Iggy Pop: Blah-Blah-Blah (1986) & Instinct (1988)

Blah-Blah-Blah marked a turn in Iggy Pop’s career, going from cult figure to telly regular and everybody’s favourite godfather of punk.  I was about seventeen then, and although I’m sure I was aware of the name, really it was this album that served as my main introduction to the man.

Massively over-produced by David Bowie and recorded at Queen’s studio in Montreux, the synth-heavy Blah-Blah-Blah has more in common with Bowie’s then-recent output and Roger Taylor’s solo material than The Stooges.  Given that Taylor receives a thanks in the sleeve-notes “for loan of his Linn” and the album is engineered and co-produced by Taylor/Queen collaborator David Richards, that shouldn’t be too big a surprise.  Clearly, the idea was to take Iggy out of the underground with a sonic makeover inviting comparisons with the likes of Japan and Simple Minds et al, and with rock’n’roll cover Real Wild Child giving him his first major UK hit single, the formula clearly worked.  It also provided opportunity for a couple of contributions from the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, who would take a more central role on Instinct.  However, as producer and with co-writing credits on seven of the ten songs here, it’s Bowie’s influence that is all pervading.

Side one is solid if pretty underwhelming.  Real Wild Child kicks it off and it still holds up as a fun pop record (insert your own pun apology here), if some of the synth stylings now seem gimmicky.  Baby, It Can’t Fall is more of a Bowie-type thing and Shades is archetypal 80s pop with an alternative bent.  Fire Girl however is a Europop misstep, like Erasure with marginally less rubberwear, so it’s a welcome return to the Bowie-lite for Isolation.

The album really lifts its game for side two.  Cry of Love is a good driving post-punk rocker, more Iggy than Bowie, it mixes up the guitars and strings nicely and there’s a Steve Jones solo to boot.  It’s probably true to say that the title track’s use of sampling now sounds naive and overdone – again, gimmicky – but all-in, it’s a welcome burst of energy with some fine lyrical flourishes (“following my nose, I’m a bull mongrel – that’s me”). Hide Away sounds like it could be an outtake from Roger Taylor’s 1985 Strange Frontier (also co-produced by David Richards).  No bad thing, mind.  Winners and Losers, though, is the album highlight for me by a distance.  Steve Jones co-writes (he also co-wrote Fire Girl, but let’s not dwell) and it’s a lengthy, aggressive and fittingly guitar-heavy piece of Big Rock Drama.  Little Miss Emperor again sounds like a Strange Frontier outtake this time with an Arcadia twist.  It’s a good track but after the pomp of Winners and Losers it feels like a bit of an afterthought.

Following Blah-Blah-Blah’s success with the meat-and-potatoes rock of Instinct couldn’t have been an obvious move at the time.  Bill Laswell takes over as superstar producer and Steve Jones is promoted to sole guitarist, co-writing three of the ten songs.  Tellingly, the remaining seven are Iggy Pop sole-credits. Much of the album seems to take its lead from The Cult’s throwback rock outing of the previous year, Electric – retro riffing on a straight-ahead rock template.  Cold Metal and Strong Girl especially hit the spot while the more aggressive Easy Rider works a treat.  Tuff Baby is pure Eliminator-era ZZ Top and it’s kinda great.

Instinct does allow itself a couple of very slight left-turns.  Lowdown, with its cheesy keyboard augmentation, is a near pure-pop track which could have been a fit for Blah-Blah-Blah, as could High on You which sounds more than a little like Billy Idol’s White Wedding and suffers for it. Instinct and Squarehead are conspicuously punkier than anything else here.  Both great tracks, it’s Squarehead that provides a quality closer for what remains a very solid rock album.

