famous friends, and each of them has regretted the cost required, as James Brown said, to be the boss. For her, it meant no children, no marriage.

I really enjoyed both records…and hope to spend some time exploring the catalogs of both Fleetwood Mac and James Brown more.

Up Next

A first. A week for which I’ve already heard both records. I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with both, though.

024: Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)

023: John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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