Posted in 1970s, 1973

54–Walk on the Wild Side

Click here for a transcript of today’s show. 

Lou Reed had been out of the Velvet Underground for about two years, and his first solo album had tanked, but people like David Bowie still believed in him, and brought him to London to record his second album. One of the songs he recorded during the ten days they spent on Transformer was a song he’d been noodling with for about a year. It started out as part of the score for a show that never materialized, but over time it morphed into a tribute to several of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars” at his studio-cum-crash pad, The Factory. 

Candy Darling
Holly Woodlawn

Jackie Curtis

Joe D’Alessandro (left) in a still from the film Flesh that was cropped to create The Smiths’ first album sleeve.

The song got a remarkable amount of airplay despite its subject matter (and because of how well it was coded), and propelled Transformer into the Billboard Top 30, cementing its place as a touchstone of the Glam Rock genre of music.

Incidentally, the album’s cover was photographed by Mick Rock, who’d accidentally over-exposed the image in the darkroom, but he liked the way it came out and submitted it as a possible cover anyway.

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Posted in 1970s, 1973

Episode 44–Smoke on the Water

It was December of 1971 and Deep Purple was in Deep Trouble. They were all set to record their newest album, when the location they’d chosen for recording was accidentally set ablaze and burned completely to the ground.

This is the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording studio. This picture is probably from the 1980s, given the computer screen over the mixing desk. The studio went through two major upgrades during its years of service; this was after the first one.

It took a little scrambling, but they managed to locate a hotel that had closed for the season and were able to use it for recording. The only problem was, the mobile recording studio couldn’t be placed close to the recording space, so they had to run cables along walls, through a window, under a door, down a corridor, across a balcony, and who-knows-wherever else. This also meant that the band members had to traverse this route every time they wanted to hear their work played back. Ultimately they got tired of climbing all over the hotel and decided on-the-fly whether a particular take was any good.

The last song they recorded was one that they wrote pretty quickly, combined with an abandoned riff that Ritchie Blackmore had recorded without any particular project attached to it. It told the story of the fire, and the band’s travails in locating another place to record.

Deep Purple didn’t think the song had a lot of potential, but when they finally released it, it became one of rock and roll’s great iconic tunes, and a touchstone for novice guitar players everywhere. And the town of Montreux, where everything took place, commemorated the event with a memorial marker.

 

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Posted in 1970s, 1973, 1977

Episode 10: Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This was the newspaper headline from the Enterprise-Journal of the nearby town of McComb.

It was on this day in 1977 that a plane went down in southwest Mississippi, in a small town called Gillsburg. Even today, forty years later, Gillsburg looks like little more than a wide spot in the road, but its main claim to fame is that plane crash, which took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with Gaines’ sister Cassie, all members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also killed in the crash were assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray. Other band members and passengers on the plane suffered serious injuries.

The original cover, which didn’t return to the album until 2005, when the Deluxe CD was released.

The band’s album, Street Survivors, had been released only a few days earlier and had already gone gold. The publicity from the crash helped push the album to multi-platinum status and a spot in the Top Five on the Billboard Album Chart. The unfortunate cover of the album was swiftly replaced until just a few years ago.

But this week we’re looking at a song from their first album, titled (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) that became the band’s signature tune, and the punchline to pretty much any concert-related joke. “Free Bird” was a song that was over two years in the making, and it was assembled through a combination of necessity, serendipity and a flash of Ah-HA! inspiration. And I’ve managed to make this particular podcast longer than any recorded version of the song.

Here’s the clip of the band playing during the Vicious Cycle Tour in 2003. Check out the piano introduction and how sweet the strings make it:

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