I caught the tours for both Blah-Blah-Blah and Instinct and Iggy was brilliant on both.  The first time, to me he was still a bit of an unknown quantity with a relatively characterless band.  The Edinburgh Playhouse was stowed and the bouncers were being prize fannies.  Still great.  Second time was rockier, heavier, with a band to match.  Giving Iggy a bit of competition in the rock mentalist stakes, Andy McCoy was the guitarist (which suited me – I liked Hanoi Rocks and loved the Cherry Bombz).  Glasgow’s Barras was the perfect venue as well.  One of my favourite gigs, that one.  Iggy remains one of the greatest performers I’ve witnessed, though oddly I’ve never seen him live since.  Blah-Blah-Blah and Instinct began a strong run of releases along with the superior Brick By Brick and American Caesar, cementing Iggy’s position as an international treasure.  Quite right too.

As to these tapes they were both internet finds, a couple of quid each.  Obviously well played, mind, with the occasional drop-out to attest. ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Iggy Pop Instinct Blah Blah Blah

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Jerry Reed: East Bound and Down (1977)

An interesting wee release this.  Throughout the ’70s, Jerry Reed was still churning out albums on the punishing but standard Nashville schedule of two ten-song albums a year and, particularly with movies taking up an increasing share of his time, the occasional compilation inevitably took up some of the slack.  In 1977, Reed had co-starred with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason (not forgetting Mike Henry, Tarzan fans!) in Smokey and The Bandit, boosting his already high profile.  Music for the film is credited to Bill Justis and Jerry Reed, although several other writers were involved, and a soundtrack album on MCA accompanied the movie’s release.  Reed was signed to RCA so, presumably as part of some sort of inter-label agreement, three of the Smokey and the Bandit songs were given their ‘own’ RCA album with the rest of the mandatory ten song total being compiled from earlier releases.  The notes list only the back catalogue cuts as having been previously issued, so it looks like East Bound and Down was the first release of the three Bandit tracks, beating the soundtrack album to the punch.

Side one kicks off with East Bound and Down itself.  Exuberant, banjo-driven fun, it’s firmly rooted in the harmonised electric guitar approach Reed adopted from the mid-’70s on.  By contrast, Lightning Rod (from ’75’s Mind Your Love), is a truly jaw-dropping acoustic instrumental drawing from country, bluegrass, flamenco and gypsy jazz to create a unique whole.  Reed’s nylon-string playing is staggering.  It’s back to Smokey and the Bandit for The Bandit, a rootsy ballad written by Dick Feller, with Jerry on full-on Nashville crooner mode and none the worse for it.  Led by the standard guitars/bass/banjo/drums line-up, there’s a slightly psychedelic wah-wah melody part where we might have expected to hear some steel guitar, which is a nice touch.  Bake, originally found on ’75’s Red Hot Picker, is another instrumental, this time highlighting Reed’s innovative fusion of funk and country.  It leads in nicely to the last of the Bandit cuts, The Legend, infectious storytelling balladry drawing comparisons between Reynolds’ Bandit character and Jesse James etc.

On side two all pretence at this being a ‘proper’ album go out the window as, fresh out of Smokey and the Bandit material, it’s all back catalogue from here.  There’s no obvious theme although the sequencing works well throughout, making for a good listen.

Framed (Ko-Ko Joe, ’71) is Leiber and Stoller’s rock and roll classic reframed (sorry) as an Uptown Poker Club-styled pice of Jerry Reed comic froth while You Took All the Ramblin’ Out of Me (Hot A’Mighty, ’73) is a reminder of Reed’s position as one of the greatest country songwriters there ever was.  Rainbow Ride, from ’73’s Lord Mr. Ford is a strings-saturated pop ballad that works, while Just to Satisfy You from 1970’s Cookin’, is a sweet psych-pop re-imagining of the early Waylon Jennings classic.  Love it.  Wrapping things up is Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right from When You’re Hot You’re Hot (’71).  Unlike Waylon’s own versions of this one, pure-voiced and tender, this a fun reworking of the Dylan original, a virtual re-write with a killer new arrangement and lyric changes (“You’re the reason this ol’ boy don’t walk the line …”).

