Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oh, Mary, I'm in deep water

As the 60's groups broke up and members started releasing solo albums, circa 1970, some truly amazing music happened, and almost none of it was what you would expect from the people responsible. As an example, Plastic Ono Band, McCartney, and All Things Must Pass are three extraordinary objects*, none of them what anyone must have been expecting from the former Beatles at the time (with the possible exception of parts of All Things Must Pass). Not having been born yet, I can't even imagine what it would have felt like to be experiencing it as it happened (my father described it as "very, very sad" when I asked him, and it certainly must have been, but sad as the music and the circumstances that produced it are, it is incredibly vital music; there must have been an overwhelming excitement mixed in with the sadness).

On a less mainstream level, you could say the same about Vintage Violence, Transformer, and Chelsea Girl, though of course the timing and circumstances there are considerably different, Nico and John Cale having left the Velvet Underground long before Lou Reed and releasing albums while the band still existed. Nevertheless, the excitement of being around as these albums came out, one after another, must have been almost unbearable.

I just listened for the first time to John Phillips' first album after The Mamas and the Papas fell apart, which is sometimes referred to by his name, sometimes as John the Wolfking of LA. This is, as I said before, amazing music. It's in a country-folk style not entirely unrelated to TM&TP's most frequent modes, but feeling utterly different, more like a Tim Buckley or even a Leonard Cohen. The lyrics are, as they were with his band, frequently heartbreaking, but where John, Denny, Michelle, and Cass covered the sorrow with a kind of bombastic sweetness, the very different sweetness here leaves the emotion bare.

Incidentally, a good deal of the sweetness on this album comes from the backing vocals, provided perfectly by the legendary Darlene Love alongside her less legendary but no less delightful colleagues Fanita James and Jean King. Love, James, and King were the three most regular members of The Blossoms, frequent session singers who also recorded some obscure records under their own name, and much better-known songs as Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans and as The Crystals (in some versions; for hints of the Phil Spector-is-terrible story behind that, see here).

Anyway, music can speak for itself, so I'm going to shut up and present "Topanga Canyon."

PS And my god, that piano sound!

*Or technically four, since I don't want to dismiss how awesome Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band is, but since she was never in the Beatles it's not directly relevant to what I'm talking about. But: awesome, awesome album.