As an album, Eastbound and Down works surprisingly well.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the compilation element is drawn from the strongest period of Reed’s recording career.  Definitely worth picking up.

At a guess an early ’80s reissue, the tape is in pretty good order and still sounds good.  This one was an unexpected transatlantic gift – thanks Mary!

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Jerry Reed East Bound and Down

Deep Purple: Who Do We Think We Are! (1973)

I never quite “got” Deep Purple or Ritchie Blackmore as a kid. In retrospect that seems odd as my youthful listening centred around Queen, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Rush with side orders of Prince and The Doors.  As an aspiring guitarist, I would regularly hear Blackmore’s name invoked in hushed tones alongside Hendrix, Beck and Page by my guitar-playing chums and yet … I just didn’t get it.

I didn’t mind certain tracks, quite enjoyed the occasional Rainbow thing but that was about that. Then, suddenly, just a few years ago, (creative writing lecturers the world over must surely be rending their cardigans in frustration at a sentence beginning with both “then” and “suddenly”) I watched an early live video of Purple from an old British TV show called Doing Their Thing and I got it.  With fireworks.  Boom.

So, over this past three or four years I’ve been gradually expanding my Deep Purple library, realising quite quickly that the classic ‘Mk.II’ line-up is the one for me.  Certainly, there’s some ’60s fun to be had from the original line-up and Mk.III had their moments but the chemistry between Blackmore, Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Ian Paice is where it’s at. The albums Deep Purple In Rock and Machine Head are obvious stand-outs but I reckon Who Do We Think We Are!, Mk.II’s final studio album before their ’80s reunion, belongs on that list.  I first-and-last checked it out a couple of years ago while enjoying some light refreshments, becoming so refreshed, in fact, that I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it.  This time, stone cold sober, I was blown away.

Before getting to the sounds themselves it’s worth noting that this old cassette (looks like a ’73 original, the gold cover is well worn, yellow paper labels on Purple Records) features a re-jigged running order to give each side an even running time. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in these virtual pages, that used to piss me off but in this instance I think the tape’s track sequence is actually better.

I’m familiar with opening number Rat Bat Blue as I’ve heard it regularly and often as part of an MP3 compilation.  The difference between the MP3 and the tape is marked.  The tape is bigger.  Warmer, yes, that old audiophile chestnut.  Better.  All of which helps emphasise the heavy unison riffage and mental keys solo (indeed Lord’s leads seem to take the spotlight more than Blackmore’s throughout).  There’s a recurring riff in there which I’m pretty sure was lifted by Whitesnake for their hair metal rebirth anthem Still Of The Night.  I’m not going to research that though, as I might accidentally hear Whitesnake.

Next up is Place In Line, the album’s longest track at well over six minutes, a heavy electric blues.  Even as the weakest track here, it’s far from bad.  Our Lady, by contrast, is an almost rootsy rock ballad with a hint of psychedelia helping lend it a Crazyhorse vibe.  Great song, an odd choice for an album closer, as it is on the vinyl/CD etc. but a fine way to bow out of Side One here.

Side Two has no truck with balladry of any sort.  Mary Long is unexpectedly and pleasingly spiteful (Mary Long is a hypocrite/
She does all the things that she tells us not to do/Selling filth from a corner shop/And knitting patterns to the high street queue) while driving power rocker Smooth Dancer mercifully belies its title.  Pub-rock classic Woman From Tokyo follows, laying the foundation for Kiss’ entire mid-late ’70s output but distinguishing itself with a psych-pop turn at the halfway mark.

The tape version of the album closes with Super Trooper, a solid piece of chest-beating with musical ties to Rat Bat Blue. All-in, that’s around thirty-five minutes of near perfection.

The tape is in pretty good order despite its years, with only the occasional fluttery moment and one drop-out to give it away. I paid about a fiver for this online, postage and all.  Well worth it, clearly.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Deep Purple Who Do We Think We Are

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